MLS expansion club Austin FC will play their first game in their own soccer-specific stadium, downtown in the Texas capital. They are doing MLS expansion right.
Unlike some Major League Soccer expansion clubs, the first home game in 2021 for Austin FC will be in their own 20,500-seat stadium. Team president Andy Loughnane said the organization wouldn’t have it any other way.
The new soccer-specific, multi-purpose event venue will open with the team’s first season. He said the $240 million, privately funded project will feature the second-largest canopy structure among soccer-specific stadiums. It will be immediately joined by Austin FC staff and infrastructure.
The Austin franchise was joined by fellow MLS expansion club Inter Miami in adding teams to the U.S. Soccer Boys Development Academy for the 2019-2020 season. This vital development organization has grown from 509 teams in 2018-2019 to 539 in 2019-2020.
In the same time period, the girls Development Academy has expanded from 251 teams to 342. The academy organization is not only a tool to expand soccer culture among youth. MLS teams got involved to create a pathway for youth to become their players in the future.
In a relatively short time, Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas supporters expect a Cascadia-style three-team rivalry to quickly develop once Austin FC hits the pitch. The Cascadia Cup started in 2004 for the best team among Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps. It’s named for the region in the Pacific Northwest.
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Austin FC chairman and CEO Anthony Precourt said he’s fully behind anything that grows his club and culture. A realist, Precourt said personnel remained highly motivated to get everything done completely and correctly. He said they realize this will be one of the most highly scrutinized MLS expansion launches in league history.
The reason for the scrutiny is that Precourt’s trek into the league began when he bought the original MLS franchise, the Columbus Crew. He eventually began seeking to move the Crew to Austin, one of the largest U.S. markets without a top-tier professional sports franchise.
Due to a law unique to Ohio, Precourt first had to give another ownership group the opportunity for a fair purchase of the team to keep it in Columbus. Such a purchase was made and the Austin move, which was widely unpopular and inspired the #savethecrew movement.
MLS then gave Precourt Sports Ventures the opportunity to build and launch Austin FC from the ground up. Precourt and his team are perfect for this task. And soccer-hungry supporters in Austin are the better for it. The Cascadia-style rivalry is on the way.