Sports

The Verde Report: Season Reaches Pivotal Moment After Six-Goal Disaster

Can Copa Tejas turn this thing around?


Austin FC players were looking for answers after falling 6-3 to St. Louis CITY SC on Sunday (Courtesy of Austin FC)

It would have been poetic if it wasn't so deflating. Austin FC goalkeeper Brad Stuver, in the final minute of the club's blowout loss to St. Louis CITY SC on Sunday, threw the ball straight at St. Louis forward Samuel Adeniran, who immediately shot the ball past Stuver for the expansion club's sixth goal of the night. It both sealed the record for the most goals scored against Austin FC in a single match and also revisited old trauma from the season opener, when Kipp Keller passed the ball straight to Jared Stroud for a costly and inexplicable goal.

Sunday's match, Austin FC's first in three weeks, always had the feel of a tone-setter. After trading Diego Fagúndez during the break and learning some hard truths about last season courtesy of new Sporting Director Rodolfo Borrell, the club had a chance to reset the narrative and back up claims that, despite the optics of an impending rebuild, Austin FC is still a threat to make some noise this season. Instead, a 6-3 loss had the club looking at itself in the mirror and wondering what the hell happened.

"Our reactions need to be better. When we give up goals, bad passes, things happen, we got to move on. We got to stand up and be men and, you know, take accountability," substitute striker Will Bruin said. "I don't think this is a game that we just say we move on from. I think this has to hurt because we gave up six goals."

Stuver's mistake, coming in the dying moments of a match in which ATXFC already trailed by two goals, did not affect the outcome, but it did serve as a symbolic reminder of the fact that six months on from season start, the club is now more or less back to square one. With 10 games left in the MLS regular season, El Tree sits right on the hinge point of the Western Conference playoff race, in seventh but just two points above 10th (the first position left out of the postseason). Momentum, which the club had in droves before MLS hit pause last month for the Leagues Cup tournament, is nonexistent, and the club's 2023 identity is now more unclear than ever.

Perhaps the familiar battleground of Copa Tejas is exactly what Austin FC needs to get itself on track when it takes on FC Dallas in a hugely important match in Frisco Saturday night. The Verde and Black raised the trophy in the Toyota Stadium loading dock a year ago and have a chance to repeat the scene with a win this weekend. But really, the bigger prize on the line is three points toward the playoff race. Dallas currently holds that 10th spot in the standings, looking to vault at least one team to entrench itself in a playoff position. If Austin FC isn't careful, it could be that team that gets leapfrogged.

The road trip is sure to be a particularly significant one for Austin FC midseason acquisition Matt Hedges. The veteran center back spent 11 all-star-caliber seasons in the red and white of FC Dallas, including as the club's captain for several seasons. He'll be making his Toyota Stadium return for the first time as a visitor and in-state rival.

Given the recent state of Austin FC's defense, Hedges will almost certainly have a big role in determining whether the Verde and Black make the trip back down I-35 empty-handed or with a trophy, three points, and much-needed momentum in tow.

Read more Austin FC coverage at austinchronicle.com/austin-fc.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin FC, The Verde Report, Copa Tejas, FC Dallas, Matt Hedges, St. Louis CITY SC, Rodolfo Borrell, Brad Stuver

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