Anthony Precourt walked out of the Austin City Council chamber on Wednesday and straight into a bear hug from Josh Babetski.
Seconds later, Precourt — the investor/operator of Columbus Crew SC — said the words Babetski has been longing to hear since he founded the supporters group MLS in Austin in 2013.
“We’re bringing Major League Soccer to Austin, Texas,” Precourt said in front of a gaggle of TV cameras, reporters and soccer fans.
The council voted Wednesday to approve a deal between the city and Precourt Sports Ventures for a stadium near the Domain. Later that evening, Babetski’s MLS in Austin group hosted a celebration at the Haymaker bar on Manor Road.
“It’s been a long five-year plan from crazy guy with a Twitter account through this movement that we started, to this whole supporters group to today,” Babetski said.
The group picked up steam after the October 2017 announcement that PSV was exploring a move of the Crew, but admittedly still has a long way to go to fill the 3,907-person supporters stand called for in the stadium plan. Hundreds floated in and out of Haymaker on Wednesday evening.
Several council members joined them, with Jimmy Flannigan the first to come through the door. He was greeted with chants of, “He’s one of our own.” Mayor Steve Adler and Sabino “Pio” Renteria received similar treatment.
“I saw the groundswell of support and knew that this wasn’t just another zoning case,” Flannigan said. “This was something bigger. It was something that was going to benefit a much wider part of our community than just a few folks who are affected on the neighboring streets.”
There were plenty of familiar faces, but there were also some new ones.
“People get excited about the things they can see and touch and feel,” said Josh Jackson, a vocal member of MLS in Austin. “The people that have been part of this process are really the hardcore fans. I think a lot of people are going to come out of the woodwork.”
One example Wednesday evening was the Castaneda family from Northwest Austin. Roberto Castaneda said he had been signed up with MLS in Austin for nearly a year, but arrived with his wife and three soccer-playing kids to attend their first event.
“I wrote to Flannigan a week ago and I wrote something to city council three or four months ago. Things I never do,” said Castaneda, a California transplant who has been in Austin for a decade. “I think it was already very real for me, but but obviously something’s different now because I got my whole family to drive out here.”
There’s still no announced team name, no logo, no jerseys and no temporary stadium for 2019 and 2020, but Precourt said Wednesday those next steps would be announced “in the very near future.”
At Haymaker, a Crew SC match from several weeks ago played on the TV screens. There was talk of renting a bus for the Columbus- FC Dallas match on Sept. 15 in Frisco.
Fans of the team in Ohio aren’t giving up just yet, pending the result of an ongoing lawsuit aimed at keeping the team where it’s been since 1996.
“No matter what happens in Austin, the future of Columbus Crew SC will be determined in Columbus,” read a statement by the fan-led Save the Crew movement.
Statements from the Columbus mayor, city attorney, Ohio attorney general and CEO of the Columbus Partnership all held similar intent. The folks from MLS in Austin aren’t worried.
“The outcome of that affects what happens in Columbus next,” said Babetski. “It does not in any material way change a team playing here next year. We don’t know what that looks like, but with this (vote) I’m highly confident there’s a team playing here.
“My hope is that members of the Columbus community can operate in a constructive way to get soccer to remain there in some way, shape or form.”
MLS declined to comment on the city council vote, and has remained mostly silent on proceedings in Austin the past 10 months.
On Wednesday, soccer fans in the Texas capital were happy to let the words and body language of a visibly jubilant Precourt do the talking. By those metrics, the city’s first major professional sports team is on its way.