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Double the fun? Women's soccer explodes alongside Austin FC as fans seek new pro NWSL team​

UT soccer player and Olympian Julia Grosso banged an Austin FC drum alongside Verde and Black fans as the soccer community continues to grow in Austin. (Austin FC/Twitter)

On Monday, University of Texas soccer player Julia Grosso announced her first professional contract with Juventus, a team in Italy's top-flight league Seria A—but that's not even her biggest accomplishment this year.

At 20, the junior midfielder already has her first Olympic gold medal under her belt as she made the game-winning penalty kick to propel the Canadian national team to the top at the 2021 Summer Olympics. And later this year, Grosso and her Longhorn teammates won the Big 12 semifinals and were just edged out of the finals by TCU in front of a home crowd of over 4,000 attendees—the most in a Big 12 tournament in over a decade.

Grosso's huge year reflects the surge of new excitement around women's soccer in Austin. The hype around new MLS team Austin FC has bled into every facet of Austin's soccer scene and created solidarity between all of the city's teams: it's not uncommon to see Verde fans from Austin FC fan groups mingle with burnt orange in Longhorn matches or cheer on semipro women's side FC Austin Elite, and Grosso herself banged a La Murga drum in the fan section of one of Austin FC's home matches.

It's that type of community that brought the "MLS to Austin" movement to reality—and some members of Austin FC fan club Austin Anthem are hoping history repeats itself as they work toward bringing the top-flight National Women's Soccer League to Austin.

The movement is a result of well-intentioned espionage by Christine Hanley and Michelle Frasch. Hanley, a season ticket holder for NWSL side Houston Dash, "weaseled" into Austin Anthem in part to start promoting a NWSL team but became passionate about Austin FC along the way. "I think the NWSL could be really successful here because it's just a really tight-knit city," Hanley said.

And the even tighter-knit soccer community seems to be backing the movement. Verde and Black "NWSL 2 Austin" banners have flown at Austin FC games, Longhorn matches and FC Austin Elite games, and Austin FC goalie Brad Stuver has added star power by wearing NWSL 2 Austin merch.

NWSL 2 Austin banners match Austin FC's Verde and Black colors at Q2 Stadium. (NWSL2Austin)

As the two continue their relationship with Austin FC staff, including working tirelessly during Austin FC matches in the supporters' section, they've seen some promising evidence behind the scenes. The potential team would already have a stadium and key infrastructure—according to Frasch, it's written in a stadium contract—and plenty of fans.

Austin FC owner Anthony Precourt has talked about adding a team for months, and earlier this year, the former NWSL commissioner quietly visited Austin to assumedly discuss a potential future in the city. Precourt himself told the two he was seriously considering it as he greeted fans after an Austin FC match.

Add together the backing of USWNT superstar Megan Rapinoe, Austin FC soccer buzz and the movement's petition—which has seen 1,000+ signatures—and the two are certain a new NWSL side isn't a matter of if, but when.

"We basically know it's coming, we just don't know when," Hanley said. "When we do ask about it, they just say 'keep doing your thing.'"

There are a few obstacles: the NWSL itself has had prominent leaders fired and may not be ready to tack on another team, especially after adding two new sides for the 2022 season. And adding an Austin side would make for an odd number of teams, so the league would probably need to find two locations to add at once.

But the city's futbol community has already wowed the nation with its fervor for all things Verde—and women's soccer supporters are sure that could transfer to the city's first women's pro team.

The two hope to see an NWSL team in 2023. In the meantime, they're content leading the Verde supporters section, growing their fan club and cheering on women's soccer at venues across the city.


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