The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. For Austin FC, the first step of their MLS journey takes place in Southern California against the giants of LAFC on Saturday (6 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes). But to truly understand the significance of the wild ride they are about to embark on, you have to look to the past.
In 1998, the Chicago Fire won the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup in their inaugural season, becoming the first Major League expansion franchise to win a league championship. They became the Kings of Naperville, defying the odds, and showing us the possibilities of what could be. Since then, many MLS expansion teams have tried but all fallen short of the first-year miracles the soccer world witnessed that year. Now, here comes Austin FC.
With the announcement of Q2 Stadium, and the team’s new state-of-the art training facility, St. David’s Performance Center, ownership and sponsors alike are putting their money where their mouth is, which, as a former player, is VERY encouraging to see. Coupled with the tireless work that sporting director Claudio Reyna and other members of the technical staff have been doing to ensure that the players have everything they need in order to be successful this season, the organization are planting all the right seeds to spearhead the next evolution of MLS soccer.
And on the field?
Every winning MLS team has a solid spine of the team: defender, midfielder and key attackers. For this team to truly shine these players will need to be firing on all cylinders this season:
Matt Besler brings a winning pedigree and has a point to prove since leaving Sporting KC after 12 seasons, three US Open cups, and one MLS Cup. He will need to lead the backline and form a formidable partnership with newcomer, Jhohan Romana, for this team to cope with some of the league’s potent attackers.
Alex Ring has been one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS over the last few years. He will need to be a rock for Austin FC, playmaking in the middle of the park, as well as taking no prisoners with his tough-tackling and midfield general attitude. An Alex Ring at his best is a must for the team to taste success in its first year.
Tomas Pochettino is the new man from Argentina. He’s a silky-smooth attacking midfielder who can pick a pass with blindfolds on. Oh, and did I mention that he scores absolute bangers for fun! If you need any proof, check out his first goal in the club’s opening match of La Copita, against Houston Dynamo FC. Be on the lookout for more moments of magic from the young Argentinian this season.
Cecilio Dominguez is the wildcard that can make the team’s attack formidable. He’s shown his capacity to take over games with his ability to take players on 1v1 but Austin FC will be looking for more than just that from him. Dominguez will need to add goals to his highlight reels in order for this team to get going. They will be buoyed by what he’s shown in training and the clinical finishes he had in the last preseason match against San Antonio FC.
Overall, there's much to like about this Austin FC team. They have a young coach in Josh Wolff, who is the man with the master plan. With the right blend of young talent, the match-winning presence of international stars and the battle-tested experience of MLS veterans, he’s set his team out, not to be like some of the more pragmatic newcomers of the past, but rather, to be a team rooted in playing quality, dynamic, interchangeable soccer. Simply put, this team is not here just to participate. They’re here to compete and entertain from the word GO!.
As the clock counts down to Austin FC’s MLS debut against LAFC, the buzz around the team is growing to feverish levels. All eyes will be on MLS' new boys and rightfully so. As Seth Rau, a current Austinite and Austin Anthem member put it:
“There were so many soccer fans already living here that supporting the first professional team in the city is a no brainer. Austin thinks of itself as a global city. Many Austinites have lived elsewhere where soccer is huge, so supporting the local club from the start is simply the right thing to do. The city supports its own and its residents are really excited to support this club.”
The new kids on the block are capturing the hearts and minds of a new soccer community, in one of America’s hottest cities, the City of Austin. This team is different. The hype is real. This means more!