'Number one fans': Austin FC fathers balance family, soccer and being the coolest dads at Career Day
Austin FC's roster is stocked with guys in all different stages of life, but nearly all stick to a similar mantra: "family comes first (and) soccer comes second." For nine Austin FC athletes, that means balancing hours of grueling work with fatherhood off the pitch.
That lifestyle became apparent when Matt Besler, the club's starting defender and one of the best center backs in MLS history, stayed home for Austin's second-ever match to witness the birth of his son Miller. Besler had already missed the birth of his first daughter and wasn't going to miss one again.
"It's in God's hands of when the baby's going to come, and you do your best to plan as much as possible, but in the end, it usually never works out that way," Besler said. "We just felt like it was better for me to just stay back and not travel because you don't want to regret missing that."
Besler's wife, Amanda, and two daughters joined him on his journey to Austin after 12 years with Sporting Kansas City. Balancing family and soccer isn't too bad, Besler said, and neither aspect of his life has suffered from the other. Still, he admits there isn't much time for Netflix binging or picking up hobbies.
"I feel like I've been able to balance those two things really well... but it really is just balancing my family and soccer," Besler said. "That's about all I have time for, but... I would rather have it this way than the other way where you feel like you're getting pulled in like a million different directions."
Besler's children haven't quite wrapped their head around their dad being a professional football player—he currently has them convinced he's an aspiring magician—but they do share a post-game ritual: playing Operation on Dad.
"They like to be the doctor (and) inspect all my bruises and scratches from the game," Besler said. "So they each have their medical kits and they do a physical exam on me, and they're always worried about daddy getting hurt or kicked. So that's probably as far as we get in terms of the soccer fandom."
While adjusting to Austin has been difficult—namely, the sweltering Texas summer heat—Besler said his family has adjusted with the help of an at-home swimming pool and the city's overwhelming support.
Fellow central defender Julio Cascante feels the same way. Cascante and his wife, Jessica, had their hands full when they moved to Austin from Portland with their then-four-month-old son Anto. Pair that with Austin FC's stagnant record, which has garnered plenty of criticism, and life on the Verde pitch can be pretty stressful.
Cascante said he's able to leave the pressures of the job thanks to his role as a husband and father.
"You get home and you see your baby, I think that's that's what gives you that relief," Cascante said. "He wants to be with you as soon as you get off, and so you forget about all the bad things that happened to you today (because) they only think about you as a father."
For Diego Fagundez, seeing pictures of his children with him on the pitch reminds him why he plays.
"It's something that I'll never forget, and I hope that they'll never forget, and they can tell their kids someday," Fagundez said. "That's why I do it. I might be having a bad day, but at the end of the day, they still bring my smile... It's the best feeling in the world."
Having built-in fans has its benefits. Fagundez's three-year-old daughter, Maria, has already been seen shouting his name in the supporter's section, and he hopes one day she'll be on the podium with fan band La Murga's "capos," or chant leaders.
"They're my number one fans," Fagundez said. "In that video of my daughter in the south end with all the fans, she's throwing her arms and singing and yelling. That's amazing to me."
Fagundez, whose father played professionally too, hopes to create the same memories he enjoyed as a kid for his own children. Fagundez, Besler and Cascante all hope to see their kids play soccer one day, but more importantly, they hope to pass on key aspects of the sport—passion, kindness, dedication and sacrifice.
While adjusting to a new city with a young family has been difficult for all, they're thankful for all the support from Austin fans that help the Texas capital feel like home. Fagundez has become great friends with members of Los Verdes, and some have even helped him watch his kids as he goes to training.
"Austin's amazing," Fagundez said. "From the first day they got here, the fan base just helped me so much. If I needed something, they would be the first ones there. It's like one big, happy family."
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Actor, director and screenwriter Justin Theroux isn't the only famous member of his family. His canine companion Kuma made waves online this past weekend supporting Austin Pets Alive!—and Jennifer Aniston is a fan.
Theroux launched Kuma's own Instagram account on Saturday with a link to Austin Pets Alive!'s website in her bio. And the grey pitbull mix is already garnering the kind of attention worthy of her movie star dad: As of Monday night, she has over 55,000 followers.
Chief among them is Jennifer Aniston, who posted a photo of Theroux and his newly online dog on her Instagram story yesterday with fond words for the Austin shelter.
"Love what these two are doing to help people who help pups who help people," the 'Friends' star, and Theroux's ex-wife, wrote. "They helped save 60 pups at Austin Pets Alive! yesterday."
Theroux began volunteering at the shelter while filming 'The Leftovers' in Austin when he fell in love with the shelter's pitbulls, according to Dr. Ellen Jefferson, Austin Pets Alive! president and CEO.
"We are thrilled that he and Kuma are spreading the word about the work APA! is doing and the need to keep Austin no-kill," she said, referring to the shelter's commitment to save animals most at risk for euthenasia.
Theroux adopted his mut in 2018 after Kuma was rescued—dirty and injured—from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey by A Chance to Bloom Dog Rescue, based in Conroe, Texas.
