Adventures in Football #74: Q2 Stadium (Austin FC)
February 25, 2023
AUSTIN FC vs ST LOUIS CITY (Major League Soccer)
Howdy y’all! I was on vacation in the United States, and it happened to coincide with MLS opening weekend. Seeing as this happened well over a week ago, my memory may be a little sketchy and I’ll try and make the best use of my notes.
First, a little history on Austin FC. They’re one of MLS’ more recent franchises, coming into being just two years ago. It was a big win for Austin, which was the largest city in the US without a major sporting team. The locals are rightly proud of the team and Los Verdes have huge and vocal support. Josh Wolff’s team entered into MLS in 2021. During their middling first season they recruited Sebastian Driussi and he changed their fortunes. In their second season they qualified for the play offs and only went out against LAFC in the Western Conference final. They’ll be competing in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League.
So, things are looking up around Austin and it felt like a great time to go and check them out. Opening day and everyone is excited. For a little context a good sized chunk of my family lives in Texas. I was planning a trip to see them and after they came over to England in September, and we went to watch England at Wembley, it was time to switch venues and have another big family day out. My nephew Harrison has secured parking for today’s event so he’s driving.
This is the view of the Q2 from out on the 183. For those drinkers among the readership; there are two breweries near the ground. Oskar Blues (who make Dales Pale Ale) and Celis. The latter is an Austin tradition, set up by Pierre Celis in 1992. It got bought out by Miller, who fucked it up, and it’s now back in family hands with daughter Christine. I do love a Celis Pale Bock. When I lived in Texas, back in the mid 90s, it was my beer of choice.
Today we’re not going in for such shenanigans though and we’re parking at Dillard’s in a super-rich shopping precinct called “The Domain”. It’s a bunch of hipster nonsense and there’s nothing approaching a good pub anywhere in there. We had pre-game drinks in a mini-golf place called the Dirdie Birdie. You can get a decent beer there at least. The Domain has a lot of parking and although we pre-paid for ours, you can drive up on game day and get a parking spot in here. Probably on a higher tier of a multi-storey but that’ll do. Especially as street parking around the ground is heavily frowned upon and parking at the actual ground isn’t a particularly good idea.
The city is rightly proud of its sporting team and it gets a great level of support from the locals. A misconception among Americans is that they don’t care about soccer. It’s just not true. America is so big and has such a diverse population that there’s room for loads of sports. Austin is a fairly liberal, left-wing city (compared to the rest of Texas) and has a large Hispanic population. We see a lot of Austin FC merch and follow the green tide to the Q2. I was sorely tempted to buy an Austin FC shirt but it retailed at $159, which is a bit steep for my tastes. The first 10,000 people into the Q2 got a free scarf but despite being early the place was heaving when we got there. All them scarves were gone.
That big green part at the end of the Q2 is the Verde Store, where you can purchase Austin FC merch. People clearly have as I saw merch on just about every soul in the building. The weird thing is; you have to buy merch from the club shop. It’s not available online at all. Which shows what a powerful local support the club has. The Q2 holds 20,738 and the game we saw was a sell out. You can buy tickets on SeatGeek.com and I had no trouble getting six together. If you get in early enough, it’s relatively easy. They weren’t cheap and came at the cost of $100+ per ticket.
I was worried about going in the wrong gate but I shouldn’t have been as the entire inside of the stadium is open. You can get anywhere from any entrance. Not only that it’s designed to be open so that the wind blows through the stadium as temperatures get up there during the summer months. I have never seen a more open stadium of this size. You may notice security is on hand here. There are strict bag restrictions. If you take a handbag and it’s too big, it’s going into a locker for the duration of the game, which you have to pay for. So, don’t bring it. They also have metal detectors. Texas has certain open carry laws where people can walk around with a pistol. Not at the ball park though. Let’s leave that outside too.
Oh, how about that? The countries are England, Wales, Scotland, Italy and the USA so it’s not that impressive. After sorting out our bag issues, we head in and check out the facilities. They sell beer just about everywhere inside and you can drink it while watching the game. The concourse is so open, you can see the pitch from everywhere. Unfortunately, the beer is $14 (£11.63 to the layman).
