Austin FC officially tanked to the bottom of the MLS Western Conference after a lackluster performance against No. 1 Seattle Sounder's bench players last week, disappointing even the most hardcore fans who have been looking for another breakthrough for weeks.
But there could be light at the end of the tunnel.
Just as the club received scrutiny for their loss against the youngest MLS lineup ever and lack of scoring options, South American transfer expert Cesar Luis Merlo reported that Argentine Sebastian Driussi would be transferring to the club. The announcement comes after rumors of interest in Driussi, who plays in the Russian Premier League, swirled for weeks.
🚨🚨Sebastián Driussi jugará en el Austin FC 🇺🇲.
*️⃣El club de la MLS pagó la cláusula acordada para su salida y los abogados ya trabajan en la confección de su contrato.
*️⃣Su oficialización es cuestión de ⏳. #trarohecho pic.twitter.com/95qS6KJ1UH
— César Luis Merlo (@CLMerlo) July 26, 2021
Merlo, who broke the news on Twitter on Monday, last reported the signing of Austin FC's Tomas Pochettino from Argentina.
While Austin FC hasn't confirmed the move, Driussi's former club FC Zenit reported on the transfer on Monday afternoon.
We can confirm that Sebastian Driussi has now left the club.
Everyone at Zenit wishes him all the best for the future.
📰 https://t.co/DcbiIMnF4V pic.twitter.com/rJts0sqSST
— FC Zenit in English✨ (@fczenit_en) July 26, 2021
Driussi joins new signee Moussa Djitte, another forward and true striker from Grenoble, as new intriguing answers to Austin's cry for help.
It's no secret that Austin isn't putting the ball in the back of the net: the club has been shut out for eight of its last ten matches, just two of which have taken place within its stadium walls. Head Coach Josh Wolff has endured the brunt of explaining the team's scorelessness, admitting the team's lack of scoring every week with a slightly deeper frown etched on his face.
"From a goal-scoring standpoint... it's been lackluster and poor," Wolff said after the 1-0 Seattle loss. "The reality is that we haven't scored goals... you've got to score goals to win games."
While some criticism toward Wolff's strategy, a lack of urgency and poor decision-making on the pitch are warranted—and have been freely expressed by frustrated fans and haters—the team has been even worse off due to its constant slew of injuries.
The team has been without a solid striker at least since frontman Danny Hoesen was declared out for the season due to a hip injury. Even before his injury, Hoesen had failed to solidify himself as the team's offensive leader, while teammate Jon Gallagher showed spurts of greatness but couldn't find consistency.
Gallagher himself scored the first Q2 Stadium goal with an injured foot and was out for a few weeks, as have been Captain Alex Ring, midfielder Tomas Pochettino and center back Matt Besler. Starters including midfielder Daniel Pereira, left back Ben Sweat, right back Nick Lima are among the six still stuck on the bench.
With injuries and a learning curve to boot, Austin has scored just 10 goals this season—tied for the least in the conference. While Dominguez and surprise star Diego Fagundez have scored three goals apiece, the out-of-position players haven't been able to heal the holes in the lineup and beat veteran MLS opponents.
Even after a breakout 4-1 over Portland that injected new energy into the team, Austin has been subject to critics who fairly wonder when the club will right its sinking ship.
First summer signing: Moussa Djitte
DONDE ESTÁ DJITTE?!?!?— WeAreAustinTV (@WeAreAustinTV) July 23, 2021
HAVE YOU SEEN DJITTE?!?! pic.twitter.com/ssMfTdby1v
Wolff and Sporting Director Claudio Reyna have long had plans to get a boost in the summer transfer window, and the need for scoring help became increasingly evident as the season progressed.
Djitte, a 21-year-old striker in the French Ligue 2, was announced as a U-22 signee with an undisclosed transfer salary on June 30.
Djitte comes from Grenoble in the French league, where he scored eight goals in 35 appearances last season. The striker also spent time with FC Sion in the Swiss Super League but is originally from Senegal, where he played for ASC Niarri Tally in Dakar. He also represented Senegal internationally, making his debut for the Senegal U-20 team and scoring the only goal in his first match with the U23 team in 2018.
Wolff and crew hoped for Djitte's arrival by the July 22 match, but to no avail. As the club once again failed to put points on the board, fans continue to impatiently await his arrival as Djitte's paperwork is sorted out.
The pressure's on for Djitte, who some have called the club's only hope. But that burden is put twofold on Driussi, who holds more experience and acclaim than his new younger teammate.
