The Verde Report: Oh, You Thought This Would Be Easy?
Looking back at game 1, as game 2 approaches
When LAFC left-back Diego Palacios rifled a venomous strike toward the top corner of Austin FC's goal 27 seconds into the latter's competitive existence, Austin FC looked for a moment like the dog that finally caught the car. If not for quick reflexes and a strong pair of fists from goalkeeper Brad Stuver, ATXFC might have found itself flattened beneath the rear wheel of a black and gold Escalade and dropped from relevancy quicker than the European Super League.
Instead, the debutantes collected themselves and went stride for stride with one of Major League Soccer's elite clubs for a full hour, proving what many inside and outside the Austin city limits had speculated all spring: that "the Oaks" are not simply here to get chopped into MLS's firewood. But LAFC found the back of the net twice in the final 30 minutes to collect its fourth straight season-opening victory and Sharpie a sobering "L, 2-0," into the Austin FC history books.
With the final whistle came two things previously absent from the whole of the Austin FC experience: failure and defeat. From the very first rumblings out of Anthony Precourt's Columbus, Ohio, office in 2017 to last Saturday's kickoff, the narrative had been one of pretty unmitigated success. Yes, Precourt and soccerholic Austinites had to pry a stadium location out of Austin City Council, and no, it did not end up on the Downtown banks of Lady Bird Lake as "Two Oak Ventures" originally wanted. But even through a pandemic, as the season ticket waitlist tally rocketed to record MLS highs and a Matthew McConaughey-led PR campaign drew national intrigue, everything has pretty much come up "Verde" for the better part of 3½ years.
Saturday's result does little to damage that momentum. It might have even accelerated it slightly. But it begs the question: How will Austin FC fans and ownership react to the first true run of poor form? How bright will that Verde Van look when it's picked up its first few scuffs and scrapes?
Head coach Josh Wolff hopes not to find out anytime soon as his club chases its first win this Saturday, April 24, at 8pm in Commerce City, Colo. ATXFC takes on the Colorado Rapids, a squad also hunting its first goal of the season after drawing 0-0 with FC Dallas in last weekend's opener. An "Austin invasion" is expected to engulf Dick's Sporting Goods Park, which will permit roughly 8,000 spectators for the match.
"It will be maybe less lead-up and less storyline leading up to now what is our second game ... but there's still huge importance by us and urgency," Wolff said at his weekly media Zoom call.
He'll hope to get better output from his high-priced international attackers, Domínguez and Tomás Pochettino, this weekend to go with similar performances from league veterans Alex Ring and Matt Besler, who both excelled in the opener against LAFC. Wolff said there would not be any added elements to this week's training to prepare for the Rocky Mountain altitude, saying that players routinely use altitude chambers and hyperbaric chambers for fitness and recovery regardless of the opponent.
"There's going to be that moment where guys are a little fatigued and suffering, and then you've got to power through that until that second wind comes," Wolff said.