Austin FC have a front office in place, led by the respected Claudio Reyna as sporting director, and they have long had a head coach in Josh Wolff. The club has a crest, colors, and on Wednesday will have their inaugural jerseys.
Their brand-new stadium is coming to life and will be ready for the spring of 2021, as will their brand-new training facility. The fans are plenty ready, breaking season ticket deposit records, even amid a global a global pandemic and without a clear answer on when sporting events of any kind will return to full capacity.
Now, Austin just have the pesky matter of finding the right players for their inaugural roster.
The club announced signings of Paraguayan duo Rodney Redes and Cecilio Dominguez in the summer but have yet to add to that core. With around two months until Wolff and his coaching staff will greet the players for the start of preseason, the club have no worries about having just two rostered players.
“We feel good," Reyna told MLSsoccer.com last week. "There’s always a sense of anxiety and urgency when you don’t have players, but we’re in a good place. We’ll get there. Just got to stay calm.”
A flurry of moves lie around the corner.
Following MLS Cup on December 12 all other 26 teams will officially be in offseason mode and a half-day trade window will open on December 13, which will see teams make official any moves being discussed and negotiated today. Two days later, all attention will turn to Austin for the Expansion Draft. They'll be able to make five selections from the eligible pool of players.
"We’re watching and following the league closely, continue to scout players internationally with the eye towards bringing in a bunch of players in December and January," Reyna said.
Reyna said the club will be targeting a number of players with MLS experience for both their talent and understanding of the league. Nashville SC leaned on an MLS-experienced core this year behind the likes of Dax McCarty, Anibal Godoy and Walker Zimmerman, while Inter Miami have received contributions from Wil Trapp, Luis Robles and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.
The club also continues to keep an eye on the international market. Many GMs around MLS expect there to be opportunities in January from Europe as the financial impact of COVID-19 continues to affect clubs across the globe. It's a buyer's market, which bodes well for Austin as they look to fill up 28 more roster slots.
A central theme to Austin's roster build is balance between patience and urgency, of being ready to finalize a deal but also not to hastily spend the assets available. Reyna elaborated further that it's about monitoring your shortlists and targets, but also retaining flexibility as deals present themselves and players are signed.
“It’s very fluid. There are players we have currently in our target list, then new ones come in,” Reyna said. “Comparing how they’d impact the salary, whether they’re domestic or international — the plan certainly changes.
“It doesn’t just change with the salary, but the qualities of the players they’ll play next to. That’s the reason why there’s a list of different targets. You don’t sign everybody, there’s always frustration, but you understand you can’t get too excited. Good players have options so sometimes you lose out on a target.”
It's not the first time Reyna has been in this position, though many things have changed around MLS since he was. Reyna was the architect of NYCFC's inaugural roster as sporting director of the club from 2013-'19 and while he can lean on lessons learned from those days, the league has changed completely in the half-decade since NYCFC made their debut.
“It’s completely different," he said. "It’s difficult to compare. We’re in a different world with the salary cap, TAM and different rules. The league is at a different stage. There is more interest from players this time around than 2013 or 2014, which is a great continued story for MLS.
“There’ll be a lot of opportunities internally in the market. The player pool within MLS has improved dramatically with the introduction of TAM. There’s that combination of what can we do internally vs. what can we do in the international market. The last time around (for me), it seemed the internal market wasn’t as strong.”
The squad will fall into place. Austin won't be frantically rushing to fill roster slots for preseason nor their inaugural MLS match.
For now, it's about patience before a frenzy.
As Reyna put so succinctly: “It’ll be crazy in those days after MLS Cup."