Just when it seemed Austin FC had finally hit its goalscoring stride, the Verde defense melted down against rivals FC Dallas in a home loss that the expansion team simply could not afford.
Goals from Julio Cascante, Diego Fagundez, and Alex Ring were too little to overcome mistake after mistake in the back as Austin FC fell 5-3 and dropped to 5 wins, 4 draws, and 12 losses on the season.
Before the Q2 Stadium concourses even had a chance to empty out from pre-match beer runs, FC Dallas poached the opening goal in the fifth minute, stunning the sellout home crowd. With the ball seemingly safe at the feet of Austin stalwart goalkeeper Brad Stuver, the Oaks’ insistence on intricate passing out of their own defensive territory came back to bite them.
Eighteen-year-old Dallas All-Star Ricardo Pepi – recently called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team – closed in on Stuver and picked his pocket while the goalkeeper was scanning for his next precise pass. Pepi set up Dallas’ other young U.S. international, Jesús Ferreira, for the tap-in goal as Stuver punched the ground in frustration.
Julio Cascante reignited the rivalry atmosphere in the 13th minute with the equalizing goal, heading home a perfect cross from left back Žan Kolmanič. Cascante celebrated by running the length of the pitch to hug Stuver. But rather than draw confidence from the goal, Cascante and the rest of the Austin defense capitulated into its most disastrous phase of the season.
Within the span of one bathroom break from the 36th to the 40th minute, Austin conceded three Dallas goals, all featuring appalling defending and lackluster goalkeeping. An unmarked Pepi made it 2-1, Ferreira struck his second for 3-1, and Pepi again – in wide open space – gave Dallas a 4-1 lead at halftime.
ATX head coach Josh Wolff made three defensive-minded changes at the break to stop the bleeding, which did not work. Jhohan Romaña, subbed on to replace Cascante at center back, mishandled a Dallas goal kick and gifted Jáder Obrian the ball in open space. Obrian finished to make it 5-1 to the visitors.
Rather than fall silent or voice their disappointment, the Austin supporters continued to sing and cheer as if the match was even. Their support was rewarded with two second half goals from Fagundez and Ring, which made for an intriguing last 20 minutes but never seriously put the Dallas win in jeopardy.
The loss was just one match removed from a revitalizing 3-1 Austin FC victory at home against the Portland Timbers, which felt at the time like it had the potential to turn the ATX season around. Instead, Wolff’s club lost the match directly following a win for the fourth time in five chances this season, including twice to their rivals up I-35.
“Gaining momentum is critical and putting together performances consistently back-to-back has eluded us,” Wolff said. “Coming into [the match] we certainly thought we were in a good place physically and mentally given what the performance was last time, but it fell off a bit.”
After outperforming expectations for the majority of the season, the Austin defense took the loss on her shoulders. “I think we weren’t as connected as we usually were,” Cascante said in a postgame Zoom call cut short by spotty stadium Wi-Fi which also was not as connected as it usually is.
Austin FC returns to the road for its next two matches against the Vancouver Whitecaps and Houston Dynamo. Barring a resurgent run of form in those matches and beyond, eyes in Austin will begin to shift to year two for the new team in town.
Read more Austin FC coverage – including Eric Goodman’s weekly column, The Verde Report – at austinchronicle.com/austin-fc.
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