The Verde Report: McKinze Gaines Caps Off ATX Homecoming With “Unforgettable” Goal

Summer addition wows his hometown crowd against the LA Galaxy

McKinze Gaines salutes his hometown crowd after scoring the second goal in Austin FC's 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy
McKinze Gaines salutes his hometown crowd after scoring the second goal in Austin FC's 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy (Courtesy of Austin FC)

When McKinze Gaines checked into Austin FC's match against the LA Galaxy Sunday night with 20 minutes to go and ATX up 1-0, his instructions were simple.

"Just run around and make things difficult for the center backs," the 23-year-old attacker recalls being told.

He went one better. The Round Rock native gathered a 79th-minute Nick Lima cross with his left foot, popped it up on the bounce, then hammered a volley with his right foot into the roof of the net for Austin FC's clinching second goal. If you haven't seen it yet, YouTube beckons. It's probably the Oaks' best-looking goal of the season.

With it, Gaines became the first-ever Austinite to score a goal for Austin FC, putting the capper on a homecoming eight years in the making.

Gaines grew up playing youth soccer with Austin-based Lonestar Soccer Club, gifted with exceptional speed passed down from his father Orrin Gaines, a track star at the University of Kansas. "[Soccer] was just something that I loved from the get-go," Gaines said. "It was always something from a young age that I knew that I wanted to pursue, but in high school it was just like, okay, if you're serious about this you might be able to make it a profession."

He was serious enough to leave home at age 15 to join a U.S. Soccer U-17 residency program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he played alongside Christian Pulisic. Like Pulisic, Gaines drew immediate interest from Germany once he turned 18, joining Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg's reserve team in 2016.

So began a five-year tour of Germany's soccer pyramid for Gaines, who played at five clubs across three levels of the German league system. His final contract with Hannover 96's reserve team ended this summer.

The free agent set his sights back to his hometown, where the soccer situation had changed in one very significant way since he left. Austin had become Verde, and Gaines was listo. "From the second that a team was created here in Austin, there's just been like a lot of interest from my side. Whenever I got the opportunity in the summer to come here and train with the team, obviously it was something that I was thrilled about."

Gaines went on trial for Austin FC in July and, well, pretty much aced his job interview. In his first 11-on-11 scrimmage with the club, he scored a hat trick. "It was just like one of those days where everything was going right for me."

Impressed and starved for attacking talent, the ATX coaching staff invited Gaines to join the squad for an exhibition match the following night against Mexican side Tigres UANL, in which Gaines made a substitute appearance. He was announced as an official club signing two weeks later, then made his MLS debut in the waning moments of a Sept. 18 match against the San Jose Earthquakes after waiting out an August groin injury.

But nobody could have expected the impact Gaines would make in his first meaningful minutes in Verde, capping off a rare ATX victory with his unforgettable goal in front of family and friends at Q2 Stadium. "There's nothing quite like it. To score a goal like that in front of 20,000 screaming Austinites was something crazy. I'll never forget that."

Gaines has a chance to further establish himself as a factor in the ATX attack – both on the wing and at striker – as the club rounds out the final seven games of the season, starting Saturday at home against Real Salt Lake. The match is streaming in English on Twitter and in Spanish on TUDN.

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