By Ben Ferree/NPSL.com
The journey to bring the MLS to Austin was a long and winding one, but Austin FC is now ready to begin their first-ever season as a club. Their inaugural season comes complete with a talented roster, a passionate fan base, and the state-of-the-art Q2 Stadium.
Two members of the Austin defense have NPSL experience: first round MLS SuperDraft pick Freddy Kleeman and reigning MLS Cup Champion Andrew Tarbell.
Kleeman played collegiately at the University of Washington in Seattle, only playing in 28 games before making the leap to MLS. Part of what helped him be ready for the next level despite the limited number of games in college was his experience with OSA Seattle FC.
“OSA was important for my growth as a player,” Kleeman said. “It gave me a home during the spring and summer…the club and organization played a big role in allowing me to develop. I played with ex-MLS guys…it really helped me step up and become the player I am today.”
Now, Kleeman is ready to make his mark in Austin.
“I’m super grateful to be in this situation,” Kleeman said. “It’s been a dream come true, and it means even more to me to be with a new club and build a culture here.”
Tarbell is a player who’s already made his mark on the league, stepping in to cover for Eloy Room in goal for the Columbus Crew in 2020 when injuries and COVID protocols kept the netminder away, including some clutch playoff performances.
He also spent four seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes, making 41 starts in 42 appearances. The Mandeville, LA native got his start with the New Orleans Jesters.
Now, Austin is giving him the chance to be a regular starter again.
“It’s great to be in Austin and be part of the inaugural season and team,” Tarbell said. “It’s a big responsibility. I’m super humbled to be here.”
Tarbell was modest about his contributions to the Crew’s championship run, but the high level of play he displayed certainly was a factor in Austin feeling comfortable handing him the starting job.
“Any time you get in games and do your job, people notice, so that’s all I’m focused on each time is doing my job the best I can,” Tarbell said. “I was lucky to get some games last year, and we had a great team in front of me, so we had success. I’m sure Austin was watching and that helped them recruit me to come play in Austin. I just need to keep my same mindset and habits going forward.”
Expansion teams have a varied history in MLS, with some having great success from the start, and others struggling for multiple seasons. Austin plans to be in the former category.
“As a team, we’re all striving to reach the playoffs,” Kleeman said. “We’re going to set a high bar.”
“To make the playoffs is a goal for every team, every year,” Tarbell said. “We’re going to take it a game at a time, apply our character and our strategy that we’re trying to implement and go from there.”
Austin will play their first seven games on the road before opening up their new stadium on June 19th against San Jose.
Photo Credit: Austin FC