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Austin FC's McKinze Gaines made history as the first native Austinite to score for the team on Sunday. (Austin FC/Instagram)

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.


"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.

Background

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.

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