AUSTIN (KXAN) — For Josh Babetski, president of Austin Anthem, Saturday’s inaugural Austin FC game in Q2 Stadium is more than just a homecoming for the Verdes: It’s a love letter to the Austin community that has supported its efforts for years on end.

“This is a build up of seven-and-a-half years of work,” he said, adding: “We’ve been thinking of this day for a very long time.”

Austin Anthem heading to Q2 Stadium June 19, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Todd Bynum)
Austin Anthem heading to Q2 Stadium June 19, 2021 (KXAN Photo/Todd Bynum)

The process of launching Austin’s first professional sports team has been nearly a decade in the making, an effort forged through groups like Austin Anthem and citizens that have rallied behind, petitioned, and championed the initiative at city council meetings.

“It’s been this long road of like, there’s been so many milestones along the way of these like, incremental steps,” he said. “To be now at this last, real big checkbox, the first home game, it’s kind of the calm before the storm. I think once we’re in the stadium and the ball kicks and the whistle goes and the clock starts, I think you’re going to see, like, an outpouring of emotion from supporters like myself, that the city has never seen.”

But as a sea of black and green soccer kits streamed through Circle Brewing Company Saturday, Babetski said he was struck not just by a multi-year mission coming to fruition, but just how strongly it unified lifelong soccer aficionados and newcomers alike.

For some fans, all roads lead to the Verde following a life’s worth of obsessively following the MLS. Others might find Saturday to be their first introduction to the world of Major League Soccer and the community that comes with it.

Regardless of which camps fans find themselves in, Saturday’s match is bound to be a tsunami of emotions for those who have dreamed of hearing that first whistle sound from the pitch.

“Being somebody who’s from Austin and not knowing if we’d ever have a true major league level, professional franchise, just thrilled that I get to be a part of this first year, a part of this journey,” said Lincoln Rose, who provides radio calls for Austin FC’s games. “Kind of just carrying on the efforts that so many fans in the area and so many other members of the media have kind of made possible over the years.”

For those who remember trips downtown to House Park to watch the original Austin Aztecs and have become pseudo government policy efforts as the MLS proposals made their way through Austin City Council, Rose said tonight’s game is beyond articulation and cannot be summarized in a few words. For many, the exact emotions they’re feeling today will not be describable until that first play is in motion.

“I don’t think any of us will be able to fully understand what it means until we’re actually there and that first whistle blows,” he said. “But I think we all anticipate what it could mean, and that’s where you look around and there’s finally one similar rallying cry that brings everybody from Austin — whatever their story, whatever their background, wherever they went to college — kind of one umbrella that embraces them all.”