Jersey Number: 22
Hometown: Palm Harbor, Florida
Former Club: Inter Miami CF
On the same day that Austin FC secured four other players, including Julio Cascante, the team traded $100,000 in General Allocation Money to Inter Miami CF to bring Sweat to Austin.
Like his name implies, Sweat has put in real work to play at the level he's at today. He's been a part of three MLS teams so far, including two separate MLS Expansion teams, but he proved to be a bit of a late bloomer when it came to going pro.
Sweat first got experience at cracking a new team after spending two seasons in his home state with Inter Miami FC. Sweat was selected by the team as the first overall pick in the MLS Expansion Draft, where he played in 23 matches with the new MLS side, notching 20 starts and two assists to his roster.
Prior to his time in Miami, Sweat spent three seasons in the back line for NYCFC. The 6'2 defender served as a left back for the club in 81 matches, in which he scored one goal and tallied nine assists. During his time with NYCFC, he also played alongside Austin FC teammate Alex Ring.
Sweat was the 14th pick for the Columbus Crew in the 2014 SuperDraft, but it was several years before he cracked the MLS ceiling.
Before he went pro, Sweat played for NASL team the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2015-16, where he made 23 starts. Sweat got his start near his hometown with 3-USL Pro side the Dayton Dutch Lions after being drafted by affiliate Columbus Crew SC in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft.
Sweat has also played in two matches for the US Men's National Team, including a friendly match against Colombia in Tampa Bay.
Before the big game, Sweat told U.S soccer it was a surreal moment to play for his country in his hometown.
"It's a special moment," Sweat said. "My first call up happens to be in my hometown. I've been emotional about it, and I'm excited for this opportunity."
With Austin FC
As a solid left back, Sweat should be part of the starting lineup alongside fellow defenders Nick Lima and Matt Besler, although he could find competition in 32-year-old veteran Hector Jimenez. The 6'2 defender is one of the tallest of the team, and at 29, he's bringing experience as a starting left back in other MLS sides.
Because Sweat played for another MLS startup back in 2019, he also knows a thing or two about starting with a brand new team. His time with Inter Miami CF was marred by COVID, but Sweat said he brings his experience with a new team to the fledgling Austin FC program.
"Last year wasn't a normal season with COVID, so it was very difficult to have an expansion team," Sweat said. "But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and I can take that experience from Miami and what maybe Miami did really well or didn't do well and bring that here to Austin."
Sweat is coming off of a surgery in December but said he's recovered and better than ever after the long-overdue procedure. "I honestly feel better now than I have in recent years," he said. "I would say my fitness level is one of the best since when I was younger, and I'm excited to run without pain."
Sweat turns 30 this year, and he knows his years are numbered as a starting left back for an MLS side. That's why he's so motivated to win, and he hopes that Austin FC will become an underdog success story in their inaugural season.
"I want to win, and I think this is the place that's going to happen," Sweat said. "I think they've put together a culture already where everyone has bought in, (and) I think we're gonna have a lot of success here. I don't think an expansion team should go in and use that as an excuse."
Off the pitch
A native English speaker, Sweat has used his experience working alongside Spanish-speaking teammates to pick up as much as possible. With his limited Spanish and years of experience at his side, Sweat works to be a positive role model for new players to the team. "I'm in a role now where I need to help the younger guys and and also have the ability to have a bigger voice and be more vocal on and off the field," he said.
Sweat is also a big proponent for the MLS said it could be a contender alongside the Premier League, the Bundesliga and other global giants in the next 5-10 years.
In a press conference Friday, Sweat said he sees a lot of homegrown and international players boosting the league's global footprint. "The MLS is a tough league," he said. "There's a lot of good players, it's growing, the player pool is getting bigger and better."
Soccer may come first, but fishing is a close second for Sweat. The Florida native is an avid angler and inshore fisherman. While he left the coast behind for the Texas Capitol, he still owns a fisherman's paradise, Twin Tails Outfitters, which specializes in fly fishing clothing and gear.
When moving to Austin, Sweat was accompanied by his wife, Inis Šišić, whom he married in 2018.
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Austin homebuyers have been through the wringer in the past year—tales of offers well over asking price, sales in under an hour, and months-long supply chain shortages have become commonplace in the city's cutthroat housing market. So it's perhaps no surprise that many homebuyers are looking for greener pastures as they stake out large empty lots along the city's outskirts.
After casually searching for a home for years, Austin influencer and blogger Jane Ko experienced the pandemic housing surge firsthand when she found an empty lot near the airport in the summer of 2020. Stretched thin by high demand and limited supply, Austin's median home prices had already reached a then-record of $435,000 in August of that year, while new inventory grew by just 0.1% in that month.
Due to seemingly ever-increasing demand, Austin's homebuilding market has been busy—if not strained. New listings were up 6% in November 2021, while median home prices had cooled ever-so-slightly to $470,000. The area was ranked the fifth-busiest metro in the country for single-family homebuilding permits in August 2021, according to a National Association of Homebuilders report.
