LOS ANGELES, CA – Yesterday, Austin FC made history. But the start to their journey and to their season couldn’t have been any more daunting than on the road at LAFC, one of this year’s favorites for MLS Cup. In the end, Austin FC deserved more than they got from the match.
Austin FC Deserved More in Historic First Match Ever
Josh Wolff’s first MLS Starting XI as a head coach offered little in the way surprises. There was a question about who might be between the posts, Andrew Tarbell or Brad Stuver? Both keepers had acquitted themselves well during preseason so the decision could have gone either way.
Today, Stuver won out. Jhohan Romana was selected to partner Matt Besler in central defense. Nick Lima and Ben Sweat rounded out the backline. Tomas Pochettino and Daniel Pereira started in midfield alongside skipper Alex Ring. Cecilio Dominguez, Danny Hoesen, and the injury-concern Rodney Redes formed Austin’s attacking triumvirate.
Austin started nervously; LAFC started fast. Very fast. Stuver was called into action within the first 30 seconds. LAFC crafted a couple more chances within the opening few minutes. Nerves were clearly getting the best of the Austin players, understandably on such a momentous occasion. Austin defended bravely, though, quickly weathering the storm and settling into the game.
Alex Ring showed why Wolff had handed him the captain’s armband as he bustled from box to box and side to side attempting to connect the dots and get a rhythm going. Ring’s raking cross-field passes helped Austin stretch and get in behind LAFC’s defense in advanced wide positions. That helped turn the tide, and once it was turned it was Verde for much of the rest of the first half.
The best of Austin’s chances were in the form of headers, one apiece falling to their DP’s, Dominguez and Pochettino. Austin undoubtedly went in at half-time more satisfied with their efforts and with the 0-0 score-line, believing that they were the team most likely to improve upon it second-half.
LAFC had other ideas. Despite starting the match without their hotshot Diego Rossi and losing talismanic Carlos Vela mid-way through the first half, LAFC jumped all over Austin at the restart. A spate of corners coupled with ATX’s inability to retain possession or convincingly clear their lines, reset the tone. Still, it was cruel fate when Corey Baird’s wayward shot found its way past Stuver courtesy of a heavy deflection.
The goal appeared to rally Austin who once again begun crafting chances of their own. Sub Jon Gallagher’s industrious efforts were rewarded with three decent sights on goal. LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega persistently and rather brilliantly denied the Irishman. And when Jose Cifuentes converted a tap-in late in the game, a product of tired legs and miscommunication in the Austin defense, it represented gilding to a lily hardly worthy of it.
— LAFC (@LAFC) April 17, 2021
Three Key Takeaways:
Gotta take those chances: Especially against a quality team like LAFC. Austin showed preseason they can score against MLS opposition. They need to find that groove again, and quickly.
Form is temporary: Class, such as what you get with players like Matt Besler, Nick Lima, and Alex Ring, is permanent and was on full display today. Their efforts will continue to inspire those around them, too.
Austin’s fans are Listos: They had a plane fly a sign over the stadium. They welcomed the team bus with green smoke, drums and horns, singing and chanting. And many of those who traveled all the way to Los Angeles at great expense, couldn’t even get into Banc of California to watch the game. SO Listos!
Austin FC’s efforts should have at the very least been rewarded with a point. Instead, the Verde return to Texas with nothing but great memories from a historic day, but also the belief that this can be the first of many.