The unwanted ones

No one likes them. Do they care?

Every family has one of them. They might be a cousin from the wrong side of the tracks, a sister-in-law that likes the wine a little too much or Uncle Creepy, but regardless of the specifics they all share one quality — no one wants them at their party.

And, when they are forced to have them, most people will be quietly polite to their face, while talking about them behind their back and trying their best to keep their distance.

No one wants to be the black sheep.

In MLS, the black sheep is Austin FC. The expansion team that forced itself in and is owned by the most hated owner in North American soccer.

A quick re-cap: Austin is owned by Anthony Precourt. Previously he owned the Columbus Crew (sorry Crew SC. Actually, screw that, They are, have been and always will be “the Crew”). He very likely bought the Crew in bad faith (think Jeffrey Loria and Montreal Expos) and in short order he tried to move the Crew to Austin, a market that had never been in the running for a MLS team prior to Precourt deciding they should steal Columbus’ team.

Crew fans had other ideas and, quite impressively, rallied to try and shut the move down. At first, few gave the fans much of a chance, but the movement grew and grew and the fans, much to the annoyance of Precourt and MLS, refused to shut up and take it. So, finally, MLS gave in and Saved The Crew, while also caving to Precourt’s desire to put a third team in Texas.

The league awarded them an expansion team, despite there being an expansion process going on that they weren’t involved in and, now, three years later, Austin is signing free agents and preparing to kick-off its first season in March.

However, as stated, they will enter the league as very much the unwanted ones among fans that care about the integrity of the league. Whereas most expansion teams are viewed sympathetically by fans from other cities, Austin will enter the league very much as the villain.

Of course none of this will matter to the fans of Austin. They don’t care how they got their team. They just care that they have a team.

The question many people have though is ‘what will the team and the fans look like?’

There is very little previous evidence to point to, after all. The USL team there was unsuccessful and, unlike other expansion efforts in other cities that see large groups of fans trotted out to show that the city REALLY cares, Austin didn’t, you know, have any of those events.

There is some indication that there are fans there. The club says that they have sold out of season ticket memberships. That’s 15,500 seats sold for each game this year (assuming there are games, but that’s a different topic). So, promising.

If fans emerge from seemingly nowhere, it won’t be the first time that a market surpassed expectation.  I mean, how many people reading this from Toronto were ever at a Lynx game? How many even knew that there were Lynx games?  

Exactly.

Additionally, Austin would seem to have the perfect combination of hipsters and Latin American ex-pats that one typically finds in MLS stands. So, this thing might just work.

As for whether the team itself will be successful…well, so far the roster build looks good. Not sexy, but solid. They appear to want to follow Nashville’s model of building a solid spine and worrying about where the goals come from later.

If you are reading this before 11a ET on Dec 8, you can listen to SoccerToday live today as we speak to Austin-based journalist Chris Bils about the Austin build. If you are reading after that the link to the show can be found….here.

And next week, I’ll dive into the roster in detail on the Daily 24th Minute.

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