While Kuma is not from APA!, Theroux connected with the Conroe-based non-profit while visiting the Austin shelter, and he has remained "an enthusiastic supporter" ever since, Jefferson said.
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Six days a week, thousands of onlookers tune in to live streams to watch the pros rake it all in at high-stakes poker tournaments. The big-name poker players aren't in Las Vegas or even Oklahoma's finest casinos—instead, they're where Texas Hold 'Em gets its name.
Gambling may be illegal in Texas, but over a hundred poker houses are using a loophole to open up shop across the state, especially in Austin and Dallas.
The classic poker game is finally getting played for real cash around the Lone Star State thanks to an exception in Texas' gambling ban that allows poker games to be played in private residences. Instead of taking a cut from the pot like traditional gambling ventures, private poker houses don't make money from the results of a game; instead, they get their revenue from membership and hourly fees.
It's a business strategy that's gone (mostly) unchallenged by Texas politicians, especially as the industry begins to heat up.
Austin may now have around 20 poker houses around town, but it wasn't long ago that one stood alone like a small town saloon. The city's premiere poker house, Texas Card House, was founded in 2015 and has since grown to include a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers, a wide range of gameplay and regular visits from big-name poker gurus like Brad Owen and Doug Pope.
David Lagana, a content creator who has worked in college sports and Hollywood, was brought into the scene in May as the house's live streams began to blow up. He said the live streaming battleground is only beginning.
"The space is ever-growing," Lagana said. "It's been interesting to try and find a lane that everybody can succeed. It's all about finding something that people want to watch on a nightly basis."
Can Player BLUFF Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen on LIVE Stream?
Watch now - https://t.co/4Wt4s5Z0V7@TheBradOwen @andrewneeme pic.twitter.com/Yg4R0c0sj2
— Texas Card House (@texascardhouse) August 25, 2021
Carolyn Hapgood, who has worked for Texas Card House for three years, has made a name for herself as a live stream producer, dealer and player herself with the company. She's seen Texas Card House grow from a two-room card house to the most well-known poker venue in Austin with another branch in Dallas.
"It was a teeny tiny little house with five tables, and that was the first legal card house in the state," Hapgood said. "And since then it's blown up."
Texas Card House dealer Carolyn Hapgood has been working with Austin's premier poker house since 2018. (Texas Poker House Austin/Facebook)
From $100 pots to buy-ins of $15,000 or more, Texas Card House has it all, especially as in-state players learn more about the game. Hapgood said there isn't really a typical poker player at the house—instead, the poker table forms an "interesting little ecosystem" that includes college students, a 93-year old Vietnam War veteran, online gamblers, old-school players and everyone in between. The diversity at the table has been enhanced even further by COVID as people clamor to return to in-person events.
But Texas Card House no longer holds a "royal flush" in Austin's poker culture. The Lodge, based in Round Rock, is now expanding to over 60 tables, the largest in Texas, while Palms Social Club, owned by Texas Card Houses' original owner Sam Von Kennel, brought service staff and a refined atmosphere to the Austin scene.
Hapgood said the base of poker players is very large and continues to grow, forming a community as players form friendships on and off the table.
"My favorite part of the poker community is how much fun we have," Hapgood said. "You sit at a table with eight of your friends, everyone's kind of just having a good time. There's a lot of players who will, you know, call or text each other after they're done playing, and they end up inviting each other barbecues, and going out to dinner with their families and stuff like that... those are my favorite people to hang out with."
Getting involved in the poker scene is as easy as tuning into a live stream, and Lagana hopes to see more outsiders like himself get inspired by poker in the future.
"It's kind of like life," Lagana said. "Life isn't just one hand to play... you're only in control of sort of what's in your hand (and) you can't play the card that you weren't dealt with. So it's really been a fascinating life lesson for me."
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From four-time Grammy-nominee turned big-screen actor, Black Pumas frontman Eric Burton will debut in the sci-fi short film "Devexity," which is written, directed by and stars Austinites.
The film, brought to life by Austin-based filmmaker Luke Lidell, will premiere on Oct. 7 at the Native Hostel while Burton is in town for Austin City Limits Fest. Then, "Devexity" will head off to film festival screenings, according to a report by The Austin Chronicle.
Following Burton as the film's protagonist, named Jean, "Devexity" takes place across several different settings and surfaces an existential response from the watcher. Burton stars alongside fellow Austinites Ali Pentecost, Dominique Pitts and New Yorker Madison Murrah in the partially black-and-white film.
The film was shot over the course of four days in October 2020, which Lidell said was a challenge of "focus" and "trust" to create. With a variety of scenes and intertwining narratives, the film dives into the topic of virtual reality.
A musician in addition to a filmmaker, Lidell previously directed the film "Telekinetic" in 2018. The script for "Devexity" was written by Lidell with Burton in mind for the lead after meeting him during a music video project in 2017—Lidell said Burton helped him shape the characters along the way.
Now that the door has been opened for work between Burton and Lidell, you're likely to see the pair collaborate again—a Black Pumas documentary is being rumored.
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