Second signing: Sebastian Driussi
Sebastian Driussi: "Thank you from me and from my family. St. Petersburg is an amazing city and Zenit is a fantastic club. Maybe one day we will meet again!"@SebadriussiOk has a farewell message to the club and the fans— FC Zenit in English✨ (@fczenit_en) July 26, 2021
📧 https://t.co/urgPQxvcVr pic.twitter.com/Yr1AbBsQvj
Driussi has an even more decorated history under his belt. An Argentina native, the forward spent five seasons with Primera Division member River Plate, scoring 17 goals in his final season with the club before transferring to the Russian Premier League. While with FC Zenit, Driussi helped the club to the Russian Cup Championship in 2019 and scored 21 goals in four seasons with the team.
Driussi has already been lauded as a saving grace for Austin's stagnant offense, but it will be a minute before he steps onto the pitch in Verde. Djitte is expected to fly to Austin this week, but both players will need to quarantine before they can suit up onto the Q2 Stadium turf.
Time will tell whether or not the two turn the tables for Austin before it's too late, but the new faces are sure to bring back excitement as Austin reaches the halfway point of its first-ever season.
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Five Austin companies joined Google's second Startups Black Founders Fund on Wednesday, earning $100,000 each as part of the $10 million initiative geared toward giving Black entrepreneurs access to funding for their startups.
The fund gave $100,000 to 50 founders nationwide, including Austin companies CustomerX.i, Journey Foods, Sandbox Commerce, The Mentor Method and Tadeblock.
The founders will receive the funding without giving up any ownership of their startups and will gain access to Google technical support including up to $120,000 in donated search Ads from Google.org and up to $100,000 in Google Cloud credits. The Austin companies will also join a select few—the fund is only two years old and last year rewarded 76 Black-led startups with up to $100,000 as well.
Google's Startup funds can be used to boost Black founders' companies into success—last year, founders raised up to $50 million in capital after recieving the funds, and 80% of the companies used their funds to create jobs.
Founders from last year's batch then paid it forward by nominating new companies and announcing the winners via Zoom.
Here's a look at those 5 founders in Austin:
Hakeem James- Customer X.I
Customer X.I founder Hakeem James wants to help small restaurants thrive.
Customer X.I founder Hakeem James wants to keep mom-and-pop shops alive. That's why he started his company to bridge "the gap between online and offline" and give restaurants and small businesses a centralized location to analyze their data against competitors.
"The question we ask internally: is it simple enough for my grandmother to use? For the record, my grandmother sometimes picks up the phone upside down," James told Microsoft.
The company's data can help businesses small and large better understand their customers—from their names to their drink choices—to build better relationships and customer loyalty.
But it hasn't been easy, especially as labor shortages and COVID safety policies affect restaurants during the pandemic. James said he heard about Google for Startups at Austin's entrepreneur hub, Capital Factory. He and the team will use the funding to create "freemium" plans as they seek to keep restaurants open.
"It has also allowed us to offer our products to restaurants that need it most on a freemium basis to keep their doors open and accelerate their growth when it has never been harder to do so," James said. "Being recognized and backed by Google is monumental for us; it is a signal to our partners of our growing success in the market and the expanded capacity we now have to serve our clients."
Riana Lynn- Journey Foods
Lynn said the startup fund will help level the playing field for Black entrepreneurs that may not get the funding they need.
"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund is a strong step in increasing the significant discrepancies in funding to many groups of founders, especially founders of color," Lynn said. "The funds will be used to add more science and engineering talent to our team and improve our impact in supply chains."
The company takes a step further back in the food industry process by merging research and development for food companies. Through comprehensive food data, Journey Foods helps provide insights on ingredients, pricing, manufacturing, and supply chain information to companies across the food industry.
From suppliers to packaging companies, Journey Foods hopes to reduce waste and costs by streamlining the food creation process.
Sterling Smith- Sandbox Commerce
Sandbox Commerce CEO Sterling Smith wasn't given a heads-up when he earned a spot in the Black Startups Fund- instead, he thought he was in his final interview.
Smith, who founded the app company in 2018, expressed his gratitude for the funding.
"Everyone involved, I really appreciate you guys betting on Sandbox," Smith said. "I can tell my mom now, right?"
Sandbox Commerce looks to create simple apps for companies without any technical or coding skills needed. The company looks to especially help the underdogs, including small businesses or underrepresented companies, in bridging the gap between computer skills and entrepreneurs.
