Austin FC Outsmarts and Out-Classes FC Dallas in Playoff Victory

The squad goes to L.A. for a spot in the finals

Sebastián Driussi celebrates his goal in the first half, which proved to be the deciding point in the game. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Austin FC’s magical 2022 season will continue at least one more week as the Verde and Black vanquished their in-state rivals FC Dallas, 2-1, at Q2 Stadium in an MLS Western Conference semifinal match.

Moussa Djitté and (who else?) Sebastián Driussi scored in quick succession in the first half to power ATXFC to victory in significantly smoother fashion than a week prior, when the club needed 120 minutes and penalty kicks to survive Real Salt Lake.

The performance Sunday night was many notches higher, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and made a strong case that Austin FC could emerge from the league’s final four clubs as its eventual champion. “The start for us was fantastic,” coach Josh Wolff said. “We put them under immense pressure, drove the game, had real good discipline and coordination on how we wanted to defend and then real clarity on how we could hurt them. And we did exactly that.”

Wolff called the opening 45 minutes one of the club’s most “dominating” halves of the season. Despite going with an attack-oriented starting lineup that included Djitté at striker and Dani Pereira in midfield, the ATX coach organized his squad in a defensive posture for the majority of the match, defending in a solid 4-4-2 shape that effectively neutralized the Dallas front three of difference-makers Jesús Ferreira, Alan Velasco, and Paul Arriola. Despite holding an edge in possession, Dallas attempted just one shot in the first half.

Brad Stuver makes a crucial save in the second half. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

“Credit Josh and the rest of the coaching staff for making those defensive tweaks,” goalkeeper Brad Stuver said. “They knew exactly what we needed to do to limit how Dallas attacks. You could tell that it frustrated [Dallas] a little bit. They had to go around us and they just didn’t have an answer there in the first half.”

On the other end, El Tree capitalized on its opportunities in front of goal. In the 26th minute, a Diego Fagundez corner kick somehow found a way through a dozen bodies in the penalty box before landing at the feet of Djitté, who calmly and alertly lifted the ball into the top corner for the opening goal. Then, three minutes later, Driussi pounced on a poor touch by Velasco, darted straight toward goal with the interception, then fired a shot across his body and past goalkeeper Maarten Paes to double the lead in a stunning solo effort.

“There’s so many good qualities about Sebastián,” Wolff said. “We don’t get in awe of it [because] we just come to expect it from him. Sadly, he’s just that good.”

After the halftime break, Dallas manager Nico Estévez pushed greater numbers forward and managed to disorient the Austin FC defense and create legitimate scoring opportunities. In the 65th minute, Velasco combined with substitute Franco Jara to cut up the ATX back line and beat Stuver from close range.

But Austin FC righted the ship shortly after, even creating a couple of high-quality chances that required good saves from Paes to deny a third Austin goal. Stuver was needed to make one big save of his own in the 87th minute to parry a Jáder Obrian header off, as Stuver put it, “my big toe.” That save effectively sealed things for the match and gave Austin FC not only a second-round playoff victory, but also its first-ever win over rivals FC Dallas.

“To be honest, I'd been wanting this game for a while,” winger Diego Fagundez said. “So I'm glad we got them, and I think it was the perfect time to beat them in the playoffs.”

Next up for the Verde is a trip out west to Los Angeles and Banc of California Stadium, site of the club’s first-ever match. It will be the first road test for the club in these playoffs, but it comes against a team Austin FC beat twice in the regular season. That match, with a spot in the MLS Cup Final on the line, will take place Sunday at 2pm CT.

For more Austin FC news and analysis, visit The Austin Chronicle's Austin FC hub. Follow “The Verde Report” columnist Eric Goodman on Twitter: @goodman.

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