Austin FC's Jon Gallagher: Rice, Rooney & an All-Star dream realized

Jon Gallagher ASG ATX

WASHINGTON – With MLS All-Star Week taking over downtown Washington, D.C., you’re seldom more than a stone’s throw away from someone of stature or influence in the soccer world.

Austin FC fullback Jon Gallagher has experienced that repeatedly, even in some downtime. Out exploring, he stumbled upon none other than Declan Rice, Arsenal’s new £105 million man who, upon departing West Ham United last week, became the most expensive player in British history.

“He was walking around with Ben White and some Arsenal staff near the [Washington] Monument,” Gallagher explained to “I asked him for a picture and he was a little apprehensive at first to take the photo. I said, 'I'm playing against you on Wednesday' and he opened up a bit and was very friendly.”

Gallagher even hopes for a souvenir following Wednesday night’s MLS All-Star Game presented by Target (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

“I asked him to hold his shirt for me,” the 27-year-old said. “We'll see if he holds to that!”

That exchange provides a window into how special All-Star Week can be for first-time honorees like Gallagher. It’s not just a recognition for their season to date, but years of hard work to establish their professional career.

And in Gallagher’s case, this is something he was determined to accomplish spanning back to his college soccer days at Notre Dame. Working with a sports psychologist, he set the bar high.

“He said you want to have four goals, and the first one I want you to tell someone and they'll almost laugh in your face that it's far-fetched,” recalled Gallagher. “I wrote down maybe something like 20 appearances in MLS. He said that's not good enough and I was on the path to becoming a pro, that's easily achievable. He wanted people to really doubt the first goal. So, within five years, I said I want to be an MLS All-Star and he was like now we're talking.”

While most of Gallagher’s teammates at D.C. United’s Audi Field took alluring paths to the league’s annual midsummer showcase – be it the homegrown player track, international stardom, or a high-priced Designated Player deal – his is less glamorous. And things didn’t come easily at first for the Ireland native after being selected No. 14 overall by Atlanta United in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas.

Gallagher didn’t play a single MLS minute for Atlanta from 2018-19, instead featuring mainly for their second team (Atlanta United 2) and getting loaned to Scotland’s Aberdeen FC. He thought another loan awaited in 2020, too, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and he remained with the Five Stripes, eventually finishing as their top scorer during that abbreviated season.

Surging with confidence, Gallagher got a call he wasn’t expecting. He’d been traded to Austin FC ahead of their expansion season.

“I was in the car on my way to celebrate my wife's mother's birthday, so my mother-in-law, and I got a call from the GM and said I have to take this,” said Gallagher. “This is probably important, especially on a Friday night. They informed me I was traded. My agent told me there was difficulties with renegotiating a contract, so I was told to stay on my toes.”

Riding ups and downs with the Verde & Black – they were among the league’s bottom teams in 2021, then reached the Western Conference Final in 2022 – Gallagher has emerged as a force at right back. This year he’s the club’s third-leading scorer with 5g/4a in 23 games, becoming a leader on and off the field.

That made it all the more special when Gallagher, after a home match against Texan rival Houston Dynamo FC, was informed by Austin founder, CEO and majority owner Anthony Precourt that he’d made the squad. He could hardly wait to tell his family what awaited him in mid-July.

“My family happened to be in town,” Gallagher said. “We were up in the players' lounge and I texted my wife saying let's get out of here, I'm tired, don't stop for conversations with anyone. I wanted to break the news myself and they thought I was in a bad mood, just wanted to get home. We won the game, too. I broke it to them in the car park and everyone was in tears pretty much.”

Those tears were the culmination of a goal Gallagher set when he was playing ACC soccer, thinking he’d be a striker at the professional level. And they’ve resulted in him, as a lifelong Manchester United fan, getting coached by Red Devils all-time leading scorer and D.C. boss Wayne Rooney for this week’s festivities.

It all adds up to overwhelming appreciation from Gallagher, soaking in the experience and all it entails – from dinners out with family and friends to training on the National Mall and facing an English Premier League powerhouse.

“I haven't had that moment of reflection yet because I've still got to play tonight, I've still got to perform against the best wingers in the world and then we have a game on Friday in Leagues Cup. And much as my family is telling me to enjoy the moment and take it all in, you're still trying to stay grounded,” said Gallagher.

“But the validation, it is rewarding and it's great to be a part of this, come play with the best in the league. I owe a lot to Josh [Wolff] and the coaching staff.”