Member Thoughts on The Year in Soccer, Beer, and Politics

So many things happened in Austin soccer this year, that we couldn’t contain them in a single article. In case you missed it, yesterday we published an article from Head Zanate Josh Babetski about the growth and accomplishments in Austin soccer to date. Today, we’re bringing you highlights from other members of the Organizational Team as we look to #GrowTheLegend in 2019 and beyond.

When almost 500 of your closest friends show up to celebrate the launch of your new name and brand

Jeremiah Bentley

2018 was a wild year, but the most memorable part for me was the joy and excitement of our impromptu celebration at Haymaker the evening of the August 15 Council vote. To that point, we were never really sure that this thing was going to happen, despite having poured countless hours, along with blood, sweat and tears, into trying to make the dream a reality. It was such a day of emotion, from the relief of the vote to the joy of everyone that night realizing that what we had worked for all year was really going to be a thing. Having the Mayor and key council members show up to celebrate with us that night was a real added bonus.

Also, it may not be a single event, but having gotten to know the Austin soccer community so well over the last year has been a real treat. I feel very fortunate to have made so many friends over this time, and look forward to even more time together in the future.

The end of a long night with a little help from our friends (including Council Members Flannigan and Renteria)
The Mayor also made an appearance

Tony Cardone

In what was a truly momentous year for soccer in Austin, no question the one that stands out to me was the whirlwind 4 a.m. session at City Council in June. Seeing dozens of Austinites just keep coming up to the mic well into the wee hours in the morning in support of soccer was simply incredible. We may not have gotten everything done on that day, but we damn sure made our elected representatives knew the community wasn’t going to let them pass on this great opportunity, and I really believe that was the day that made the most difference.

A very close second was being in City Council chambers on that Wednesday afternoon when the final deal was signed. The jubilation in that chamber as the Mayor declared the bill as passed will be something that will probably stick with me forever.

A flock (gaggle? murder?) of Los Zanates backing Derek Ensign as he speaks at City Council

Jorge Chavez

7–4. #5.

To most Austinites, these terms mean nothing. To most Austin sports fans, it may mean a baseball score, football record, ranking or kickoff time. But to most MLS soccer fans in Austin, those two terms are historic, and a culmination of hard work, long nights, seemingly endless council meetings and information sessions, and rebuttal of anti-MLSinAustin forces, from within and from afar. My involvement began rather inconspicuously — a tweet announcing a council meeting to discuss McKalla Place on June 28. I figured I’d watch the end of the meeting at around 9 p.m. By the time the meeting ended, it was 3:48 a.m. on June 29th and I’d watched an army of passionate MLS soccer fans express their thoughts in comment after comment. I’ve been hooked ever since. Now, 5 months later, a signed deal for a stadium with a 7–4 Council approval, a date TBD for Austin FC to begin, and a #5 ranking of national markets who watched the MLS Cup, I am proud to be a member of Austin Anthem and to associate with a great group of people. As of December 20, 2018, Austin is a major league city, and I can’t wait to continue helping in #CultivaLaLeyenda !

The face of victory just after the City Council vote

Derek Ensign

2018 has been exhausting! Happy to have late nights at City Hall behind us, but, I am so thankful for all of the people I have met along the way. I feed off of your energy and passion! Whenever I meet a new Zanate, I love to ask them where are you from, what part of Austin do you live in, how did you fall in love with soccer? So many different answers, and yet this whole thing and all of its craziness has brought us together. We have a lot of work to do in preparation for our team to get here, but it is going to be the most fun kind of work with people like y’all beside me to share in it with.

We all have our stories, but we have one common goal

Jay Torres

It would be an understatement to say 2018 was one of the most exciting years in Austin soccer history. From our trips to city hall to the logo unveil, what a roller coaster ride it has been. My take away from all of it is that Austin loves soccer and when a community comes together to let their elected leaders know what they want, the process works. Having my sons witness the whole process is a memory I hope that sticks with them forever, and a story they share with their kids. I’ve also met some great people along the way and joining Austin Anthem has been one of the most thrilling aspects of the whole thing, and it’s only the beginning.

The Torres boys (and smaller boys) sharing the love

Josh Jackson

As a youth, peering down the field with the ball at my feet, my teammates charging down the field alongside, I had no idea that there would be goals much larger than the 8 yds x 8 ft white box affixed to the end line. Over time I realized that soccer can be a lifelong commitment, a discipline, & to some a faithful devotion. Regardless of your level of immersion, it’s a sport that connects our world & soon our major league city.

Early on we had the goal & the desire to help bring MLS to Austin. Thanks to you, our teammates striding beside, we have netted this game-winning goal. I’ve seen more packed bars in 2018 than any year ever before, due in part to this being a World Cup year, but also because Austin love its soccer, ranking in the Top 5 in viewership for English Premier League, FIFA World Cup, & MLS Cup.

After City Hall rallies of late 2017, we took that frenzy into 2018 with great support at City of Austin Info Sessions & MLS in Austin planning meetings which preceded our Fan Tour in the run-up to the World Cup. During our SXSoccer Meetups in March, we gave long-standing soccer bar Fadó a proper farewell, & also hung out with Fox Soccer icons like Alexi Lalas & Rob Stone as they kicked off their Road to the Russia right here in Austin, Texas.

