Austin FC's opening match at LAFC has already gotten plenty of buzz, and not just because the team will be playing its first-ever match. The opener will also see two famous fans pitted against each other: Will Ferrell and Matthew McConaughey.
Since he joined the club as a part-time owner in 2019, McConaughey hasn't been quiet about going Verde. The Austin icon has been a hypeman for the team on the Jimmy Kimmel show, spoken with MLS Commissioner Don Garber at SXSW and is vocal about the club on Twitter.
On Tuesday, McConaughey talked all things Austin FC from what appeared to be an Airstream.
"We've been talking about this," McConaughey said. "We've been building this brick by brick. We understand it's Verde, it's listos, but now it's live."
"I just got some chills saying that," McConaughey added.
This weekend will put the club to the test for the first time against LAFC, which also happens to be part-owned by a big Hollywood name. Comedian and actor Will Ferrell will be on the other side of the pitch come Saturday, and he's ready to start a rivalry.
After talking to McConaughey about both teams, Ferrell told Spectrum News he's excited to watch his team play the so-called "Austin Cacti" this season.
"I can only hope for a rivalry," Ferrell said. "I think Austin is going to be a fantastic market for a brand new soccer team, and I can't wait to be there when LAFC plays the 'Austin Cactuses.'"
Talked to Will Ferrell about his connection w/ @McConaughey as @MLS owners. He welcomes a @LAFC rivalry w/ @AustinFC and has his own nickname for the team. 🌵⚽️ @SpecNewsATX #DownhillMovie pic.twitter.com/yTPfTzVchM
— Victor Diaz (@VictorOchoDiaz) February 14, 2020
Now with five days to go, McConaughey said that he and Ferrell had been having a "war with words" over the match and are planning on placing bets before game time.
It's not the first time the two have found themselves on opposing sides of a sport. Back in 2018, Ferrell made his way to Austin to see USC football duke it out with the Longhorns (psst,—UT won.)
McConaughey and Austin FC are hoping to see yet another loss for Ferrell as they head to their first game on Saturday, but the match will be quite the challenge.
The MLS set the opening schedule for more than fame; the newly-formed Austin FC has been one of the most talked-about teams this preseason, and LAFC is projected at No. 2 in the league's power rankings. Austin FC currently sits at No. 21.
Head Coach Josh Wolff has said LAFC has one of the best offenses in the league.
"LAFC has one of the best attacking teams in the league," Wolff said. "They will punish you. They've never been shy of putting up goals, and again, I expect them to be one of the best teams in the league this year."
The club has lived up to Wolff's words: in just their second season of existence, LAFC took first in the Western Conference and were Supporters' Shield winners in 2019.
Austin FC will need to hold off LAFC captain Carlos Vela, a versatile winger/attacking midfielder who won the Most Valuable Player title in 2019, as well as high-scoring forward Diego Rossi.
Meanwhile, LAFC will face challenges in DP Cecilio Dominguez and midfielder Alex Ring, the former NYCFC "ringleader" who has worn the captain's armband already for his newest team. Forward Rodney Redes may or not be playing Saturday due to a "ding" on his knee, but if he does, he'll be a force to be reckoned with as well.
Austin FC's inaugural match will be nationally broadcast on FOX and FOX Deportes and will be featured on Alt 97.5 FM.
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Less than a week before Austin FC packs their bags for their inaugural match, team president Andy Loughnane told SportBusiness the club is considering bringing a National Women's Soccer League team to Austin.
"We're very intrigued with the idea of developing the best possible plan to explore the creation of a new women's team to compete at the top level of women's soccer and play home matches in front of a sold-out crowd at Q2 Stadium," Loughnane said.
The top-flight women's soccer team would be part of the NWSL, the premier U.S. women's league. Boosted by the success of the U.S. Women's National Team and booming interest in soccer, the NWSL has the highest average attendance per game of any women's professional sport league in the U.S. The league also features three "sister teams" with the MLS, two partnerships with USL teams and a team that is affiliated with a French Ligue I team.
"We need to successfully launch Austin FC in MLS as the first step," Loughnane said. "Yes, we think that eventually a top-flight women's team and a top-flight men's team can be complementary and successful together as co-inhabitants of Q2 Stadium and St. David's Performance Center."
Luckily, fans of women's soccer won't have to wait too much longer with a different professional league soon to be in town.
Years before Austin FC became the city's first professional soccer team, the newly-formed "MLS in Austin" group made sure to follow one team first—FC Austin Elite, the city's semipro women's soccer club that has been representing their city since before the "boomtown" hype. FC Austin Elite will soon upgrade into Austin's first professional women's soccer team. It will be joining a new Division II professional league next year.
