After five years as one of the few Americans testing his luck overseas in professional soccer, Austin native McKinze Gaines II got quite the homecoming gift on Sunday as he scored his first Austin FC goal with his hometown behind him.
Less than 10 minutes into his first match in Verde and Black, Gaines made history as the first native Austinite to score for Austin FC.
Making his city proud. Take a bow, @McKinzeGaines. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/43zEI1ZDdq
— Austin FC (@AustinFC) September 27, 2021
"Nothing quite like it honestly," Gaines said. "To score like that in front of 20,000 screaming Austinites was something crazy, I'll never forget that."
Gaines was met with beer showers and a deafening crowd in his hometown Sunday, a scene that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago for the 23-year-old winger.
Before Q2 Stadium, the Verde fanfare and excitement of a major league soccer club in his home city, Gaines was a Round Rock kid with a dream to play overseas.
Gaines started playing soccer in early elementary school and joined the well-respected youth league Lone Star Soccer Club in Austin in 2012. By 2016, Gaines became one of the few Austinites to make a career jump overseas, joining the German's top-tier Bundesliga as part of VFL Wolfsburg's U19 team. He saw early success with the highly competitive youth team and helped them to an undefeated season with seven goals and nine assists.
But after signing professionally to second-tier SV Darmstadt just days after his 18th birthday, Gaines never quite found his footing across the waters. Logging just two appearances with Darmstadt in two years, Gaines hopped across the German map, taking some time in third-tier FSV Zwickau before finding moderate success in fourth-tier SG Sonnenhof Großaspach with three goals in the 2019-20 season.
Gaines made an appearance back in the second-tier Hannover 96 and started for the Hannover 96 reserve team in 2021, but years of playing in a foreign land began to take a toll on the Austinite.
"I feel like people don't think about how lonely it can be at times," Gaines told the Statesman in 2018. "That's the reason that so many players don't make it over there, and it has nothing to do with what goes on on the pitch, but what goes on off of it."
Meanwhile, a Verde storm was brewing in Austin as thousands of futbol fans prepped for their first major league team.
Gaines knew where he needed to go.
"From the second that a team was created here in Austin, there's been a lot of interest from my side," Gaines said. "Whenever I got the opportunity in the summer to come here and train with the team it was something that I was thrilled about."
With Austin FC
The former U.S. National Team U-19 player went back to his roots with the Verde training crew in the summer, but it wasn't until a stellar practice with three goals scored that he managed to nab a contract.
Next up-hometown glory. With an underdog Austin team already up 1-0 against the LA Galaxy thanks to teammate Moussa Djitte, Gaines entered the Verde pitch for his first official match in the 72nd minute of Sunday's game.
By the 79th minute, Gaines had sunk a tricky shot into the top right corner, scoring his first goal with the team in front of his city, and most importantly, his family and friends.
"With my family in the stands, some of my best friends in the stands, it's something that I haven't experienced in years, so it's really special," Gaines said.
The history-making goal was just the hint that Gaines needed to know that while this may not be the path he chose, he's taking a step in the right direction.
"Two years ago I wouldn't have envisioned myself playing here, but that's where things worked out and I'm really happy that it has," Gaines said. "Last night was just another step in hopefully a positive direction."
With a goal already notched under his belt, Gaines will look to play for his hometown once more as the team comes back from a Wednesday road match for a 2:30 p.m. home game against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
It's been a few weeks since a viral TikTok revealed poor working conditions at the Montopolis Dollar Tree in southeast Austin, and employee Maggie Lopez is still feeling its effects.
Lopez was filmed working alone at the location May 1 in a since-deleted video that saw 2.9 million views and over 450,000 likes.
In the video, stacked boxes littered the floor, shelves were left unstocked and a leaky, broken air conditioning unit welcomed customers into the understaffed storefront.
@trishmartinez32#x_bazan06#fyp#fypシ#tiktok#friends#like#comment#4upage#4u#share#viralvideo#trending#wow#4upageシ♬ original sound - Patricia Martinez
Lopez, who now works at the dollar store's Springdale location, says she was left with the aftermath of a 90-hour workweek, lost wages and a mystery illness after the store closed a few days later.
"Nobody ever told me... that there was no air conditioning. They didn't tell me there was danger of getting robbed," Lopez told Austonia. "Nobody said anything... they didn't care."
The location didn't shut its doors because of the TikTok exposure: instead, an AC unit specialist doing routine maintenance found employees working in extreme heat and said it was too hot for employees to continue working.
