Through this entire project of bringing an MLS team to Austin, a lot of people have felt the way I felt: Wanting to see the sport I love — and, specifically, the league I love — to the city I love. And we’d be dreaming about Saturday’s night home opener for literally years before It’s happened.
We’ve had pro sports in Austin before: We’ve had Ice Bats and Stars and G-League Spurs and an Express and a Bold and two rounds of Aztex. But we’ve never quite had anything on the level of Austin FC in Austin before last night. In case you couldn’t tell from how the volume in the supporters’ section translated to broadcast, the home opener was met with complete joy and exultation.
It was loud in the supporters’ section, surpassing 100 decibels in the pregame preparations which involved Matthew McConaughey in a bright green suit beating on a drum with his hands. (As an Austinite, I can say that’s not a moment that surprises or phases me in the least.) And it wasn’t just loud: It was purposefully loud, with the capos and La Murga de Austin leading supporters through a series of musical numbers that were chants at their core but also fully-realized songs.
Last week, I tweeted a series of photos from a practice the Murga and supporters coordinated, arranged with the front office in order to give them a sense of how it might look and sound in the stadium. Some people chose to ridicule it or even use it as “evidence” the supporters are in cahoots with Austin FC brass.
What you saw Saturday night is the reason that practice in the stadium was sought after and gladly expected. These songs are still new to a lot of fans, some employ Spanish lyrics or choreography that aren’t going to be familiar to every fan. It’s a degree of difficulty going beyond “We Love Ya” and other MLS chestnuts, and it doesn’t draw from the typical MLS supporters’ playbook. It’s support that needs a lot of people on the same page to be successful, and it’s also support to be sustained for an entire half at a time.
It worked exceptionally well Saturday night. There were a few moments in which other sections of the crowd were able to pick out and join along with what the crowd was doing, notably the “Alright, alright, alright” chant that’s been a supporters’ staple for a while, taking the catch-phrase from McConaughey’s Wooderson character in “Dazed and Confused” and soccerizing it.
Other chants have potential to be replicated throughout the stadium, like the repeated “Cinco! Uno! Dos” from “El Equipo de la 5-12,” which reworks a Selena song into a rallying cry for Austin’s area code, or “Dale A-T-X,” which is simple and propulsive and which the supporters are already showing they can do for long stretches.
I was also personally thrilled that, when the wave made its first unwelcome appearance in the west side of the stadium about a half hour into the match, it died once it reached the supporters' section, consumed by the gimmick-free support coming from the fans in the Verde Wall.
It was an incredible night, but it was also a frustrating night. None of Austin FC’s 20 shots found the back of the net, and had that happened, Q2 Stadium might have set off seismography equipment. It was a gathering of nearly 21,000 people ready to let loose, and they weren’t able to fully do it.
But there was still an incredible moment after the scoreless draw, as many fans were not quite ready to leave. Those who stayed got to see what might be the birth of a tradition. The Austin FC players — like the USWNT players who officially opened the stadium of Wednesday, made a loop to acknowledge fans along the length of the east end of the stadium, and then to the supporters in the south stands.
But then the supporters started what the Murga’s been developing as a post-match song — Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End.” The song, by the late, eccentric musician who was quintessentially Austin and still beloved by Austinites, is a simple song about perseverance and hope, and as fans in Minnesota who embraced “Wonderwall” know, a good post-match anthem can make for indelible moments regardless of whether your team wins, loses, or battles to a scoreless draw.
As the supporters started singing, the players — who were starting to progress slowly to the locker room — came back to the supporters, stood in a line in front of them, and swayed back and forth as they were essentially being serenaded. It was a sweet moment to be sure, and one that will be part of this evolving story as the fans who wanted a team to call their own get to know this team.
Analysis and even criticism will come from this match — after all, making the playoffs is the goal many fans have in mind, and it takes home wins, as well as road draws, to mount a serious challenge for top seven in the West. Certainly, Brad Stuver’s been huge, and the defense keeps Austin FC in most contests. Not getting a goal on Saturday was frustrating for fans, but it’s becoming more of the norm than the exception — they’ve now failed to get on the scoreboard in five of their first nine contests.
And yet, Saturday was a celebration of The Oaks taking root in Austin, opening a stadium with an atmosphere praised by both head coaches in the contest. It’s a bit stunning to think of how they might build upon this excellent showing — as well as how loud the stadium will get when that first home goal does finally come.