It’s finally here—the inaugural season for Austin FC!
Last season had many club FIRSTS, but there are still several major announcements that will happen before players ever step on the pitch in March.
Capital City’s giddy as hell for MLS 2021, so we came up with a few early year predictions while we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting for match day kickoff.
Here are our four predictions to get you fired up for 2021.
1. Austin FC’s first match will be against Seattle
A significant milestone and major media event for Austin FC and MLS will be the expansion club’s inaugural match.
The formula MLS uses to determine who Austin FC plays its first match against is a mystery to us.
Based on league history, MLS typically pairs an expansion team with a club that is near the top of the standings…and it’s usually an away game for the new team. (Given that our stadium may not be complete until after the season starts, that makes sense again this year.) In addition, an inaugural match can be an in- or out-of-conference opponent.
An expansion team is not typically paired with previous year’s MLS Cup winner, so don’t expect a Columbus Crew vs. Austin FC matchup right off the bat.
Examples of recent inaugural game expansion team matchups:
- Nashville SC vs. Atlanta United (2020)
- Inter Miami CF vs. Los Angeles FC (2020)
- Los Angeles FC vs. Seattle Sounders (2018)
- Minnesota United vs. Portland Timbers (2017)
Similar to LAFC in their very first game, we expect Austin FC to play Seattle Sounders at Lumen Field (formerly CenturyLink). In 2018, Seattle was MLS Cup runner-up to Toronto. This year they are again a runner-up. Also, the Rave Green are a huge media draw and upwards of 70K fans would pack Lumen Field for this historical event (if fans are allowed to attend).
Staying in the Western Conference, we also like an inaugural match up versus LAFC. MLS could have fun with a show down of club owners Will Ferrell vs. Matthew McConaughey (a la UT vs. USC Rose Bowl game).
If it’s an Eastern Conference opponent, then we think Austin would play a top tier Philadelphia Union side…or for more intrigue, NYCFC (Claudio Renya’s ex-club).
2. Austin FC will sign a high profile DP from Liga MX for the number 10 role
Austin FC will look to solidify the club on and off the pitch by signing a legit Liga MX star to fill an attacking midfielder position.
Everything the club as done so far in the draft and free agency indicates that a number 10 will be one of two remaining Designated Player (DP) picks. Right now, it’s an obvious hole down the spine of Austin FC’s current roster.
In addition, Austin FC desperately needs to lure more Austinites into the Verde fold by signing an international player with star power. Targeting Liga MX makes the most sense given Austin FC’s proximity to Mexico and the city’s soccer fan base.
If you’re not familiar with MLS DP rules, the club can select up to three players whose total salary and transfer fees exceed the MLS salary budget cap. A DP will have a max budget hit of about $600K—any salary or fees over that amount must be paid out of the club’s own pocket. So, for DP players, it’s really just how much the club can afford to pay on its own dime.
Austin FC currently has filled only one DP slot—Paraguayan 26-year old Cecilio Dominguez. He’ll likely play his natural position, left winger, for the Verde.
Before any players had ever been signed, CEO Anthony Precourt made his intentions publicly known that a Liga MX or Mexican National Team player is who they want to target.
Sporting Director Claudio Reyna and Coach Wolff have said publicly that they’re heavily scouting the region. In a recent ExtraTime Radio interview, Reyna did caution that he felt Liga MX players currently have inflated values, and that the club won’t be driven to signing players based on geographic boundaries.
Still, Austin fans are waiting for that epic inaugural signing. Proven by Austin FC’s hiring of legend Claudio Reyna, investment in a $45 mil training facility, and a $250 mil soccer specific stadium, there’s no doubt the club has the desire and money to go after a super star number 10.
3. Austin FC will release a white and green Away kit
Austin FC’s bright verde + black striped primary jersey was a HUGE hit. Expect the buzz to continue when the club’s second jersey is released in early 2021.
While it may not have the in-your-face design of the first jersey, we expect the Away jersey will get nods for its understated style.
Our thought is that the second jersey will be a solid white kit with a bright verde signature design element on the front.
Within these parameters, we’d be super impressed if Adidas came out with a muted tree ring, or abstract bark, design similar to the impressive concept jersey below. YETI of course will adorn the front as the official jersey sponsor, probably in the club’s trademark green color.
With the start of the MLS season around the corner, the Away jersey could drop as soon as January 2021.
4. Austin FC will name a local sponsor for the stadium
Unfortunately the reveal of a stadium sponsor was likely pushed back to 2021 due to COVID.
With the stadium opening in Spring 2021, you can expect a big announcement soon (along with a name in big letters on the canopy roof).
It’s a daunting task trying to pick an Austin FC stadium partner—a company on the world’s stage, which also has a local or regional presence in Texas, and a large bankroll.
Given how the other major sponsors so far have had strong local ties, we think it’ll be the same for the stadium naming partnership.
If you want more stadium naming speculation, we’ve made a detailed case for nine companies with ties to Austin.
Stadium naming rights deals are immensely lucrative for a professional sports team. A club can bank millions of dollars guaranteed for a decade or more. In fact, according to a Sports Business Journal story, Austin FC has already turned down a 10-year, $35 million offer. It might help pay for that super star DP signing we mentioned earlier.
What do you think? Leave a comment below for your 2021 predictions.