'I'm not interested in being a mascot' - McConaughey's Austin FC to make MLS debut

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When you reach Matthew McConaughey's level of game, a lot of ideas and pitches get tossed your way. 

The American is, after all, one of the most successful and sought-after actors in the world today and, as a result, he's constantly evaluating scripts, offers and investment opportunities.

"A few more than a dozen [at any given time]", he says with a laugh.

However, on Saturday, one of those ideas will come to life when his hometown team, Austin FC, debuts in Major League Soccer.

The Texan city finally has its first professional sports team and, in McConaughey, it has an outward-facing owner and spokesman. 

"When the idea came to me, I was like, 'Absolutely, I'm in'," he says. "How much can I get in? That became the challenge. How much can I get in because I wanted to be in more."

He adds: "Why do I become an owner? I'm into making legacy choices now. I'm not interested in being a mascot. I have always dreamed of being in at the ground level to help with building a team."

McConaughey's transition from Hollywood hero to MLS owner began in August 2019, when he was announced as one of four investors joining majority owner Anthony Precourt to take charge of Austin FC.

The actor's introduction came just two years after Precourt established himself as one of American soccer's villains for his attempt to move the MLS original Columbus Crew to Austin, prompting the now-famous #SaveTheCrew movement.

In the end, everyone won out. The Crew kept their team, going on to win the 2020 MLS Cup. And Precourt got his Austin franchise, as he was awarded an expansion slot in January 2019.

By the end of the summer, McConaughey was on board as a co-owner and, perhaps just as importantly, as the team's Minister of Culture.

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Even in the years before Austin FC, McConaughey was already a Texas sports icon. In a state powered by college football, the actor has long been the University of Texas' most famous and visible fan. 

But McConaughey, who was born in Uvalde but has long lived in Austin, believed something was missing. The city, which has been one of the fastest-growing in the U.S. for quite some time, needed a top-flight professional team to call its own, and soccer, McConaughey says, was the perfect sport.

Since marrying Brazilian model Camila Alves in 2006, McConaughey has learned more and more about the game. The couple's three children all play the sport, with the actor saying that he hopes their love for Austin FC someday matches their love for Brazil's national team.

"I root for them too," he admits. "They're in the top and they'll get back to the top."

McConaughey himself has learned all about the global aspect of the game throughout his international travels as a Hollywood star. Whether he's in Iceland, Italy, South Africa or, now, his hometown of Austin, McConaughey says "there's one game that's always in town".

"A soccer ball needs no invitation," he says. "I call the soccer ball the greatest invitation in the world. What I mean is that everywhere I've traveled in the world, if you're in a square and Rome with kids sitting around at a cafe, if you see a small kid or somebody over there kicking the soccer ball around, just go over there. Walk over and, all of a sudden, they boot the ball to you.

"You don't have to introduce yourself. You don't even have to say your name. It happens all over the world: people come together, kicking a soccer ball around and they don't even have to say what their name is, where they're from. You don't have to speak. It's just a great uniter."

"Who am I representing? In particular, my hometown team Austin FC," he adds. "Now, I can have that conversation with people when I travel the world, about my team and about soccer, and they'll know about them and if they don't, I'll give them a t-shirt, let them know what we got and what we got going.

"I'm going to have so much fun with these new conversations as I travel the world in every country, talking about the game of football."

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But McConaughey understands that he has a lot to learn. He's the co-owner and the Minister of Culture, but he knows that this is a process, and a long one at that. 

Success, especially in MLS, isn't instant, no matter how famous your owner is. Expansion teams often have to take their lumps, regardless of how many season tickets they sell or how much excitement and fanfare surround them.

So, when it comes to the on-the-field aspects, McConoughey is quick to defer. He's enjoyed picking the brains of sporting director Claudio Reyna and head coach Josh Wolff to learn more about how the club he owns is going to play.

Austin have in-their-prime attacking stars in Cecilio Dominguez and Tomas Pochettino, as well as MLS veterans like Nick Ring and Matt Besler to serve as leaders as they head into year one.

Still, you never truly know what you're going to get from an expansion team. Until this all gets going, until this team takes the field and truly shows what they are, you can't truly guess how this first season will actually turn out.

But McConaughey isn't all too concerned by the initial results. He says he's looking forward to the losses just as much as the wins, the lessons just as much as the celebrations. He doesn't want to envision what it would be like lifting an MLS Cup until he learns just how hard it is to actually get there.

With that in mind, he frequently refers to his ownership of the club as a "100-year war". He doesn't want to build a club that lasts a few seasons, but rather one that changes his city forever.

"If you go into something with an ownership mentality, not a renter's mentality," he says. "It's not 'I'd like to dabble in this, maybe we'll see how it goes, maybe we'll be around, maybe we'll be the hot hand for the next 10 years then we'll get out.' You're not going to make the right decision, not going to make the right cultural decisions.

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"If you go in with an owner's mentality, and I mean not just me as a literal owner. I mean just, in the game of soccer, whether you're starting your team or you're a league, if you go in with an owner's mentality, you're thinking about how is this legendary? How can I build something that I'm going to hand down to the next generation?

"How do we have a nursery, a performance center? How do we have youth participation to where we're going to start having young men and women coming out of our farm system into our game, and out of our team into the national team and into the international stage?

"Think long-term and your roots grow deeper, and not just wider."

Austin FC's roots have begun to take hold. The club has sold over 15,000 season tickets, with thousands more on the waiting list. Austin, by all accounts, has welcomed its new team as it now gets set to truly get going.

That process starts on Saturday with a visit to a perennial contender in Los Angeles FC. It will continue this summer with the team's home debut, which will serve as an unveiling for a brand-new stadium that many hope will become a true landmark of a growing city.

That city, Austin, is known for music and food, but McConaughey says he wants soccer to be added to that list in the coming years.

"We've been talking about this, we've been building this brick by brick, we've been getting our support person by person through the city. We understand it's Verde, but now it's live. Oh, I just got some chills saying that: it's live now!" he enthuses.

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"I am starting to get looser actually. I know we're coming up on gameday, but I'm not getting tighter. I'm getting looser because I'm having an exhale. Okay, we did it. Now we come to the table to eat. Now we get on the pitch, and we play.

"Let's go learn. We know what we're striving for. We know it's a 100-year war. We know we're not going to have an undefeated season. We know that we know these things. So, how do we build and how do we learn?

"Now the fun starts because now we play. We've been doing a lot of work. Now, it's time to play."