Before Austin’s soccer supporters came together under the colors Verde & Black, many were united by red, white and blue. Even with the arrival of Austin FC in Texas’ capitol, and the fervent support that the city has shown the Club so far, local American soccer fans’ passion for their national teams is still as strong as ever.
As the U.S. Men’s National Team prepares to play its first-ever World Cup Qualifier in the state of Texas at Q2 Stadium on Thursday (6:30 p.m. CT), Austin - and more importantly, its supporters - will be at the epicenter of American soccer for a night.
The match against Jamaica offers members of the American Outlaws Austin chapter - many of whom also belong to Austin FC supporters groups - the chance to showcase the city’s vibrant and ever-growing soccer culture.
“I think Austin has one of the best soccer cultures in the country,” said AO Austin Head of Community Outreach Imani Williams. “It used to be fragmented. You had local kids playing, people playing in leagues, you had tons of pickup in Zilker, and a lot of places throughout the city where people were watching and engaging with soccer.
“Now, we want to bring the whole city together through the game. The opportunity is there between Austin FC and U.S. Soccer. We could absolutely give the city a way where everybody could automatically relate to each other in a way that goes beyond socioeconomic backgrounds. It just feels like Austin is primed for a takeover. We get a little weird, and I think soccer is one of those things where you’re allowed to get a little bit weird, and we should keep it that way too.”
Williams and AO Austin President Jesse Easdon agree that Austin’s opportunity to host the USMNT’s first World Cup qualifier in Texas shows that people from outside the state are taking notice of the city’s passion for soccer.
“What Austin FC and Q2 have done is shown that this is a city and a state for soccer. U.S. Soccer has listened and they’re going to come, and it’s extremely exciting now that we can showcase the passion and the love for the sport that people in Texas have,” said Easdon. “This is really going to be a Texas game, because you’re going to have people coming from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Rio Grande Valley, to see this. It’s a big honor for Austin to host it for the state of Texas.”
For Williams, who is also a member of Austin FC supporters groups La Murga and Los Verdes, seeing people who were new to soccer embrace the Club throughout its inaugural season has been a rewarding experience. She hopes that at the USMNT match, fans will embrace the environment the same way and create a raucous atmosphere to support the team.
“It’s always fun to see people engaging for the first time. I’m a capo, so I’m always looking back at the crowd while everyone else is looking at the field,” said Williams. “For me, the best thing is when I see people start to look around, hands start to go up, heads start to nod, they start chiming in.
“I think that’s what makes Q2 special. We encourage people to engage in the entire atmosphere around the stadium and not just only worry about what’s on the field, but also enjoy the feeling of watching live sports and being at a great venue.”
Easdon hopes that the sense of family and community that Austin soccer supporters have built shines through at the match, not just for those in attendance from out of town, but for those watching through their screens.
“I think you’ll see that in a couple of different ways: the passion we have at our night before party, our tailgate, the love we’re showing people coming from outside,” said Easdon. “I think you’re going to see it in the stands and you’re going to see it on TV with our tifo that we’ve got going up tomorrow and with the passion and the excitement that our fans are going to show.”
The tifo Easdon mentioned is set to be raised just before kickoff of Thursday’s match, and was designed by Austin-based street artist and muralist Uloang, who also designed the first-ever tifo at an Austin FC match. While neither Easdon nor Williams would reveal details about the tifo, they did share what they felt its message would be.
“The message we want to send is that as a city and a soccer culture, we expect the U.S. Men’s National Team to win and to go far, not just in the World Cup qualifiers, but also in the World Cup,” said Easdon. “We expect big things and as the city of Austin we want to be a big part of that.”
“The piece that’s going to go up for everyone to see and enjoy is basically about us all in it together,” added Williams. “It’s about our goals. There are a lot of expectations for this national team, it’s our most talented men’s national team ever. For us, it’s about renewal, and about a new journey.
“This is Austin, Texas. We want to have a fun time, and we want people to enjoy themselves and come back for more.”