AUSTIN, TX – It was always going to be a huge night when Austin FC finally came home. On Saturday night, over 20,700 fans attended the Q2 Stadium first game in MLS to cheer on their beloved Verde. And the San Jose Earthquakes provided scintillating opposition. Given the result, this evening might not have been quite everything the ATX fans had hoped for, but it mostly was.
Austin FC, city, and fans celebrate First MLS Game at Q2 Stadium
From the moment ‘Minister of Culture’ Matthew McConaughey walked out in his Verde suit carrying a drum, intent on stirring up the supporters section up into a frenzy, the dye was cast. Cue the Tifo drop, an incredible homage to some of Austin’s most iconic people, the creation of talented local artist Uloang and ATX supporter’s groups, and an awed stadium went wild – again. This was going to be a raucous night of celebration from start to finish.
The game itself balanced on a knife-edge all evening. Austin fielded an unchanged starting XI for the third consecutive match, once again deploying Cecilio Dominguez as a ‘false 9’. Unlike the last match versus Sporting KC where ATX set up more of a 4-4-2 formation, this match, they appeared to revert to a more familiar 4-3-3, with Jon Gallagher and Jared Stroud providing the attacking width.
In the first half, Gallagher constantly ran at the Quakes defense, in particular Judson Tavares who had no answer for the energetic Irishman. Gallagher set off alarm bells on several occasions getting in behind the San Jose rearguard. Opportunities were crafted for Diego Fagundez, Dominguez, and Stroud, all narrowly off the mark or bringing the best out of San Jose keeper James Marcinkowski. And the Quakes unique man-marking approach didn’t seem to be working in the center of the park, where Alex Ring and Tomas Pochettino were given far too much space to pull the strings.
During halftime, the traditional white stadium lights were flipped to green, bathing the entire building in Verde. It was a neat moment, something perhaps to spur the collective onto victory? San Jose had other ideas. Despite only winning 3 of the last 13 meetings v expansion sides, the Quakes were in no mood to party. Looking for their first win in 4 games, the visitors from the Bay Area, California, came out swinging.
The second 45 minutes was an end-to-end affair that no one could take their eyes off even for a second. Austin continued to press down the flanks, introducing reinforcements in the shape of Manny Perez and hometown boy Kekutah Manneh when Stroud and Gallagher eventually ran out of steam. Skipper Ring almost etched himself in ATX folklore running through the heart of the Quakes defense to connect with Fagundez’s incisive through ball.
As Austin piled on the pressure, the Quakes counter-attacks became more frequent and more dangerous. Verde keeper Brad Stuver, arguably ATX’s player of the season so far (no argument!), came up with several top-drawer saves to keep Austin in the game. Ultimately, neither team was able to find the breakthrough.
After the match, a slightly disappointed Head Coach Josh Wolff praised his team but also opined on their inability to secure the ‘W’ on a historic night. “The crowd was incredible, and we tried to use the atmosphere, the energy to drive us on’. ‘Man of the Match’ Fagundez concurred. “We have the best fans in the league. There wasn’t one minute when they stopped singing.” Jon Gallagher, who has played in front of 60,000 screaming fans at Glasgow Rangers Ibrox Stadium, summed up the ATX homecoming perfectly. “It was amazing out there. I’ve played in some big stadiums in Europe, but this was loud!”
Three Key Takeaways:
Defend the Fortress: Several Austin players have talked in the week leading up to the home opener about making Q2 a fortress, someplace other teams won’t want to come. Kicking off with a clean sheet is a pretty good start.
12th Man: Austin FC defended valiantly, but the real heroes of the night were the ‘Verde Vanguard’ in the stands. Singing, banging drums, chanting, constantly on their feet all night, the support from the Verde faithful was immense.
Repurpose or Recruit: Austin needs to find an answer to their goal drought – and quickly. Dominguez has looked good in the false 9, but is he really the 15-20 goal-a-season answer? Realistically, things might not get better offensively until the transfer window rolls around…
An amazing night in Austin should have culminated in a Verde victory. Austin FC desperately needs to find a way to net. With only 1 goal in the last five games, and just six in nine all season, offense is a massive issue. Whether it’s a question of more clinical finishing or a matter of better decision-making in the final third, ATX will want to resolve the problem before their next outing at Q2. It would be unimaginable to most Verde fans that their next home opponent, Columbus Crew, could be the first team to score that first MLS goal in Austin.
Photo courtesy of Austin FC.