Austin influencer Jane Ko build a semi-custom home on an empty lot near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"I think for those of us that have been here, we've seen prices rise in the last five years and I kind of figured if I don't buy now, then I probably won't be able to," Ko said. "I kind of stumbled upon it and I think for a lot of people that's been really the only way to find real estate since the market is so hot."
Austin's inventory has remained somewhat low, especially in the center of town, leading some to believe that homebuyers are being "priced out" by the city's limited options. Area suburbs are reflecting that—the Kyle-Buda-San Marcos region saw 2,900 new home starts from September 2020-21, more than any other Austin submarket.
But with new developments working to keep pace with demand, 2021 Austin Board of Realtors President Susan Horton told Austonia the trend just reflects customer desires.
"I don't think that folks are being pushed by any means," Horton said. "Folks that want to buy out in the rural areas are buying for personal reasons and they're buying because they want the land and privacy. Folks really, truly want to be out. If you want a big lot, it's there."
Like many homebuyers during the pandemic, Ko was happy to scrap Austin's downtown for more space. Because she works from home, she said she and many of her friends are looking for bigger homes and bigger lots in hot areas like Dripping Springs.
Ko had the option of moving into already-built homes within the neighborhood but opted for a custom-built home instead—something that Horton said is another draw for prospective homebuyers.
Austin influencer Jane Ko remodeled her kitchen after building her semi-custom home. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
Ko's kitchen remodel took months due to supply chain delays/ (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"The desire to be away from the person next door is really most of the time the deciding factor," Horton said. "And then there are those that want to have a house simply because they want to design it themselves, and so those are the aspects that make buying that raw land and building a house really important."
But building a custom home has its drawbacks. Horton said construction loans, land surveying, zoning restrictions and road access are all hoops that can be jumped through with an experienced realtor.
But even through the tedious and stalled homebuilding process, Ko said it's been worth it to create a home made just for her.
"This is a place that I'm hopefully going to stay in for a very long time," Ko said. "And I think because I do a lot of entertaining at home and shoot photos at home, it's really important that my space looks the way I want it to."
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In earlier phases of the pandemic, people took it as the perfect moment to uproot their lives to the newest boomtown. Many, particularly Californians, found a fit with Austin, enjoying the Texas weather and lower cost of living. But for some, it may only be a pitstop.
Melaku Mihret, who works remotely in Austin for a Meta office in the Bay Area, thinks some of the Californians who have moved to Texas in the pandemic may just move here temporarily, save money and then head back. Others have also speculated a possible reverse migration, but it may be too early to tell.
According to the Kinder Institute at Rice University, Texan migration to California has remained steady for years. And when it comes to Californians leaving, the institute says it's less about a pull into Texas and more of a push out of California driven by home prices.
But they're not all staying in Austin. U-Haul data shows departures from Austin were up 18% even as one-way arrivals were up 22% in 2021.
Melaku Mihret, a remote worker a Meta office in the Bay Area, is now living in Austin. (Andrea Guzman)
For Mihret, the biggest driver behind his move was the squeeze of costs in Northern California. If the cost of living wasn’t an issue, Mihret said he’d live in the Bay Area. So if Austin continues to become less and less affordable, would Californians go back?
For Mihret, not many places come close to what California offers. He points to the nature, such as the mountains and lakes, in California and the massive tech hub it is. Austin is “not even nearly close to California,” Mihret said, after acknowledging Austin's growth as an emerging tech hub.
Meanwhile others like Ian Davies, who grew up in Austin and left in 2011 when he was in high school, much prefer living in Austin.
His family had moved to Philadelphia, years passed and he eventually landed a job in financial operations at NBC Universal in Los Angeles, California. When the option of remote work during the pandemic came around, he longed to return home.
“I couldn’t wait to move back to Austin,” Davies said. “Not that I didn’t enjoy my time in LA. But LA is just a whole other beast than Austin.”
Ian Davies does remote work for NBC Universal in Downtown Austin in early January. (Andrea Guzman)
But a downside he says is it's become more expensive in the past year and half since he returned. The Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown metro area had the 12th highest change in a recent study on cost of living increases across the country. And among the nation’s top 10 tech hubs, Austin saw the largest year-over-year increase in average rent this past September, with an average of $1,647.
It's a cost of a growing city. Davies sees a positive in all the growth, as he enjoys living in a city with a diverse population, like when he was in LA.
“There’s a group of Austinites who are very against people moving here, and I’m definitely not part of that crowd. I want to share this city with other people. I think it’s awesome.”
He says he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I hope that Austin can keep its soul and keep its weirdness. Like blues and rock and live music,” Davies said. “I haven’t seen much of that change. I hope people that move here can adapt the spirit of the past and carry that.”
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