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'Screw the Crew?' Past Precourt beef resurfaces and tensions run high ahead of Austin FC's next match

Austin FC fans will meet the fanbase that hates them most as Columbus Crew fans come to Q2 Stadium on Sunday. (Q2 Stadium/Twitter)

Austin FC was hated by many soccer fans long before ground broke at McKalla Place, and that resentment persists for many Columbus Crew fans as their club heads to Austin's Q2 Stadium on Sunday.

As 20,500 Verde fans filed into their first home match last Saturday, a small plane flew overhead with the slogan "PRECOURT IS A SNAKE" trailing behind it in the wind. Columbus had taken the first jab at Austin FC and, more specifically, Austin FC owner (and previous Columbus Crew SC owner) Anthony Precourt.

Precourt meets his former team once again on Sunday, and the Columbus fanbase is less than happy to see him on his brand-new stadium's soil.

Meanwhile, Austin FC fans are thrilled that Precourt brought the city its long-awaited first major league sports franchise. Austin FC fans Hernan Gonzalez and Bryan Saldana, who also run fan reaction YouTube channel WeAreAustinTV, said they are prepared to defend the owner who brought an MLS team to their city and sow a rivalry on their home field. "We're not going to take it," Gonzalez said.

Here's some backstory on how tensions began and continue before it all boils over at Q2 Stadium.

The history

Columbus Crew SC was one of the first 10 teams to be awarded when MLS formed in 1996, and by 1999 the Home Field at Ohio Stadium was transformed to Crew Stadium.

Columbus Crew's opening match at Crew Stadium on May 15, 1999. (Crew Stadium/Twitter)

"(It's a) historic stadium, historic club," Gonzalez said. "The fans have been there for years... People (can say) their grandpa was a Crew fan."

Precourt, meanwhile, came onto the scene when Precourt Sports Ventures purchased the club in 2013. Under his leadership, the franchise hired captain Gregg Berhalter and found their footing.

The hostility all boils down to an infamous exit clause tucked neatly away in Precourt's contract with Columbus. Precourt had apparently been thinking of Austin since his earliest days with the club. According to the clause, Precourt could not move the MLS' original team to any other city—except for Austin, Texas.

Precourt didn't make a move until 2017. As the club struggled with an older stadium and falling attendance, Precourt asked Columbus for a new publicly-funded stadium. When the city disagreed, Precourt began to revisit the exit clause, which remained unknown to die-hard fans. The idea emerged to relocate the Crew to Austin. Columbus fans were outraged, and a retaliatory "Save the Crew" movement was born.

Precourt didn't move the historic club; after a lawsuit, he was granted a new club in Austin by MLS Commissioner Don Garber. The fledgling Austin FC was born, and Saldana said it was a win-win situation for both clubs.

Anthony Precourt, sporting director Claudio Reyna and head coach Josh Wolff at an Austin FC event in 2019. (Austin FC/Twitter)

"People can say whatever they want to say, but I feel like everybody ended up winning ," Saldana said. "They kept their team, they got a new stadium, (and) we got our team."

Columbus didn't see it that way. Save The Crew members signed petitions, pleaded with Austin residents to curb progress and continued to speak out against the perceived betrayal.

The sentiment clearly lingers today. When asked to comment on the rivalry and upcoming match, Columbus Crew supporters' group Murderers' Row had just one thing to say: "There is no rivalry, just hatred to Anthony Precourt."

Austin FC vs. Columbus Crew

Austin FC's enemies aren't just in Columbus. Who doesn't want a shiny new stadium, a sense of camaraderie and a new professional team to cheer for at a local bar?

Other contenders for the new MLS expansion, including San Antonio, aren't quite cheering for Austin FC. However, thousands of fans, from part-owner Matthew McConaughey to the loud-and-proud supporters' section, are undeterred by the hate.

Gonzalez said he understands where Crew fans are coming from, but it's unfair to be angry at the city and team that were just happy to get a major league team in the first place. "We never asked for this," Gonzalez said. "Precourt brought something that we've always wanted to have."

Instead of bowing down, both Gonzalez and Saldana say they embrace the rivalry. "As far as leaning into this rivalry, we absolutely will not accept the banner that was flown and the hatred that we get from Columbus fans. We want to give that energy back to them."

Austin fans are already gaining a reputation as an enthusiastic, peace-loving community in alignment with general Austin culture, but Gonzalez and Saldana are repping "Screw the Crew" shirts come Sunday. "We do not want to be the pushovers of the MLS," Gonzalez said.

The match is high-stakes both on and off the pitch: Austin FC is still scoreless at Q2 Stadium, and Columbus fans will remember forever if they win the first goal at Q2 Stadium. "It would be a huge blow to the fan base," Gonzalez said. "If they score that first goal, they're going to have that against Austin FC forever."

The Yellow and Verde will meet—not mingle—at Q2 Stadium at 7 p.m. on Sunday as Austin FC takes on the Columbus Crew for their second home match.


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