MLS made it official on Tuesday, welcoming Austin FC as the league's 27th franchise at an event in the Texas capital.
Anthony Precourt, the former Columbus Crew owner who nearly relocated the MLS original to Austin before selling the club to local ownership and continuing his Austin pursuit independently, was joined by MLS commissioner Don Garber and Austin mayor Steve Adler at The Rustic Tap on the vibrant 6th Street in downtown Austin for the ceremony that cemented the city's place in the league.
Precourt will add local investors to the ownership group, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The club has already started staffing up, with former head of business operations in Columbus, Andy Loughnane, named as the team's president earlier in January.
“Austin is a thriving metropolitan city–the embodiment of what we mean when we say MLS is a ‘League for a new America,’” Garber said. “We are extremely proud to be the first major professional sports league to become part of the fabric of this important and thriving American city."
Austin FC will be the second pro soccer team in the city following the introduction of Austin Bold FC in the second-tier USL Championship starting in 2019. Austin FC is set to join MLS in 2021, by which point the club's new $225 million, 20,000-seat stadium at McKalla Place should be open for business. The club's inclusion in the league leaves one open place during MLS's current period of expansion to 28 teams. FC Cincinnati, the 24th team, begins play in 2019 and will be followed in 2020 by Inter Miami CF and the new franchise in Nashville.
St. Louis, Phoenix and Sacramento figure to be among the favorites for the 28th berth, though Garber, who Tuesday called Austin "the most complicated project" in MLS history, indicated prior to last month's MLS Cup that the league is open to expanding beyond the previously stated number.
"We will grant the 28th team and make that decision sometime in the next 12 months," Garber said in Atlanta. "There’s no rush. And we’ll have to decide if we want to go forward beyond 28 teams. That’s a discussion that is taking place. ... But there’s no doubt in my mind we can support having more than 28 teams in Major League Soccer. No doubt in my mind.”
Austin FC becomes the third Texan team in MLS, joining FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo, and the standard to meet from the opening kick is high based on recent showings from new clubs such as Atlanta United and LAFC.
"Our intent is to build a team that will be a perennial contender for MLS Cup, to build a stadium at McKalla Place that rivals the best sporting venues in North America and to cultivate a club culture that brings people together and always give back,” Precourt said.