Takoba made a surprising, brief opening for the Cup during its nearly year-long remodel. Black Sheep Lodge stepped up well accommodating fans in the wake of Fadó’s closure. We also said goodbye to the “Cuatro-tron” at Tap 24, but new bars have arisen like Darcy’s Donkey, a distinguished Celtic bar, from the ashes of Austin Java.

In June & July, new friendships were bridged with MLS в Остине, I mean “MLS in Austin” at our official FIFA World Cup watch parties all around town at additional places like Red’s Porch, BD Riley’s, Haymaker, NXNW, Oskar Blues, Independence Brewing, Little Woodrow’s, Uncle Billy’s, Celis Brewery, & Austin Eastciders.

All of this enthusiasm culminated in the big McKalla Place Stadium Vote in August & an overflowing Austin Anthem reveal party at Jack & Gingers where our new Grackle logo was revealed. The Grackle — El Zanate, has a unique persona similar to the soul of the elite Austin soccer supporter. #LosZanates

Everything is bigger in Texas, & we are a group that is destined to move the needle of soccer support & brotherhood in Texas. We are socios of the world’s game, & we are very proud to call this city our home — A game & city that have so much character.

We have doubled the size of our ever-growing planning committee as we endeavor new ways to serve this “culturally diverse” city, as commissioner Don Garber put it. We are privileged to already have a tremendous, committed collective that can’t wait until Game One & are beckoning the challenges that lie ahead that will define us in the soccer world.

We are here to serve you, the Austin supporting elite, in what is quickly becoming an Austin Soccer Renaissance, as we all collectively work together to #GrowTheLegend!

Always a winning combination

Phil West

On December 8, 2018, I wanted to be in Atlanta. I’d seen them evolve their fandom from a really inauspicious beginning in the 2017 pre-season to the leaps they made in just their second home match (which I attended and wrote about) to being the envy of the league in their second year. But as electric as that match was and as incredible as it would have been to be there, I knew that there was another sort of history being made, right in my home city, and ultimately, I knew I wanted to be, had to be in Austin. I chose to gather with 500 soccer fans at Haymaker — numbers rivaling the throngs that came out for World Cup matches earlier this year. Specifically, I wanted to hang out with the friends I’ve come to know within the ranks of Austin Anthem.

For Austin soccer fans, and Austin Anthem in particular, it has been a year. The Anthony Precourt announcement in October 2017 — instantly making Austin more relevant in the soccer world than it ever had been — would transform the lives of soccer fans here forever.

We found ourselves in strange scenarios much different than what we were used to. We already knew sweating in the House Park stands to watch Aztex teams full of young hopefuls, trekking to Houston or Frisco to catch MLS or USMNT action (with the obligatory kolache stop in Ellinger or West), going to a local soccer bar to catch whatever Premier League team each of us chose (or chose us). We didn’t know catching the social media ire of angry Columbus fans for liking soccer and not being immediately averse to a team being relocated to our city. We didn’t know the strange alliance of self-appointed tax slayers and rogue neighborhood association activists and sports-hating NIMBYs (including some who sat on the dais) would be so odious in threatening the tangible chance at a real MLS team in a new soccer stadium that we would willingly attend City Council meetings until four in the morning — just to show there was a soccer-loving side in this debate. We didn’t know how poisonous and political and petty it all would get — but then again, we didn’t know how amazing it would feel when the vote went our way, when we learned what the team would be called, and when we saw — albeit with more hiccups and weirdness than other launches — that the future of soccer in Austin had tangible dates and places attached to it.

I am a journalist who covers MLS and covers supporters and on a fundamental, professional level, I maintain an even-handedness in how I approach teams and their fans. I have written about every team in MLS, I have talked to fans from every team in the league (though Orlando is really standoffish for no good reason at all), and I even covered Crew matches with equanimity as their fans were insulting me on Twitter for daring to have 787 as the first three numbers in my zip code.

But I’m also a soccer fan, which is why I write about soccer in the first place. Occasionally, it gets me drenched in champagne bearing witness to an American soccer legend reveling in victory, but most of my soccer writing comes from diligent, contemplative work in which I’m trying to make sense of a sport that is still relatively new and unfamiliar to a lot of my fellow Americans.

I have found that Austin Anthem members are refreshingly more evolved. They get soccer, and appreciate it, and ultimately want a team here for the express purpose of reveling in live soccer, with a team they will love, in the city they love. It struck me, watching the MLS Cup with them, how relieved they were that a solution emerged getting both Austin and Columbus teams, how excited they were over the chance to launch and support a team that is Austin’s from the outset, and the sheer, stupid giddiness they displayed over the halftime graphic (acompanying the Don Garber interview) that declared Austin FC an official “expansion” team with a TBD launch date. (I must confess to displaying it as well.)

As a fan, and an Austinite, being with the Austinites who most got the MLS Cup, who saw the Atlanta fans and said “we want to do even better than that,” and who are so soccer crazed that they also kept a TV on the Cruz Azul-Monterrey Liga MX semifinal game to follow that simultaneously along with MLS Cup … let’s just say December 8, 2018 made me hopeful.

Austin is going to have an MLS team. Austin Anthem is going to make its debut a validation as well as a celebration. Austin soccer fans survived a trying and tumultuous 2018, and they aren’t just going to be all right — they’re going to be, in the immortal words of Matthew McConaughey (and Austin Anthem’s first signature chant), “Alright, alright, alright.”

Throwing the fanciest of supporters group parties

Austin Anthem is the independent supporters group for Austin FC, the future Major League Soccer club of Austin, Texas.

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