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Great day to be Verde! Austin FC plays preseason game, new soccer venue opens, and fans watch from Verde Hill

Austin FC players like Sebastian Driussi played alongside newcomers in a 2-1 preseason loss to Toronto FC Wednesday. (Austin FC/Twitter)

North Austin's Parmer Pond was filled with Verde Wednesday as Austin FC opened its doors to the media for the first time this season to watch a preseason matchup against Toronto FC at its practice field, St. David's Performance Center.

Although the team lost 2-1, the friendly match was a chance to watch last year's fan favorites, like Diego Fagundez and Brad Stuver, play alongside new talents including Maxi Urruti, the former Houston Dynamo striker who scored Austin's lone goal of the match.

Familiar chants from fan band La Murga echoed into the practice field in Northeast Austin as they looked onto the match from above at what they call the Verde Hill.

Austin FC fan band La Murga de Austin weren't allowed inside St. David's, but they still watched from afar atop the "Verde Hill" as the team played its preseason match. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

And after the match, fans and media alike could snag food and drinks from new Verde entertainment hub The Pitch, which had its soft opening Wednesday at Parmer Pond.

The Pitch began filling up with customers on its soft open Wednesday as fans looked to get food and drinks at the new facility. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

Austin's second matchup of the season saw a hodgepodge of players new and old. The starting lineup included last season's strongholds Stuver and Fagundez, while Captain Alex Ring and Daniel Pereira took the midfield. Right back Nick Lima, center back Jhohan Romana, and star forwards Sebastian Driussi and Cecilio Dominguez also took to the pitch.

But it was Urruti who stood out most as he notched a goal in the 32nd minute off a Ring assist, and by the second half, more new players had entered the mix. Head Coach Josh Wolff's son, Owen Wolff, was joined by midfielder Jhojan Valencia, who made it to Austin from his home country of Colombia just four days before, and MLS vet Felipe Martins entered the pitch just two days after his signing was announced.

Promising young center back Kipp Keller, who was Austin FC's No. 1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft this offseason and played in the first half of the match, said the three weeks of preseason have been a chance to adapt to a higher level of play and build chemistry with his new teammates.

"It's definitely what I expected," Keller said. "I knew it was going to be hard, but I'm getting used to it day by day and just trying to learn from these big-time players. It's pretty cool, playing with these guys I looked up to my whole life."

Even with Urruti's goal, Austin could never regain momentum after Toronto scored on a penalty kick less than 10 minutes into the match and later scored again in the second half. But with a year under their belt, Stuver said the team's challenges are fewer as they head into the season with a more experienced and cohesive group.

"Last year, we had to learn to teach a system, learning everything from scratch on the field (and) off the field," Stuver said. "From day one, we were able to say, 'Hey, we know exactly what's expected of us.' Now we have to get up to that level quick."

Fans will no longer have to crane their necks on the Verde Hill as Austin FC hosts its first open match of the season in an international friendly against current Liga MX champions Atlas FC at Q2 Stadium on Wednesday, Feb. 16.


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