A young boy plays ball, mimicking his favorite athletes. Music blares through a portable speaker. The barbecue’s flames do their best to fend off the crisp, wintry air. The scene could describe almost any American football tailgate. And indeed, it is game day in Buenos Aires, or perhaps more accurately in Seattle. The Velasco family has gathered for their game day ritual—barbecue or, as the Argentines call it, asado, and futból. They are gearing up to support Alan Velasco, a 21-year-old rising star for FC Dallas, who plays the Seattle Sounders that July night.
Put in Texas terms, the rules of the asado are quite simple: Don’t mess with the parrillero. The lone grillmaster, in this case Alan’s uncle Omar, grants and rejects access to the fiery domain. But it’s important to keep the parrillero content. Alan’s younger brother Sebastián knows that if he keeps his uncle’s cup of fernet and cola full, he’ll get first dibs on the meat. “I’ll give you the best parts if you be my friend,” Omar says in Spanish.
The asado offers time to talk politics, listen to cumbia, admire the grill, drink fernet and cola, sip maté, and above all, debate the latest happenings in soccer—tonight it’s the famous River Plate securing a league championship. Alan’s family largely supports their Argentine league rivals, Boca Juniors, along with Alan’s former club, Independiente.
As the grill heats up, Alan FaceTimes his father, Juan, from a Seattle hotel room almost seven thousand miles away. FC Dallas has lost four of its last five games—the kind of free fall that might stress out a player looking to elevate his profile. But Alan, shirtless and smiling, seems at ease. “Hey bro, can we speak in English?” he asks me, flaunting his new language skills. Perhaps it’s the power of the asado.
As Argentina’s influence in Major League Soccer grows (hello, Lionel Messi), Texas clubs have found ways to incorporate Argentine culture. Austin FC launched a live YouTube Q&A session last year called “Mate con Vos.” Argentine players and friends bring on guests from the team and watch them recoil after a sip or two of their home country’s famously caffeinated tea. The goofy, unscripted sessions allow the players to share with fans a singularly Argentine way of socializing.
While no Texan would dispute Argentina’s claim to maté supremacy, beef is another question. Argentines rank at, or near, the top of beef consumption in the world, eating more than one hundred pounds this year. Argentina ranks third among all countries in head of cattle per capita at 1.2, while the United States clocks in at number eight with 0.28, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Though Texas does lead the nation with 12.5 million head of cattle, almost twice as many as the next highest state.)
While soccer is very much a competition, eating beef—unless you’re Joey Chestnut—is not. In fact, it has become a team-building exercise for Argentines like Velasco, whose only knowledge of Texas before arriving in Dallas came via the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. Teams across the state have employed asados as a way to bond during the season, and the trend isn’t necessarily limited to Texas clubs. Orlando SC, FC Cincinnati, and the San Jose Earthquakes have also organized asados to help decompress between matches.
If you’ve been to a barbecue, then you already know the basics of asado. That night in Buenos Aires, the Velascos’ grill sizzled with three cuts of beef—tapa de asado (rib cap), vacío (flank), and asado (ribs)—along with chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage).
Maxi Urruti, the Austin FC striker, has garnered a reputation as a first-class parrillero. He comes from a soccer family. His dad, Juan José Urruti, has played and coached for clubs around the world, including Valencia in Spain’s La Liga. Where Juan José played or coached, the family followed. And so did the asados, mostly taking place on Sundays. Urruti said his father taught him everything he knows about grilling. When asked who puts together a better asado, he played the loyal son. “My dad is better,” he said. “Give me a little more practice, I’ll overtake him.”
When Urruti began his MLS career in 2013, he was 21 years old, had just moved to North America, and was searching for food that reminded him of home. Brazilian steakhouse chain restaurants were often the closest he could get, so he took matters into his own hands. “Wherever I go, I always buy mi parrillito—my grill—and I cook,” he said. “I can’t be without the grill.”
Urruti, who has played for six MLS clubs, said that FC Dallas and Austin FC have stood out for their commitment to the asado. One of his first moves upon arriving at Austin FC last year was to ask the club’s then–sporting director Claudio Reyna about buying two grills. Since then, Urruti’s been cooking up regular feasts for the squad, with help from South American teammates Diego Fagúndez (who was traded to the L.A. Galaxy in August), Emiliano Rigoni, and Felipe Martins (now with Orlando City). What about Austin FC’s star striker, Sebastián Driussi, who also hails from Bueno Aires?
“He doesn’t cook,” Urruti said, “but he eats well.”
Just how good are Urruti’s asados? On an episode of “Mate con Vos” last season, a viewer asked Fagúndez an uncomfortable question: “Who makes a better asado, [Fagúndez’s father] or Maxi?” The amiable midfielder squirmed before finally answering, “I have to give it to la familia Fagúndez.” But the pause was an answer unto itself: Urruti’s skill had made Fagúndez consider betraying kin.
Urruti’s favorite cut of meat is ribs, and he’s developed an appreciation for the way Texans prepare them at joints like Terry Black’s in Austin. “It’s a very nice place, very Texan,” Urruti said. “You sit on the wood benches, you eat the large ribs with your hands. . . . I really enjoy every time I go to eat in places like that.”
Other steakhouses, like Corrientes 348 in Dallas, have brought the Argentine grill experience to North Texas. The steak, cooked over charcoal and seasoned with rock salt, is served family-style, and guests can linger in the restaurant’s private rooms for hours, as they’d be able to in Argentina.
Owner Sidiclei Demartini said that in providing an Argentine experience, Corrientes 348 has become a destination for soccer fans and players alike. During the 2022 World Cup, the steakhouse even brought together bitter rivals. “One side of the bar was Argentinian and the other side was Brazilian,” he said. “Funny enough, in the end of the game, they exchanged jerseys. That was, for me, something special. Usually they compete and they don’t like each other, but at one point they agree they were both happy because Argentina was going to the final.” The experience was fitting, as Demartini grew up along Argentina’s shared border with Brazil.
Back in Buenos Aires, the food at the Velasco house is ready at 11 p.m., more than two hours after the first logs were lit under the grill. The meats are served alongside salad, and cups are filled with wine or Coca-Cola. The dinner table is supposed to be a politics-free zone, but no one can resist talking about the upcoming presidential election.
Alan’s father Juan explains to me that his son’s success with FC Dallas has made their current lifestyle possible, from the impressive grill setup to the backyard pool. Before Alan got on the Argentine soccer map, the family struggled financially, living in a small wooden house with little chance for upward mobility.
At 11:30, the group drifts to the living room for the kickoff between Dallas and Seattle. During the first half, everyone agrees that the ref is being too harsh. Whenever the living room crowd erupts over the action on the pitch, Alan’s young cousin Benjamin runs into the room: “Was it Alan?” Sometimes the answer is yes—Alan has just threaded a beautiful pass. Other times, the answer is no. Either way, the boy hustles back to his handheld video game.
Around 1:30 in the morning, the game ends in a 1–1 draw. Members of the Velasco family dutifully rise from the couch to put away the leftovers and pack up the grill. Until next week, when FC Dallas will host Charlotte FC, and the ritual of asado will once again bridge thousands of miles between Texas and Argentina.