Austin FC's come a long way from the 'MLS to Austin' days over four years ago, but they still left much to be desired in the first season that saw more fan attendance than most MLS teams, more losses than victories and a near-bottom placement in the league.
The Verde and Black trekked through seven straight away matches to kick off their inaugural season before making a triumphant home debut on June 19 in the brand new 20,500-capacity Q2 Stadium. Battling COVID restrictions, injuries and bouts of scorelessness, the team drew unwavering support from thousands of fans and supporters' groups—some of which preceded the team's existence.
These fans, many of whom were part of the campaigners who fought for Austin FC in 2017, watched as Austin traveled to LAFC for their first match in April, and many were there in Portland when the team's first season came to an anticlimactic end in Portland on Sunday. And like the team—which saw only three of the same players on the starting XI from the starting match to the final—the fanbase and perception of Austin FC went through an utter transformation.
A long and winding road to get to this Starting XI today. In today's lineup, only Ring, Poche, and Stuver played in that very first #AustinFC match. pic.twitter.com/0AhVvTzWAe
— Capital City Soccer (@CapCitySC) November 7, 2021
Here are some of the biggest highlights from the first season:
Some players, like fan-favorite Diego Fagundez and backup-turned-starter keeper Brad Stuver, became surprise stars. Others, like Designated Players Tomas Pochettino and Cecilio Dominguez, left more to be desired. And by midsummer, injuries from projected starters like striker Danny Hoesen and left back Ben Sweat forced first-time Head Coach Josh Wolff and team to make some tough decisions to salvage the season.
Whether the season was actually salvaged is up for debate. Austin finished 12th in the West—above only fellow Texan team Houston Dynamo—and failed to make playoff berth or clinch the Copa Tejas title. The club beat out only Houston and the East's Cincinnati and Toronto in total points.
But while many fans hoped for a playoff debut in the club's inaugural season, many say that was never realistic: only three of the last 12 MLS Expansion teams made playoffs in their first year, though around half had better overall results than the Verde and Black.
The "Wolff Out" movement, which first bloomed from not-so-great results in late summer on Twitter, has blossomed into a full movement, with many more thinking that Wolff should be ousted if significant improvements aren't made next season.
So what's next for Austin FC?
Josh Wolff will need to ask some tough questions as he heads into the team's brief offseason—the 2022 MLS season is starting earlier than ever before on Feb. 26.
Despite only nine wins this season, Austin saw the fifth-highest attendance in the league, regularly selling out at both weekday and weekend matches.
But the club will need to live up to the hype next season if they want to continue that off-pitch success. They'll need to inject some passion into their away performances—the club only took home two wins in road matches this season—and work on second-half endurance. Wolff mostly successfully plugged the team's worrying scorelessness with Sebastián Driussi and Moussa Djitte, but the club will need to see more from Djitte and Dominguez if they want to capitalize on offensive success.
Austin FC's Sebastian Driussi became a key player in Austin FC's offense. (Austin FC)
Most importantly, however, the team needs a clear leader. Captain Alex Ring has had his ups and downs, from making MLS Team of the Week honors to being ousted out of two matches on red cards. He'll need to rile up his team to more passionate performances in midfield next season.
That need for leadership 'rings' especially true on the back line, where the Verde and Black have regularly lost duels due to lack of speed and direction.
Our humble recommendation is to find a high-priced Designated Player for either the center back or midfield, downgrade Tomas Pochettino to regular player status and tweak the sluggish "play from the back" mindset. And after his comeback season, maybe Diego Fagundez should nab that captain's armband come spring.
Austin FC players will get a much-needed break as the team's staff gear up for the MLS SuperDraft in January 2022.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.