The highest-stakes match in Q2 Stadium history is coming on Thursday as the U.S. men's national team takes on Qatar for the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Austin FC's home base will soon have been host to both the men's and women's national teams less than two months after opening its doors; on June 16, the stadium's pitch was christened with the USWNT's 2-0 win over Nigeria.
Now, excitement is even more heightened as the men's team fights to steal North America's biggest soccer title from defending champs Mexico. But first, they'll need to host guest team Qatar, a surprise standout that has scored the most goals in the tournament so far.
For those who aren't updated on the Gold Cup, here's what to expect before Austin's biggest match to date takes Q2 Stadium.
What's happened at the Gold Cup so far
While the 16-team Gold Cup consists of 16 of the best national teams in North and Central America, CONCACAF has historically been a battle between the USA and Mexico.
The bitter rivals have flip-flopped between that championship slot for every tournament appearance since 2011, and they're both fighting for a spot in the finals in Las Vegas this weekend.
Mexico holds an advantage with 11 championship titles, while the U.S. has won six and holds the most runners-up titles with six second-place finishes.
Team USA is the only team in the tournament with an unbroken win streak after beating Haiti (1-0), Martinique (6-1) and fellow semifinal contender Canada in the group stage. The team then took down Jamaica 1-0 in the quarterfinals to earn a semifinal spot at Q2.
Meanwhile, Qatar remains undefeated but tied 3-3 to Panama in the group stages alongside victories against Grenada (4-0), Honduras (2-0), and El Salvador (3-2.) Mexico is also undefeated but kicked off the tournament with a scoreless draw against Trinidad, while Canada's sole loss was to Team USA.
While the U.S. vs. Qatar match takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Mexico and Canada will duke it out just over two hours later at Houston's NRG Stadium. The winner of each match will be granted a ticket to the finals in Las Vegas at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
What to expect
Qatar's 12 Gold Cup goals give the air of expertise, but the Qatar national team was hardly on the global radar just five years ago. The team has never reached World Cup qualifications in over 40 years of independence even as they were named the hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
With the World Cup—which grants automatic tournament berth to its hosts—just over a year away, the Gold Cup's lone outsiders are working for more than wins: they also want to gain global acclaim.
The club that had never made it up the ranks of their continent's Asia Cup was suddenly the unexpected winners of the tournament in 2019 after a 3-1 upset over Japan. The national team was then invited to the 2019 Copa America but fell out of the group stages with a 0-1-2 record.
The Gold Cup's lone invitees are blowing away the competition with back-to-back goalscoring and an attacking mindset, but they have yet to play a team of USA's caliber in the tournament.
Team USA is ranked 20th globally and has won 10 of this year's 11 matches, tied for a year-best record. The club survived a grueling physical 1-0 win vs. Jamaica to qualify for the semifinals and are sporting some of MLS's best in the lineup, including LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget, Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson and young Sporting KC midfielder Gianluca Busio.
The U.S. team hasn't put as many points on the board (9) but has played some of the best in the tournament, including Canada and Haiti.
Lletget said in a press conference Tuesday that the team has been watching Qatar's success and thinks that the next match will be a change of pace for the team.
I think this game coming up is going to be very different from all the rest," Lletget said. "That's one thing you get in CONCACAF, just different styles."
What comes next
If the U.S. wins, as they are favored to, they'll likely face off against Mexico for yet another rivalry match.
Mexico last won the tournament in 2019 and is looking for another championship win. In the two teams' last faceoff in June, the team's formidable rivalry was made evident as punches were thrown, Austin FC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna's son Gio was hit in the face with a flying object by an angry Mexico fan and players on each side exchanged rough elbows and tackles as the U.S. took the match 3-2 to win the match.
Even if they don't face off, the USMNT will look for a winning streak against their border rivals in a World Cup qualifier vs Mexico in Cincinnati on Nov. 12.
And if you weren't able to score tickets for this week's international Q2 match, no need to fear: the stadium recently announced that it would be hosts on the international stage once again as Team USA takes on Jamaica for a World Cup qualifier on Oct. 7.
Starting in September, the national team will begin a 14-match stretch of World Cup qualifying matches against CONCACAF clubs, starting with a match at El Salvador on Sept. 2.
How to watch
For those who nabbed a Q2 Stadium ticket this Thursday, here's a full matchday guide.
If not, there's plenty of places to grab a friend and a beer and watch Team USA play.
Here's a few watch parties we've found:
- Haymaker Austin, the official HQ of US national soccer fan club American Outlaws, is sure to have plenty of fans in red, white and blue come matchday. The bar is also hosting a night before welcome party at 6 p.m. on Wednesday to celebrate the team's arrival in Austin. Find out more here.
- Circle Brewing, which hosts Austin FC fan club Austin Anthem every matchday, is hosting both a pregame and watch party for the match. Gates open at 2 p.m. and continue through the match. Find out more here.
- Hopsquad Brewing, located just next to Circle Brewing, is a soccer hub and favorite of Austin FC fan club Los Verdes. No watch party has been announced, but the bar is sure to air the game and foster a party atmosphere come matchday.
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Five Austin companies joined Google's second Startups Black Founders Fund on Wednesday, earning $100,000 each as part of the $10 million initiative geared toward giving Black entrepreneurs access to funding for their startups.
The fund gave $100,000 to 50 founders nationwide, including Austin companies CustomerX.i, Journey Foods, Sandbox Commerce, The Mentor Method and Tadeblock.
The founders will receive the funding without giving up any ownership of their startups and will gain access to Google technical support including up to $120,000 in donated search Ads from Google.org and up to $100,000 in Google Cloud credits. The Austin companies will also join a select few—the fund is only two years old and last year rewarded 76 Black-led startups with up to $100,000 as well.