Janice Omadeke- The Mentor Method
The Mentor Method is a consulting firm that helps companies recruit and retain employees through mentorship. (The Mentor Method/Facebook)
The Mentor Method, founded by Janice Omadeke, has been featured by Forbes and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its multi-step method of promoting employee retention and fulfillment. Omadeke has also won Capital Factory's $100k Female Founder competition award.
The company focuses on inclusivity, closing opportunity gaps and building talent through its mentorship method, which involves a matching algorithm that brings employees and mentors quickly together. The Mentor Method has been used by high-profile programs including the Department of Education and Glassdoor.
Omadeke said the startup will use its fund to create jobs, including a Product Coordinator, and boost an employee benefits package.
"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund will help us scale faster and address the core needs of companies seeking to retain their employees," Omadeke said.
Mbiyimoh Ghogomu- Tradeblock
Now a company used by tens of thousands, Tradeblock had humble beginnings—it was once just an Instagram page for sneakerheads.
Founder Mbiyimoh Ghogomu teamed up with childhood friends Tony Malveaux and Darren Smith to transform the page throughout the pandemic and create a network for sneaker lovers to enjoy. With their motto "Kicks as Currency," sneakerheads can trade sneakers without ever touching their piggy bank.
For Ghogomu, the company and Black Starters fund are both about one thing-fostering community.
"Getting recognized by Google as part of the Black Founders Fund is a game-changer for us," Ghogomu said. "My co-founders and team have been working really hard to disrupt the sneaker x tech space and inspire community building. The funds, relationships and overall support that Tradeblock is gaining will take us to the next level."
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Austinites will once again be able to take a nonstop flight to London as Austin-Bergstrom International Airport resumes transatlantic travel this fall.
Starting Oct. 13, British Airways will offer its direct flight from ABIA to London-Heathrow Airport three times a week on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The airline, which has been operating in Austin since 2013, had halted service at the start of the pandemic over a year ago.
"We can't wait to welcome our customers back on board our Austin flights and we are honored to be playing our part in reuniting families and friends with their loved ones after such a long time apart," said Marie Hilditch, British Airways' head of North America sales.
Safety protocols the airline is taking include:
- social distancing measures
- wearing of facemasks
- providing hand sanitizer stations
- cleaning all surfaces after every flight
- fully recycling the air once every two to three minutes through HEPA filters, which remove microscopic bacteria and virus clusters with over 99.9% efficiency
The announcement comes as COVID-19 testing requirements to enter the UK are scheduled to stop on Oct. 4. for vaccinated Americans.
Additionally, a Monday White House announcement allows fully vaccinated international travelers to enter the U.S. starting in early November with proof of a negative COVID-19 test. The ban, which was implemented in 2020, restricted travelers from a number of European countries, Iran and China throughout the pandemic.
With a goal of making healthy goodies available to the masses, HumanCo LLC has caught the attention of famous Austinites.
The Austin-based investment firm and holding company that incubates, acquires and scales consumer packaged health foods just closed a $35 million bridge funding round that included some well-known backers from the capital city and beyond according to co-founder and CEO Jason Karp.
Even since the beginning of its launch in May 2020, HumanCo had gained a new board of advisers member and an undisclosed investment from professional tennis superstar Venus Williams.
This most recent round welcomed a vetted round of investors who share a love of healthy food: co-founder of Austin-based private equity firm Vista Equity Partners Brian Sheth, Austin-based venture capital firm 8VC general partner Joe Lonsdale, actress Scarlett Johansson, Whole Foods Market Inc. co-CEO Walter Robb, model Cindy Crawford, Thrive Market co-founder and CEO Nick Green, San Francisco venture capital firm Jazz Venture Partners, former PepsiCo CEO and chairwoman Indra Nooyi, U.S. Open winner and former Austinite Andy Roddick, model and actress Brooklyn Decker, and Vital Proteins founder and CEO Kurt Seidensticker.
Founded in 2019, the company secured a $15 million Series A funding round in January 2020. Come late 2022, the company is planning "a much bigger" round of funding. According to HumanCo officials, targeting well-known influencers and celebrities was a deliberate choice—they have the influence money can't buy.
Some of the brands under the company's umbrella include organic, grain-free and gluten-free Snow Days Pizza bites, which feature Johansson as the creative director; wholesale gluten-free baked goods manufacturer Against the Grain Gourmet Foods and organic and plant-based ice cream brand Coconut Bliss.
The company employs 22 people, nine of which work in Austin at 98 San Jacinto Center. The rest of the employees are spread across at least four cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles, for the time being.HumanCo plans to hire around 10 more in the next year, according to Karp, and go public in "a few years." The company currently has two jobs open in Austin.
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