AUSTIN, Texas — It took 15 months of uncertainty that embroiled soccer fans in two similar-yet-different cities, a protracted debate over whether to construct a stadium City of Austin land, and a recent sale of Columbus Crew SC operating rights to a new ownership group — but it all came to an apparent happy ending Tuesday, when Austin FC officially was announced as Major League Soccer’s 27th team.
Six days after MLS commissioner Don Garber participated in the new Crew owners’ coming out party — a press event featuring new head coach Caleb Porter and team president Tim Bezbatchenko — he headlined Austin’s boisterous launch party at a downtown Austin music venue. The event, hosted by Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas, featuring remarks by Austin FC Chairman and CEO Anthony Precourt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
“We are so excited to have Austin be our 27th team,” Garber said, also acknowledging the neither linear nor easy route the city took to getting its team and the success he expects for a city whose quality of life and demographics make it enticing for tech companies and entrepreneurs.
“Austin is a perfect fit for MLS,” Garber said, “and MLS is a perfect fit for Austin.”
Precourt set Austin’s journey to MLS in motion with his October 2017 announcement that he was exploring moving the Crew from the capital of Ohio to the capital of Texas. Both Garber and Precourt, in their remarks at the event and during interviews after, expressed satisfaction in the outcome they eventually crafted.
The sale of Precourt’s investor-operator rights in Columbus, plus the league giving him the green light to begin operations in Austin, keeps an original MLS team in its home city while giving Austin FC a two-year runway toward its first kick in 2021.
“The greatest way we can show our gratitude is toward our actions,” Precourt said, lauding the community members who advocated for bringing soccer to Austin. “So we intend to build a perennial MLS contender, year in and year out. We will build a stadium at McKalla Place which rivals the best in North America, that is fan-friendly, for you. We will cultivate a club culture that brings people together, and gives back — always giving back to our community.”
Nearly 600 people turned out on a cool, overcast day to the semi-outdoor venue, including a loud contingent from the team’s first supporters’ group, Austin Anthem. They debuted what may emerge as a few signature chants, including one built around Austin icon Matthew McConaughey’s signature “Alright, alright, alright,” and another celebrating the team’s “seven-four” victory – not a soccer score, but the tally of the City Council vote last August which allowed Austin FC to move forward with the City of Austin on the stadium plan.
Perhaps Austin Anthem’s finest moment of the afternoon was an impromptu chant that made Garber laugh out loud. Upon announcing tickets would be on sale soon, supporters broke in with “Take my money!” — to which Garber delightedly replied, “That’s a cheer I haven’t heard before.”