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'Number one fans': Austin FC fathers balance family, soccer and being the coolest dads at Career Day

Diego Fagundez plays for Austin FC and his biggest fans, son Liam and daughter Maria. (Diego Fagundez/Instagram)

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 hopes to be a good father and good husband to his wife, Jessica, when he's off the pitch. (Julio Cascante)

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.

Fagundez often looks at this picture after hard games to remember why he plays. (Diego Fagundez)

"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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