Having the stadium so open allows this sort of view from the concourse. This is literally in between the beer stand and the hot dog stand.
While there I note this gaggle of St Louis ultras. It’s over 800 miles to St Louis. Around 12.5 hours of driving on the highways, through Missouri, Oklahoma and northern Texas. If you drove for 12.5 hours in the UK you’d end up in the sea. Or going around the M25 ad nauseum. One of the St Louis fans is hedging his bets by wearing an Austin scarf as well. I can only assume he got a freebie. Wasted on the man.
I snapped this shot of the concourse but sadly it’s all blurry because of the lighting and people moving. You can see how much green is in the shot though. The whole outside ring of the stadium has merch, beer and food on sale. So, if you forgot to go to the club shop pre-game, you can buy a shirt in the ground. That’s an innovation the Premier League could learn from. Plus all the other tat you can usually only get from a vendor outside is available right in the stadium.
This is the view from our seats. On the left are the ultras. It’s nowhere near kick-off and the place is already packed out. Notice all the green of merchandise. Also, a few guys in red a few rows in front of us. They’re St Louis fans dotted around in the Austin support. Something that just happens at American sports. There is no defined ‘away’ section here. The home fans are nuts and cheer everything including goals that go in during the shooting practice.
Remember when I said drinking was allowed in the stadium? Well, shit, it’s positively encouraged. You even have your own cupholder. Only in America! USA! USA! USA! Honestly, this is a great innovation and should happen in England too. Including the beer part.
The pre-match rituals are something. I’ve seen similar bullshit at Man City, because they’re an embarrassment to football, but seeing the Americans do it is interesting. The lights all switch green to kick things off. Those little things on the pitch are for pyro.
And out come the teams. St Louis’ team sheet is read out and after every name the crowd yells “SUCKS”. The players emerging sees flame pyro and, of course, flags. They love flags in America.
Then it’s anthem time. First the Austin anthem is sung. Austin Anthem is also the name of the ultras. Austin is a music city and the crowd is very musically inclined. After that we get the National Anthem and more pyro.
They also have a celebrity to bang the drum while the crowd yell “LISTOS” and, in return, “VERDE”. This basically translates to “Ready greens?”
Not content with all that up comes a tifo. You can’t see it from where I was sat, so I’ve liberated a shot of it from another angle. “Hasta la Victoria” means “to victory”. “Siempre verde” is “always green”. Down the bottom “Golatxo” is “goal” with ATX in the middle, which is short for Austin, Texas. They’re a colourful bunch, as long as the colour is green.
I could see neon in the crowd and zoomed in to look at it. Those are drummers. Above the drummers is two entire rows of brass instruments. Flags everywhere. It’s a cross between Italian fans and a marching band. They’ve certainly put their own spin on football support. It’s intriguing to watch and, in fact, hard to keep your eyes off the ultras as they sing and play.
Is that the Grinch? We get about five songs in, and everyone suddenly starts whipping their scarves around their heads. It’s so distracting I barely notice St Louis opening the scoring. It’s Tim Parker heading in a corner. 0-1 and St Louis, in their first ever game, lead. Brad Stuver, the goalie, who’s greeted with “STUUUUUV” every time he touches the ball has to do better. To be fair, the key moment of the game has already happened. Julio Cascante, Austin’s starting centre back, goes down injured with no one near him on 11’ and has to be substituted. The replacement is Kip Keller, who will play a big part in this game.
Austin are rubbish for most of the first half. The more creative players can’t get into the game and it’s deep in first half stoppage time when Driussi, probably not for the last time, saves the day. Chasing a long ball, he lobs the keeper and it’s 1-1. The goal is the first thing to disrupt the rhythm of the ultras who didn’t miss a beat when St Louis scored. The game is almost incidental to the performance. Everyone goes nuts for Driussi’s goal though and rightly so. The ultras occasionally throw water all over the place, which must be comforting in the summer games. A couple of their songs are very catchy. “Allez, Allez ATX” is a favourite. As is “Alright, Alright, Alright, Austin FC”. Switching up the standard ole’s in honour of Matthew McConaughey, local celebrity and Austin FC’s co-owner. I was little sad he didn’t show up on the pitch with that green suit on like he did before.
