The Verde Report: How Austin FC Survived the Road Trip From Hell
The tyro club has been through the MLS ringer
Austin FC’s inaugural home match at Q2 Stadium Saturday will feel like a celebration – a landmark moment for soccer, sport, and culture in Austin.
The significance of the occasion is not lost on Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff or any of his players. “These guys are fired up,” Wolff said following the final leg of a season-opening road trip last weekend. “They busted their ass for eight games and they’re very much looking forward to [the home opener], probably more than the fans. But I know our fans are fired up as well.”
As well they should be. Their club comes home with an encouraging haul of 8 points (two wins and two draws) through eight road games to start its debut season. Austin FC finds itself in 10th place in the MLS Western Conference standings, but just one point outside of playoff positions. Given not only the duration of the road trip but also the strength of opposition on it, that qualifies as success.
But if you’re the out-of-sight, out-of-mind type, you might have missed some of the action on Verde’s travels. Let’s review how we got here.
Austin FC kicked its first ball April 17 against LAFC in Southern California. A national TV audience of nearly half a million watched the debutantes hang tight for 45 minutes against Carlos Vela and Co., establishing an identity of tight passing and possession. But in the second half, the Angelenos’ talent proved overpowering and Austin FC fell 2 goals to nil.
Then came the weekend forever immortalized as “DenVerde.” A battalion of Verde-clad Texans laid siege to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, sang without pause even while their club carried a 1-goal deficit into the halftime break against the Colorado Rapids, then witnessed 12 minutes of soccer euphoria. Diego Fagundez hammered home the first goal in Austin FC history and Cecilio Domínguez followed with Nos. 2 and 3 shortly after. The expansion team earned its first-ever victory, 3-1.
The wait for win No. 2 was short and sweet. The following week in St. Paul, ATXFC ground out a 1-0 victory against Minnesota United. Fagundez was the attacking hero once again, but goalkeeper Brad Stuver and Austin’s defense shined for the club’s first shutout.
Then the road got a bit bumpy. Against Sporting Kansas City, Austin FC saw a 1-goal lead become a 2-1 defeat as Alex Ring’s red card, a first for both the club and his career, left the Oaks chasing shadows. Two more defeats followed at the hands of the LA Galaxy and Nashville SC. What had been a staggering 6 points through three games became a sobering 6 points through six.
But Wolff’s pack got things sorted in the final two games of the road trip, earning a pair of draws – 0-0 against Seattle Sounders and 1-1 in a rematch versus Sporting KC – against the West’s top two teams to head home with momentum on their side.
The San Jose Earthquakes, losers of four straight, await in the homecoming game.
Austin FC showed character and resiliency on the road, battling through a string of injuries to key players. They’ve been run through the MLS ringer. It’s a team that, as its own coach and sporting director and owner all agree, is incomplete, with plans in place to add talent later in the summer. They lack true finishing ability in front of goal.
In spite of all that, the club has made it to the milestone occasion on schedule. For that, they’ve earned the thunderous applause their home fans have waited so long to give them.
Watch Austin FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes Saturday, June 19, 8pm, on the CW Austin and on Twitter @TUDNUSA (English language) and Univision/UniMás/TUDN (Spanish).