AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The long and winding road in the MLS is finally leading Austin FC back home.
The expansion team spent its first eight weeks on the road while waiting to make its debut at the sparkling new Q2 Stadium, and finally gets to play in front of what promises to be a sellout crowd Saturday night against San Jose.
“It’s a big moment for the club … I expect it to be bumping,” said Josh Wolff, who will get to make his home debut as a head coach. “As a first-time coach, you only get one first home game.”
There have been a few bumps on that road, though Austin has weathered some of them better than expected.
The season started with a loss at LAFC, followed by impressive wins at Colorado and Minnesota before Austin settled into the role of an expansion team trying to figure things out. Three straight losses took the edge off the promising start.
Confidence came with draws at Seattle and Kansas City, the two clubs at the top of the Western Conference standings. Austin is currently 10th.
Those performances showed the club could trade punches with the league’s best. They left Austin players both satisfied and frustrated for what might have been had they stolen at least one more victory on the road stretch.
“I’d like for us to score more goals,” Wolfe said. “We’ve left a lot of goals out there.”
Perhaps they will come at home in front of more than 20,000 fans at Q2 Stadium. The arena made its debut Wednesday night hosting the U.S. women’s national team’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.
The locals have been warming up for the MLS party for weeks. Supporter groups have held chant and drum practices inside the stadium — actor Matthew McConaughey, a part owner of the team, led one of them — and some diehards have even had tattoos of the team’s oak tree logo.
And like the players, some are relieved to finally stay home. A group of dedicated fans has given Austin a presence in the stands at games halfway across the country.
One of them was Roma Desai, a lawyer and member of the Los Verdes fan group, who traveled to all eight of Austin’s road games.
She and friends had planned to attend the first match in Los Angeles. But what started as plan a for only a few road trips quickly turned into all eight, sometimes flying, sometimes driving all night to the matches.
“I didn’t set out to do it. I just kept getting so hyped it was like, ‘OK, if I can make it work, I’ll see if I can do it.’ I had airline miles saved up,” Desai said. “I’ve been counting down the days to this one. The atmosphere is going to be electric.”
Is a tattoo next?
“It would be my first,” said Desai, 38. “I don’t know if my parents would be too happy.”
Team captain Alex Ring said the Austin fans deserve a win after passionately embracing the team’s arrival in MLS. Austin hasn’t won a match in six weeks.
“There’s no other option. I’d be really disappointed if we don’t. They deserve it, we deserve it. They fans have been amazing with their support on away trips,” Ring said. “Home games are to be won.”
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