Austin FC supporters gear up for a raucous season two at Q2 Stadium
Austin FC begins their second Major League Soccer season Saturday at Q2 Stadium. While the team is looking to improve upon its 2021 results, there is one area where Austin may have jumped to the top of the league: the supporters’ section in the south end of the stadium.
From the moment the national anthem ends to the final whistle of each half, Austin FC supporters beat drums, play horns, chant their hearts out, and get showered with beer to give home games a different feel from the rest of the league.
“What’s happening in Austin is a unique and fun challenge where we’re introducing people to soccer culture for the first time,” said Imani Williams, who helps lead many soccer supporter groups in Austin. “Every game there is people coming to their first-ever soccer game, and we get to show them what’s so fun about it.”
Williams is “capo,” which means she’s among the leadership group of Los Verdes and La Murga, two Austin FC supporters groups. She helps keep the energy up from capo stands in front of the supporters’ section. She also does a lot of work with the American Outlaws, the supporters group of the women’s and men’s U.S. national teams, and the local Liverpool FC group.
Williams jokes that she has paid for a lot of games she has not watched because she is working — leading songs and chants.
“We know as an expansion team, on the field, we know we’re not always going to be our best, but we can always be our best in the stands,” she said. “Try to lift the players, try to influence the match, and kind of just enjoy it.”
And the players feel it.
“To be honest, I’m going to tell you right now, I think we have the best fans in the league,” MLS veteran and Austin FC midfielder Diego Fagúndez said after just one home game. “The atmosphere was there. … Everything about it was there. I think everybody’s going to see it. We want to bring Austin to the world, and I think that’s what they’re doing.”
And while the 90-minute party in the south end looks spontaneous, years of work went into the supporters section.
“We always knew we had enough fuel to get something started,” said Mateo Clarke, a member of the leadership council for La Murga, the band that provides the live soundtrack for Austin games. “But then to see it take off and to see it received well by the players, and to see players come to Austin because of the culture and because of the stadium environment has been really fulfilling for us.”
“Of the people that I play with now, that I consider best friends and talk to multiple times a day, I hadn’t met any of them before two years ago. So, this soccer team really created a whole new community for me.”Mateo Clarke, La Murga supporters club
Clarke was among 13 band members who started playing together in parks and working out songs three years ago. He has a background in music but picked up the trumpet for the group, which has grown to 75 members. And just like the band has changed, so has its influence on Clarke.
“Of the people that I play with now, that I consider best friends and talk to multiple times a day, I hadn’t met any of them before two years ago,” he said. “So, this soccer team really created a whole new community for me.”
A lot of research into their playlist is trial and error. Simplifying lyrics, translating lyrics between Spanish and English and even American Sign Language — all to create an infectious and inclusive atmosphere, one that immediately hooked elementary school teacher Stephanie Dempsey.
“We wanted to be open and show people that we see you,” she said. “We see you as part of this community — not just as outsiders, but as somebody that can add to this community.”
Dempsey was a very casual sports fan and not exactly a soccer fan until she and her husband flew to Denver to watch Austin’s first win last season. After that trip, she was all-in and wanted more. Months later, she became a capo for La Murga, urging the crowd over a bullhorn with the same skills she might use to pump up kids in a cafeteria assembly — only without the beers. She makes appearances for the group — and the team. The ascent has caught her a little by surprise.
“I tell my husband to pinch me,” she said. “This is not real, being on commercials where Matthew McConaughey [is] saying my name — like what? That doesn’t happen. I’m still blown away by that, by the way.”
Roma Desai, an Austin lawyer, was a fan of the British Premier team Arsenal before MLS came to town. Living alone, Los Verdes offered her a social connection during the pandemic. Once in-person meetings were possible last spring, she, too, went all-in. She has been to every Austin FC game — home and away.
“It wasn’t even so much about the streak, but just how much fun it was to see the game, to travel with other Austinites, to meet other Austin fans in these cities,” Desai said. “It was that community that kept me going every time and it was so much fun.”
Desai even received recognition from the Austin City Council for never missing a game. The streak will continue Saturday, but she’s not confident about it lasting all season.
Then there's Carlos Treviño-Frank, a native of Del Rio who lives in Arkansas. His home is in the northwest corner of the state — physically closer to MLS teams in Kansas City, Nashville and Dallas. But Treviño-Frank drives eight-plus hours to Austin for every home game.
“My wife — ooh my wife — has come to realize that there’s not a lot of normality as to why I do this,” he said aid. “She thinks it’s insane!”
He gets up to make the drive at 4 a.m. because the games remind him of watching soccer with his grandmother in San Antonio.
“We always took the time during the World Cup, to take off and go spend it with my grandmother to watch,” he said. “Because that was always something that she wanted to make sure we always did as a family, whether we were cheering for the U.S. or we were cheering for Mexico.”
He says Austin FC is the team she would have rooted for.
Treviño-Frank's wife is expecting another child toward the end of the season, which he jokes could cramp his travel plans for a few games. He won’t miss opening night at Q2 on Saturday, though. This time with his wife, family — and the hundreds in his soccer family.