"To operate a business, you have to have your temperature within a certain parameter," Ikaika, the specialist who didn't disclose his full name to protect his job, told Austonia. "As soon as you walk in, you start sweating... it's not good at all."
Lopez said working in 90+ degree heat became the norm in her two months at the location as air conditioning units remained broken for months before the closure. She added some employees, including her former manager and several customers, passed out in the store due to the heat. But she said company leadership remained unresponsive.
Lopez said she sent her district manager, Veronica Oyervides, screenshots of 90+ degree temperatures inside the store. (Maggie Lopez)
Four days after the air conditioning repairman told employees they should no longer keep working at the store, Lopez said her district manager, Veronica Oyervides, was asking her to come back in to prep the location for reopening. Lopez worked May 8 in the shuttered store prepping it for a reopening, which has yet to happen. Oyervides has declined to comment.
Ever since she started working in the deteriorating Dollar Tree, Lopez said she often wakes up with nosebleeds. She said she's constantly thirsty, her hands shake, and she's experiencing headaches and mood swings—symptoms she believes are due to long-term exposure to mold.
Former assistant manager Linnea Bradley told Austonia she has been hospitalized with symptoms linked to heat and stress after working at the store.
"We are sick and corporate does not give a shit," Lopez said. "What kind of damage did these stupid units do to our bodies?"
Lopez hasn't sought care for her symptoms. She says she makes $13.50 an hour and doesn't have health insurance.
Former employees have more complaints than just the heat: Lopez said that personal safety became a concern in the understaffed store. Catherine, a former employee who wished to only reveal her first name, said she's witnessed large-scale theft and instances of mismanagement in her months as a stocker at the location.
"They have no security, no cameras... they don't want you to have anything in writing," Catherine told Austonia. "It's just complete chaos."
Catherine said that she and other hourly employees were given zero hours for weeks on end as managers, who work on salary, were left to run the store alone from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. She said some managers became so desperate they were hiring homeless people to help stock shelves in exchange for a drink and a bite to eat.
While Catherine (top, middle) often had zero-hour weekly schedules, Martinez, who was paid on salary, worked back-to-back 90-hour workweeks. (Catherine) (Claire Partain)
"They actually did have people willing to work, they just refused to give them hours," Catherine said. "I'm not understanding whether Dollar Tree wants to go under... are they doing this as a tax break?"
Other Austin Dollar Tree locations have reported similar issues. Former manager Jonathan Martinez, who says he was supposed to work 45 hours a week, says he was racking up 90+ hour workweeks and sleeping in the store as he shouldered both the Montopolis and William Cannon locations while his newborn baby was in the ICU in March.
Martinez kept extra clothes in this office after working seven-day weeks at two Dollar Tree locations. (Claire Partain)
Martinez said he slept on boxes as he juggled the job and visiting his newborn in the ICU. (Claire Partain)
Martinez said he slept on boxes as he juggled the job and visiting his newborn in the ICU. (Claire Partain)
"As long as the store stays open, there are corporate people getting bonuses," Martinez, who quit last week after receiving a $100 annual bonus, told Austonia. "Six months ago, when corporate people had a shitload of bonuses, that's when they upped the price (of everything in the store from $1 to $1.25)."
In the six months since Dollar Tree hiked its prices to $1.25, it's gained plenty of mostly negative national attention. In February, the Food and Drug Administration shut down an Arkansas distribution plant due to a massive rodent infestation, and several lawsuits have ensued. The company has also come under fire for selling allegedly expired over-the-counter medicine and its worker shortage at locations across the country.
One employee, who still works for Dollar Tree and wished to remain anonymous, said that they've seen or heard that many area locations are near their breaking point.
"I've seen the good, the bad, the bad to worse," they said. "And it's always a rinse repeat kind of thing... How many more (stores) will go? And what about the employees?"
"Every time I would tell (Oyervides) 'I'm just going to close, I can't stand it anymore,' she would say, 'No, no, no,'" Lopez said. "And I'd be so upset because why? They have my paycheck. It's just been mortifying... the most horrible year of my life."
Dollar Tree's regional director did not respond to requests for comment from Austonia.
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Grab a helmet and get active this morning by celebrating Bike to Work Day alongside the city.
The community will gather for a celebration at Austin City Hall starting at 8 a.m. with free tacos, coffee and giveaways.
A few things to remember around bikes:
- Over 80% of bicycle crashes happen at intersections
- It’s important to wear reflective clothing during dark hours
- Drivers should keep a distance—take at least three feet of space when passing.
Residents can find the most comfortable, safe bike routes via the 2022 Austin Bike Map, or rent a MetroBike with the code B2WD2022.