Anyway, the second half gets underway and I’m starting to get somewhat annoyed with the guy in front of me who stands up at every single corner. Why? There are people lower down the stand who haven’t sat down at all. It would have been better if he’d just stayed stood up the whole time. He clearly doesn’t know ball as he sits down after a corner has been cleared, just as the ball breaks for John Gallagher who rifles Austin 2-1 in front. The crowd goes mad and my guy in front looks foolish. I literally stood up when he sat down.
This is a celebration of Driussi’s goal, btw. Gallagher scored at the other end. It should be over. St Louis had played at least as well as Austin for the bulk of the game but there’s 15 minutes left and surely, it’s over.
The ultras clearly think so, although they’re a positive bunch. Nothing phases them. Instead Keller produces one of professional sports’ all time bone-headed blunders. He passes the ball straight to Jared Stroud, which is bad because Stroud plays for St Louis, and Stroud sweeps the ball past Stuver for 2-2. Keller literally giving a goal away. Mainly because of his persistent backwards, negative passing all game. Imagine if Harry Maguire was in Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band and that’s Kip Keller. In all fairness, Keller is from St Louis and played his youth and college soccer there. He probably just forgot.
^I literally took this picture from the bar. MLS rules!
St Louis are not content with a point and push forwards. Keller tries to sort out a problem when a ball over the top sends Joao Klauss clear but Keller is trying too hard to compensate for his mistake and runs right past Klauss as the wide man pivots and finishes. Keller is left on the deck looking foolish for the second time in ten minutes and St Louis have won their first ever game in MLS.
American’s love stats and the scoreboard threw out some interesting ones during the game. Including telling us the possession numbers. Should Austin have won? They should have at least drawn. It didn’t seem to dampen the atmosphere any and the fans were left with Keller to blame for the loss, despite the team as a whole not performing to a good enough level. Austin will play better than this. As for St Louis, I got to see their first ever game and they won. I’m clearly a good luck charm. For about 20 minutes I was their leading fan on Futbology because no one in America knows what groundhopping is!
Alright, alright, alright, with the game in the books, let’s see how these Texans measured up to the European fans.
The constant barrage of noise only let up at half-time, right after Austin equalised. Presumably because all the ultras were in the toilet queue (seriously, it was looooong). *****.
An outrage, quite frankly. At $112 a ticket (£93), it doesn’t represent good value at all. The standard of play in MLS is somewhere between bottom half of Championship and the good teams in League 1. And you’re paying Premier League prices. However, it was fun to watch and the ground was sold out so clearly the fans don’t think it’s overpriced. It is though. **½.
All three of St Louis’ goals were down to defensive howlers. I think that speaks volumes. **½
EASE OF ACCESS:
Austin prides itself on being green and it is actually quite easy to get to. You can take a train or a bus, depending on what part of Austin you’re from. Keeping in mind Austin is a big, stretched out city. We had to drive in from Bastrop county. Parking was under a mile from the ground though, and easy enough to sort out. ***.
Q2 is a tight space with loads of noise but it’s the concourses and open plan feel of the stadium that won me over. It has excellent, albeit way overpriced, facilities. ***½.
That’s a solid score. The atmosphere is the big selling point. They did not stop all game, apart from half-time. It was like being at a gig and one hell of a live experience. The cost of everything is alarmingly high. Austin having one sports team probably doesn’t help. I could have gone to watch the NY Knicks on this trip for about $40, if I were so inclined. For a first impression of MLS as a live experience; it’s a good one. It was fun and it was just different enough for me experience something you can’t get at a UK ground. I appreciate that. Watching football in different countries is essential, I feel, to appreciate what the game can offer.