Saturday will be a day unlike anything Austin, Texas has ever seen. For the first time, a major professional sports team will be playing in front of their home fans in the Texas capital.
The moment comes after years of work from countless individuals, who have been anxiously anticipating this moment. Austin FC will take the field at Q2 Stadium on Saturday night to face the San Jose Earthquakes. The Verde & Black will finally have the opportunity to play at home after starting their expansion season with eight-straight road matches.
It’s not like there haven’t been professional sports teams in Austin before. It’s just that they have all been in the minor leagues. Some would say the only real professional sports team that has been in the city is the University of Texas.
“Austin has historically been a Longhorn town, it’s kind of its own pro sport. But as the city got bigger and a lot of people that live here didn’t go to UT, it just seemed like there was a need,” Tony Cardone, VP of Austin Anthem told AustinFC.com. “It’s something that you didn’t know you needed and then it happened and then you’re like ‘I don’t know how we could do anything without a professional team.’ It’s exactly the right sport for Austin because it’s a little bit younger, it’s a little bit more on the cutting edge. That’s where soccer in the States is.”
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Even though Saturdays in the fall have been dominated by the Longhorns game, there has steadily been growth in knowledge and participation when it comes to the world’s game. Of course, there have also been a couple professional teams that have competed in the lower leagues too.
Bucky Godbolt, co-host of The B&E show on 104.9 The Horn, once was an assistant coach for the Texas football team -- coaching the likes of Ricky Williams and Priest Holmes -- but his kids grew up in Austin playing soccer. His son, A.J., won a national championship in college with Maryland and went on to play professionally with the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City).
“Every soccer field in this city, over the last 20 years since I’ve been here, every Saturday you’d think it would be filled with football players but it’s been filled with youth soccer,” Godbolt told AustinFC.com.
Once Austin FC had started to become a reality, it became clear that it would be a unifying force for a city that has grown rapidly in recent years. This has meant that not only do UT alumni make up less of the population, but there are many transplants who have less of a connection with what the Austin sports scene was like previously.
Count Rigoberto Rodriguez Lira as one of those people.
Growing up in South Texas, Rodriguez Lira was a fan of the Liga MX team Tigres UANL. He moved to Austin in 2012 to go to UT and has never left. One of the main reasons he still calls Austin home? The arrival of Austin FC.
“In Austin you have so many options and so many cities nearby, and hiking, and the river. It’s so diverse too, you learn to live with so many different types of people and bond with them and get that exposure,” Rodriguez Lira told AustinFC.com. “It was that moment where I’m getting my house and all of a sudden I’m staying here in Austin and I have a soccer team now. It’s something I never imagined was going to happen.”
He has gone on to become one of the leaders of Los Verdes and also a member of La Murga.
“I want to be part of creating a culture from scratch in a city so diverse. For me it’s a really humble city and a city that deserved a sports team and something to really unite all these people coming from everywhere. We knew it was a soccer city. Everybody was into their European team, Mexican team or teams from everywhere but they just needed an excuse to all be together. That’s Austin FC.”
After having to watch Austin FC on the road for the last two months, Rodriguez Lira is among the thousands of ATXFC fans and supporters that are counting down the minutes until the Verde & Black walk onto the pitch at Q2 Stadium.
For Tony Cardone it will be a moment where he takes a beat to take it all in and recognize all the work that has been done to make this Club a reality.
“For me and for a lot of people it will be a moment where you just sit back and enjoy it. A lot of people have worked for years to bring this to an idea, much less an actual implementation. When you see that on the field, when you see the word Austin on a scoreboard, everyone one of those little moments you’re like ‘Wow, this is really happening.’”
As for Rodriguez Lira, Saturday will just be the start of what he hopes will be the future of soccer in Austin.
“It’s about showing that Austin is ready and that we’re a vibrant city and a creative city and we can use soccer as a platform to unite us all.”