As Austin FC has worked to stack their roster, FC Austin Elite has been doing the same. The club's newest signees include international pros, former NWSL stars and college graduates ready to take their talents to the next level.
"We are actually out recruiting professional players," Woodfill said. "Everybody in the country wants to come to Austin right now, and now they can play pro soccer now in Austin as women."
As an NWSL team comes into fruition, the two teams can form a mutually beneficial partnership and help build a "pipeline" for women to continue their athletic pursuits after college.
For now, the club is focused on its upcoming season. Formerly a summer league, it has expanded through October and will have 15 home games this season.
Just as La Murga will be seen drumming up the crowd at Austin FC games, the band and other dedicated soccer fans will be seen at the Elite matches.
"We've known those people from the beginning, and those are still the same fans that we have today," Woodfill said. "The Los Verdes members, the Austin Anthem members, they're the same people that are diehard fans for us, too. I think that when we all work together, it blows up even more."
After their season kicks off, the team is most looking forward to an ultimate soccer weekend as they play against a mysterious international "special guest team" on Friday, June 18, the day before Austin FC's inaugural home match on Saturday, June 19.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will not be throwing the first pitch for the Texas Rangers for their first home opener at their brand new stadium this evening, and he won't encourage the state to host any more special MLB events this season. Abbott's decision comes after the league pulled its 2021 All-Star Game and Draft from Atlanta due to Georgia's newest voting bill.
In a letter written to the team, Abbott said he was "looking forward" to throwing the first pitch but could not support the league after they adopted a "false narrative" on Georgia's election law reform.
"It is shameful that America's pastime is being influenced by partisan politics," Abbott said in a tweet.
I was looking forward to throwing out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers' home opening game until @MLB adopted what has turned out to be a false narrative about Georgia's election law reforms.
It is shameful that America's pastime is being influenced by partisan politics. pic.twitter.com/pNJApYBHpw
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) April 5, 2021
Supporters of the new bill is crucial to upholding "election integrity", but many others feel differently, labeling the bill "Jim Crow 2.0."
The "Election Integrity Act of 2021" is a response to the GOP's widespread, but unfounded, claims of voter-by-mail fraud in the 2020 election and will change the way Georgians vote. Changes to mail-in ballots include requiring IDs to apply for absentee ballots, cutting the number of days that absentee ballots are available in half and limiting the amount of absentee ballot drop boxes. The state will also expand early voting hours and allow counties to start processing votes two weeks before Election Day.
While GOP leaders have embraced the bill, dissenters including President Joe Biden and MLB league commissioner Rob Manfred said that the law could disproportionately affect communities of color.
"Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box," Manfred said. "Fair access to voting continues to have our game's unwavering support."
Abbott, who is working on orders in Texas that would limit mail-in voting procedures, said he was disappointed in the league for not only bringing politics in the game but also for pushing what he described as a false narrative around the bill.
"Major League Baseball adopted what has turned out to be a false narrative about the election law reforms in Georgia, and, based on that false narrative, moved the MLB All-Star game from Atlanta," Abbott said. "It is shameful that America's pastime is not only being influenced by partisan political politics, but also perpetuating false political narratives."
Abbott may have boycotted the league, but he's still in support of the Rangers, a program he said is "outstanding from top to bottom." Abbott last threw the first pitch for the team in 2019.
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According to reports from Stadium, Texas Tech men's basketball coach Chris Beard is headed for Austin.
The news comes after Univerisity of Texas Head Coach Shaka Smart packed his bags for Marquette after the men's basketball program lost out of the first round of the NCAA Championship Tournament in a tight loss to underdogs Abilene Christian University.
At Tech, Beard has pushed the Raiders further into the NCAA Tournament than ever before. After taking the head coaching job in 2016, Beard broke school records by leading the team into the Elite Eight in 2018 and taking the team to a record 31 wins as they made it to the NCAA Tournament Finals for the first time.
Beard is a UT alum himself and has reportedly been the Longhorn's main head coaching interest after Smart's departure. To many Tech and UT fans' surprise, Texas was expected to meet with Beard on Thursday, and it appears to have gone well.
BREAKING: @TexasMBB is hiring Chris Beard as their new head coach, per @GoodmanHoops.
Good fit for the Longhorns? #HookEm pic.twitter.com/g4Z6cGMy6v
— Stadium (@Stadium) April 1, 2021
Texas, Texas Tech and Beard himself have yet to confirm these reports.