FRISCO, Texas — A unique group of traveling supporters attended FC Dallas’ match Saturday night against the Columbus Crew. They were there for the opponent — kind of — but didn’t hop on a plane from Columbus, they simply drove a couple hours north on I-35.
Members of the group circled the match date after the Austin city council voted to allow the city to begin negotiations with Precourt Sports Ventures, the Crew’s investment group, for a plot of land to build a Major League Soccer stadium. The vote was the latest step in a year-long relocation saga that could result in the Crew moving to Austin.
Many supporters of the potential soon-to-be Austin team congregated at a local bar in Dallas a couple hours before the 0-0 draw. Some wore Austin FC branded merchandise, while others dressed in normal gear. All wanted to catch a glimpse of the team they could one day call their own.
They emphasized the trip was not an official event for the group, rather one that came about organically.
“As soon as the city council vote passed, it was really easy for fans in Austin to say, “Hey, there’s a game coming up in Dallas. That’s really close to us. Let’s figure out if you can go,’” Austin fan Ryan Riggins said. “As an MLS in Austin supporters group, we felt like it wasn’t the best plan of action to organize bus trips and stuff like that. The fact of the matter is, we don’t have the official word, so it’s not our team yet. We’re certainly excited, and that’s why a lot of people are here today.
“Generally, this is Austin coming out and being excited about soccer and watching it at the place we currently can that’s closest.”
A memo published on Twitter provided behavior guidelines to the Austin supporters group heading to Dallas. It asked the group to be respectful and “please don’t forget the team on the pitch on 9/15 is still Columbus’ — not ours.”
— Chris Bils (@ChrisBils) September 12, 2018
When the memo went public, many Columbus fans on social media were upset and criticized the group for going to the match, saying they were contributing to the potential demise of the Crew. There was a sprinkle of #SaveTheCrew jerseys at the match and the Dallas Guardians, an FC Dallas Supporters group, held up banners at the beginning of the game that read #SaveTheCrew.
Some of those fans attended the Ohio State versus Texas Christian University football game at AT&T Stadium held up #SaveTheCrew signs.
— Kyle Robertson (@KRobPhoto) September 15, 2018
Riggins said the memo was sent in the group’s newsletter and was never meant to go public. He wanted the Austin fans to be as discreet as possible at the match.
“It was something that we wrote up in our newsletter that anyone can subscribe too,” Riggins said. “We knew that there was lots of interest in coming up here, and we wanted to make sure that fans are respectful. There’s been some garbage being thrown back and forth on the internet. Frankly, we have not had a lot of face-to-face interaction. We’ve had a handful of people who have traveled to different cities and have experienced different clubs but have never had direct interaction with Columbus fans.
“We just wanted to make sure people are respectful because there has been so much heat online. We wanted to put our best foot forward. And we realize we don’t have a dog in the fight tonight. We’re here to watch a good game.”
Many Austin supporters said they are sympathetic toward Columbus fans. Austin’s previous soccer club, the Austin Aztecs of the United Soccer League, moved to Orlando in 2011 and later became MLS’ Orlando City.
“I’ve had a lot of really great conversations with fans in Columbus, and I think if I were in their shoes, I’d take the same steps they have to save their team,” Riggins said. “I totally feel for them, and Austinites get that. We’ve had different stints of history with the Aztecs. It’s not quite at the same level, but we get it.
“My hope at the end of the day is that the Crew somehow stay in Columbus and we get a team in Austin.”
Regardless of the situation, the potential of having a team in Austin again has provided a boost to soccer fans in the city. They want a resolution to the relocation question as well and believe the anticipation isn’t good for either side, they said.
“The fact of the matter is, we’re just excited to have a team. That’s what we want. We want a team. We’re not for or against anything. We are for a team.
“We want the same thing the Crew fans want,” supporter Bernie Linstrom said. “We want a resolution: ‘Hey, this is what’s going to happen, so everyone get ready. ‘ We can prepare, we can guess, everyone can throw their hypotheses on the wall and see if they stick like spaghetti — but until then, we don’t know. Until [MLS commissioner] Don Garber and [Crew investor-operator] Anthony Precourt come to the forefront, we’re all up in limbo.”