How MLS clubs are responding to the Texas winter storm crisis: "People need help"

Jimmy Maurer plays goalkeeper for FC Dallas. But when a polar vortex brought historically brutal levels of snow and frigid temperatures on Texas this week, cutting off power for several days in his family’s home and those of millions across the state, he had to become a keeper of the flame, if you will.

“It was a rough, rough couple days for us,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “At least I was able to keep a fire going. The one really, really bad night we had where it got down to like 32 [degrees] in the rest of our house, I was able to seal off our living room and just keep stoking the fire all night.”

Maurer, his wife and their four children consider themselves lucky. Unlike many other Texans, they only briefly lost their water supply – due to a broken shower valve that flooded a bathroom at 5 a.m. and forced an emergency trip to the hardware store – and the kids thought it was fun to have “a big indoor camping thing” as their parents cooked pasta in the fireplace. But they know how badly others are suffering in the catastrophic conditions.

So Maurer and his teammates struck up a GoFundMe effort, spearheaded by Homegrown midfielder Tanner Tessmann, to raise funds for the FC Dallas Foundation and aid in storm relief efforts. It's already approaching its initial $20,000 goal, and FC Dallas plan to stage further initiatives in the coming weeks as players report for voluntary workouts and quarantine protocols in the lead-up to preseason. The Dallas Beer Guardians, a supporters' group, have also stepped up by matching donations up to $1,000.

“As much as we were feeling the craziness of this, and some tough days, we know that so many others in the community have it a lot worse than we do,” Maurer said.

FCD’s in-state rivals Houston Dynamo FC and 2021 expansion newcomers Austin FC are in locales even less accustomed to extreme cold. Their regions have also been devastated.

Grappling with massive problems around power and water networks, both cities issued boil water notices as they sought to maintain basic flow for emergency responders. Most of the players and staff of the MLS teams, as well as the Dynamo’s NWSL sibling club (Houston Dash), have experienced outages in their homes, some for several days, and many are dealing with the damage wreaked by burst pipes in sub-freezing temperatures.

Dynamo fullback Zarek Valentin is leading fundraising for a winter storm relief fund via Dynamo Charities that will support Kids Meals Houston and the Houston Food Bank, with more than $15,000 already contributed so far. The George R. Brown Convention Center, where the club’s business offices are located, has been converted into a warming shelter for Houston’s houseless population. About 50 staffers, players and fans will volunteer at the Houston Food Bank on Saturday to help sort and pack relief boxes for people in need.

Down in Austin, veteran center back Matt Besler was just getting settled into his new home on the city’s west side when the storms dumped freakish amounts of snow on a city known for its mild winters.

“It seems like the whole city’s shut down,” Besler told MLSsoccer.com. “It's not possible to get out and about – the road conditions, there's no plows down here. So when it snows, I've learned that you just wait until it melts, and we haven't had a day in five days where it's melted, and there's been a couple more little small patches of storms that have come through and just add to the layer of ice and snow that's already on the ground. So you're really just kind of bunkered into wherever you're at.

“It's hard to understand what's going on down here when you're not here,” added the Kansas City native. “You see it on the news and you see ‘Texas’ and ‘snowstorm,’ and I've made jokes myself … But when you're actually here, there's a severity to it. Obviously, this doesn't happen very often in Texas.

“So people were unprepared, and people need help.”

Even though they're yet to officially kick a ball together, Besler and his teammates have been wowed by the warm reception they’ve received across the River City. So after some WhatsApp and group text communication among the squad, he set up his first-ever GoFundMe. It’s already brought in over $30,000 and counting.

“We're a brand-new team. We haven't been here for very long. But we have felt welcomed by people,” he said. “You can feel it immediately, the culture, the vibe of the city, it's very welcoming. And so we've felt that already and we're grateful for that and so we wanted to help give back.”

It’s not just Austin’s players, staff and fans who are chipping in, though. Donations have poured in from across MLS, including Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer, supporters’ groups in Columbus and Charlotte and many more.

“It's really cool to see,” said Besler, “As much as soccer’s grown in this country in the last five, 10 years, whatever, it's still a pretty small, knit-tight community. And the other thing too is, we're all new to Austin, we're trying to form relationships down here, connect with the community, but everyone's coming from a different spot, and everyone has roots from somewhere else. And so I think that's helping this whole thing that we're doing right now.”

The club’s non-profit arm, the 4ATX Foundation, will contribute proceeds to the Austin Area Urban League and its ‘Love Thy Neighbor Texas’ campaign.

“We are committed to ensuring that youth and, in particular, underserved youth have everything that they need to be able to learn and grow both on and off the soccer pitch,” said Kaitlin Swarts, Austin FC’s VP of community impact. “And right now, that means basic needs like shelter and electricity and water and food and warm clothes.”

Austin FC are donating and delivering upwards of 2,000 meals to people in need around town. They're also working with their locally-based partner Waterloo Sparkling Water to donate more than 400 cases of their product to warming centers and other locations – transported through the snow by Austin FC staff members.

Though the details aren’t yet public, they’re planning efforts to show support and appreciation for caregivers in the St. David’s HealthCare system, one of the club’s founding sponsors, many of whom have labored under intensely difficult conditions during the crisis.

“We want to say thank you to everybody around the league who has supported us, especially with this player fund and who's reached out,” said Swarts. “The league just has such an incredible culture of showing up for one other, helping each other out.

“We will get through this and I think it makes our community stronger if we can get through something like this. It's going to make that first game and our opening day that much sweeter.”

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