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.
Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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