Austin FC's loud and proud homecoming proved that MLS is exactly what the city needed
Austin, Texas – Any question about whether MLS belongs in Austin was emphatically answered by the conclusion of Saturday's draw between Austin FC and the San Jose Earthquakes. Professional soccer has made itself at home in the capital city!
As Saturday's home opener in Austin FC's inaugural season approached, there were still a lot of doubts.
Those who were already avid soccer fans didn't need much convincing that bringing "MLS2ATX" – the message written on many of the scarves waved overhead during the pre-game escapades – was a good move.
But other Austin residents without a connection to the sport still weren't entirely sold.
All that uncertainty melted away the second fans and skeptics alike laid eyes on the Q2 Stadium in the flesh, some for the first time ever.
As a march led by the beat of La Murga de Austin brought fans to the stadium in style, people who were out-of-the-loop took note, watching the mayhem unfold in utter astonishment from apartment balconies, parking lots, and rooftops.
With 20,500 fans packed into the sold-out stadium, the home opener was nothing shy of a spectacle.
But since soccer is always more than 90 minutes, let's walk through the day that ended with a 0-0 draw between Austin FC and the San Jose Earthquakes, and left the city of Austin wanting more.
Marching to the beat of La Murga de Austin
Before Austin FC players arrived at Q2 Stadium, fans took to the streets for a police-escorted march to the stadium, led by La Murga de Austin, the raucous band for the supporter's section that prides itself on being the "heartbeat of Austin FC".
Given that the home opener landed on the first-ever federally recognized Juneteenth, fans at the front of the march held a Black Lives Matter banner as they headed towards the stadium, chanting "Dale, dale, dale, ATX!" with the occasional "Listos!" thrown in every few minutes. Ready, indeed!
As the brigade turned the corner and set their sights on Q2 Stadium, the crowd broke out into cheers and clapping, as cars driving by honked their horns to show support. If you hadn't heard of Austin FC before the march, La Murga de Austin made sure you quite literally did now.
Maurice Jones, who came to the game solo, floated along in the sea of Verde. Though he's not a member of any supporters group, he's a lifelong player and fan who's been on board with the idea of bringing MLS to Austin since he caught wind of the effort two years ago.
While he didn't have a ticket to the game, Jones chose to march to the stadium just to be a part of the experience.
"The atmosphere here is completely mental. Knowing that this many people in my city showed up is an indescribable feeling," Jones said.
The "Minister of Culture" fires up the supporters section
The feelings Jones sometimes struggled to verbalize were ones of immense gratitude, excitement, and appreciation for how Austin FC seems to be unifying people in a time when things have never seemed more polarized.
And when it comes to the city, it's hard to think of a more unifying force – or voice – than that of local legend, Matthew McConaughey.
The "Minister of Culture" at the University of Texas and Austin FC co-owner captivated the 20,500 fans in attendance on the jumbo screen with a speech that took the crowd from buzzing to electrified in a way only McConaughey can.
"We are pure, raw, on the approach," McConaughey said in a pre-recorded speech, "here to reveal, revive, and testify the mother lode."
Even if you didn't understand what he was saying, you sure knew how it felt when the man himself walked out, clad in a bright green suit and a bongo drum (because McConaughey), and faced the supporters section.
This was a moment hardly anyone in attendance was expecting, including Austin FC fan Allegra Benz, who was in the supporters section with her boyfriend when the star made his way onto the field.
"Matthew making an appearance – bongos and all – was jaw dropping and an amazing way to set up the game and introduce the team. It was a complete blast," Benz said.
The charismatic 51-year-old actor and Austin resident never fails to ignite a crowd and set them fully ablaze, and this was no exception. Once McConaughey hit his drum, all the pieces fell into place, and he was one with the supporters section, La Murga de Austin, and what felt like the entire city.
"Listos! Verde!" McConaughey and 20,500 of his fellow Austinites yelled in preparation for the men in Verde hitting their home field for the first time.
Local artist Aaron Stevens then took the grass for a soulful rendition of the National Anthem on the electric guitar, joined by fireworks halfway through, sending those in attendance into an chorus of cheers.
Austin FC's awaited home-field advantage is finally in play
The moment so many had been anxiously awaiting finally approached, and it was time for kick off.
From the very first touches, it was apparent that the San Jose Earthquakes were going to do everything in their power to not let Austin FC's newfound home advantage get in their way.
Some aggressive challenges in the first two minutes of play went uncalled and set an early precedence: these referees were going to let the two teams be a bit more physical than usual, and there were cries of outrage each time an Austin FC player hit the ground.
Despite the underdog label, fans never once doubted Austin FC's ability to claim victory at its inaugural home game, or lost faith in the team's beloved goalkeeper, Brad Stuver. Five minutes into the first half, Stuver made a save that lit the place up even more than one thought logistically possible.
For those who have never been to an MLS game, the nonstop chanting and drumming proved to be shocking for a sporting event, but appreciated. Given that the city is known for its plethora of live music gigs running into the early hours of the morning, the concept of continuous sound is anything but foreign.
Austin FC seemed to have possession of the ball for the better part of the match, though one shot on goal by San Jose in the 83rd minute of the match generated an audible gasp from the crowd, which soon turned to cheering after a brilliant save by Stuver.
Even though none of Austin FC's shots on goal made it to the back of the net, their effort wasn't unappreciated. With a more seasoned team that's worked together longer and knows who will be where and exactly when, the assists they strive to create would be met with a striker on cue.
But as they say, all good things take time, and the tale of Austin FC is no different.
Even though the game ended in a 0-0 draw, making it Austin FC's third straight, the team gained a point towards their standings in MLS.
What didn't take much time at all was the feeling of Austin FC being a part of the city's firmament. Judging by the day-long party that was the home opener, it's clear that Austin FC and its fans will be painting the town Verde for a long time to come.
Cover photo: Taylor Kamnetz