For Austin FC, 2021 marks "a year of firsts" as MLS' newest team, but Wednesday's announcement of not just the team's first match away at LAFC on April 17 but their home opener against the San Jose Earthquakes on June 19 makes those firsts become all that more real.
"It validates where we're at with the players," head coach Josh Wolff said in a virtual press conference shortly after the announcement of home openers across MLS. "We've mapped out preseason and now we have a nice target date, April 17, in LA against one of the premier clubs in the league and it's a great opening game for us."
The LAFC match will mark a personal first for Wolff, who will make his head coaching debut when Austin finally take to the field next month. He will be doing so against a familiar face in his LAFC counterpart Bob Bradley, who was the first head coach Wolff worked with when he began playing professionally. Wolff was part of Bradley's Chicago Fire team that won MLS Cup in its inaugural season in 1998.
"I have the utmost respect for Bob Bradley," Wolff said. "He was a coach that gave me great guidance, certainly lasting memories and lasting impressions of what the game was about, what team is about and it'll be nice. It'll be nice to compete against him."
Wolff also identified LAFC as a model for his team, reflecting on the high targets they set for expansion teams when they finished third in the Western Conference in 2018 before going on to break MLS records aplenty as they won the Supporters' Shield a year later.
"I think they play a very good way and [are] a great model for what teams can come in and be like if you commit to that and they play good soccer," he said. "They commit to it off the field as well, and that's something that we look at as a measurement for us as well. We come in and built our team in a similar way. We want to play a certain style and have a good identity."
Another big event officially on the schedule is the team's first match at Q2 Stadium, one of three new soccer-specific stadiums to open in 2021. It's an event Wolff said the team is looking forward to, but it means Austin will begin their first MLS season with a two-month-long stretch of games on the road.
"The road trips will get long," Wolff said. "It's part of the deal. I think we all knew that coming into it and again, I don't think we look at that as a negative. We find ways to make that a positive and come in and prepare each week."
With three matches now on the schedule, including a Week 2 clash at the Colorado Rapids, Wolff and company can now begin to visualize Austin's very first season. While priority will be on winning points, it will also be on establishing the club's overall identity on and off the field.
"It's going to be a year of firsts, and that was one of the first things we talked about with the team," Wolff said. "You're part of the first Austin FC team. It's a great responsibility. It's a great opportunity. Every one of these firsts has big meaning. ... For us, it's about understanding who we are and what the team's going to look like and how we're going to come into it and obviously compete on the idea."