Google's Startup funds can be used to boost Black founders' companies into success—last year, founders raised up to $50 million in capital after recieving the funds, and 80% of the companies used their funds to create jobs.
Founders from last year's batch then paid it forward by nominating new companies and announcing the winners via Zoom.
Here's a look at those 5 founders in Austin:
Hakeem James- Customer X.I
Customer X.I founder Hakeem James wants to help small restaurants thrive.
Customer X.I founder Hakeem James wants to keep mom-and-pop shops alive. That's why he started his company to bridge "the gap between online and offline" and give restaurants and small businesses a centralized location to analyze their data against competitors.
"The question we ask internally: is it simple enough for my grandmother to use? For the record, my grandmother sometimes picks up the phone upside down," James told Microsoft.
The company's data can help businesses small and large better understand their customers—from their names to their drink choices—to build better relationships and customer loyalty.
But it hasn't been easy, especially as labor shortages and COVID safety policies affect restaurants during the pandemic. James said he heard about Google for Startups at Austin's entrepreneur hub, Capital Factory. He and the team will use the funding to create "freemium" plans as they seek to keep restaurants open.
"It has also allowed us to offer our products to restaurants that need it most on a freemium basis to keep their doors open and accelerate their growth when it has never been harder to do so," James said. "Being recognized and backed by Google is monumental for us; it is a signal to our partners of our growing success in the market and the expanded capacity we now have to serve our clients."
Riana Lynn- Journey Foods
Lynn said the startup fund will help level the playing field for Black entrepreneurs that may not get the funding they need.
"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund is a strong step in increasing the significant discrepancies in funding to many groups of founders, especially founders of color," Lynn said. "The funds will be used to add more science and engineering talent to our team and improve our impact in supply chains."
The company takes a step further back in the food industry process by merging research and development for food companies. Through comprehensive food data, Journey Foods helps provide insights on ingredients, pricing, manufacturing, and supply chain information to companies across the food industry.
From suppliers to packaging companies, Journey Foods hopes to reduce waste and costs by streamlining the food creation process.
Sterling Smith- Sandbox Commerce
Sandbox Commerce CEO Sterling Smith wasn't given a heads-up when he earned a spot in the Black Startups Fund- instead, he thought he was in his final interview.
Smith, who founded the app company in 2018, expressed his gratitude for the funding.
"Everyone involved, I really appreciate you guys betting on Sandbox," Smith said. "I can tell my mom now, right?"
Sandbox Commerce looks to create simple apps for companies without any technical or coding skills needed. The company looks to especially help the underdogs, including small businesses or underrepresented companies, in bridging the gap between computer skills and entrepreneurs.
Janice Omadeke- The Mentor Method
The Mentor Method is a consulting firm that helps companies recruit and retain employees through mentorship. (The Mentor Method/Facebook)
The Mentor Method, founded by Janice Omadeke, has been featured by Forbes and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its multi-step method of promoting employee retention and fulfillment. Omadeke has also won Capital Factory's $100k Female Founder competition award.
The company focuses on inclusivity, closing opportunity gaps and building talent through its mentorship method, which involves a matching algorithm that brings employees and mentors quickly together. The Mentor Method has been used by high-profile programs including the Department of Education and Glassdoor.
Omadeke said the startup will use its fund to create jobs, including a Product Coordinator, and boost an employee benefits package.
"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund will help us scale faster and address the core needs of companies seeking to retain their employees," Omadeke said.
Mbiyimoh Ghogomu- Tradeblock
Now a company used by tens of thousands, Tradeblock had humble beginnings—it was once just an Instagram page for sneakerheads.
Founder Mbiyimoh Ghogomu teamed up with childhood friends Tony Malveaux and Darren Smith to transform the page throughout the pandemic and create a network for sneaker lovers to enjoy. With their motto "Kicks as Currency," sneakerheads can trade sneakers without ever touching their piggy bank.
For Ghogomu, the company and Black Starters fund are both about one thing-fostering community.
"Getting recognized by Google as part of the Black Founders Fund is a game-changer for us," Ghogomu said. "My co-founders and team have been working really hard to disrupt the sneaker x tech space and inspire community building. The funds, relationships and overall support that Tradeblock is gaining will take us to the next level."
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A member of the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) contacted council members asking for their home addresses despite a charter provision prohibiting the ICRC from considering such information in its mapping process, according to emails obtained by the Bulldog through a public information request.
Four council members or their staffers replied providing home addresses: Alison Alter, Paige Ellis, Mackenzie Kelly, and Leslie Pool, according to the emails dated August 9th to Aug. 17.
Austinites will once again be able to take a nonstop flight to London as Austin-Bergstrom International Airport resumes transatlantic travel this fall.
Starting Oct. 13, British Airways will offer its direct flight from ABIA to London-Heathrow Airport three times a week on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The airline, which has been operating in Austin since 2013, had halted service at the start of the pandemic over a year ago.
"We can't wait to welcome our customers back on board our Austin flights and we are honored to be playing our part in reuniting families and friends with their loved ones after such a long time apart," said Marie Hilditch, British Airways' head of North America sales.
Safety protocols the airline is taking include:
- social distancing measures
- wearing of facemasks
- providing hand sanitizer stations
- cleaning all surfaces after every flight
- fully recycling the air once every two to three minutes through HEPA filters, which remove microscopic bacteria and virus clusters with over 99.9% efficiency
The announcement comes as COVID-19 testing requirements to enter the UK are scheduled to stop on Oct. 4. for vaccinated Americans.
Additionally, a Monday White House announcement allows fully vaccinated international travelers to enter the U.S. starting in early November with proof of a negative COVID-19 test. The ban, which was implemented in 2020, restricted travelers from a number of European countries, Iran and China throughout the pandemic.