Designated Players deliver, Austin FC take Copa Tejas spoils v Houston Dynamo

Austin FC Copa Tejas

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Austin FC in their first-ever Copa Tejas match welcomed Houston Dynamo to Q2 Stadium. Neither team have set the Western Conference on fire so far this season, with ATX currently occupying the basement spot and Houston only five points better off. Despite their elevated league position, Houston had failed to win a road game this season. Austin had only won one of six at home. But tonight’s match was about more than points. It was about pride.

Designated Players deliver, Austin FC take Copa Tejas spoils v Houston Dynamo

Austin started in familiar style, up and at ‘em. And it took the Verde just seven minutes to notch an advantage. Designated Player Tomas Pochettino has been desperate for a goal. Indeed, before tonight he had registered 30 shots this season, the most by any player without at least one goal in 2021. So when his shot rang the post rather than rippling the net, you felt for him. Luck finally went his and Austin’s way, though, as the ball ricocheted off a Houston defender and into the net.

Houston are known for playing physical soccer. They played up to their reputation as they sought – and fought – to find a way back into the game. Numerous fouls made it difficult for Austin to find a rhythm. Dynamo finally paid the ultimate price in the 20th minute when a nasty Darwin Cerén elbow leveled Sebastian Berhalter and was punished with a red card.

Rather than press their numerical superiority, some unnecessary sloppiness in the Verde defense allowed Dynamo back into the game. Brad Stuver, reminding MLS All-Star team selectors what an aberration his omission is, demonstrated remarkable reflexes to make a strong one-hand saved from the initial shot. Compounding their initial error, the Verde defense were slow to react to the loose ball, allowing Houston forward Tyler Pasher to sweep home the equalizer.

Austin appeared rocked and struggled to make the most of their odd-man advantage. Wolff had talked after last week’s defeat to Colorado about the need for Austin to break lines, get in behind defenses, and disrupt the opposition play. In fact, he’d talked about that a few times this season. Austin had to find a way to make it happen tonight against a well-marshaled Dynamo defense.

Diego Fagundez, so often at the heart of ATX’s best offensive moves provided the spark. His willingness to attempt the give and go created space time and again. And it was Fagundez who found the space to get a shot on goal which was only blocked as far a Pochettino, who gleefully drilled in his and Austin’s second goal of the evening.

Austin led at the break and would’ve been eager to turn the screw in the second half. And they did just that.

Cecilio Dominguez and Fagundez continued to offer dangerous outlets for Alex Ring’s trademark raking cross-field passes. Houston’s defense, now looking like a prizefighter injured in the early rounds of a bout and struggling to stay on their feet, scrambled and stumbled as the South American duo created one lung-busting foot-race after another. Unsurprisingly, the pairing combined for Austin’s third goal, Fagundez dropping a perfect cross into the space he knew Dominguez would be attacking. Dominguez burst the net with his bullet header.

In the 86th minute, Austin showed the vulnerability of their style again. A mix-up in the back, largely the fault of the typically unflappable Brad Stuver, allowing Fafá Picault to lash the ball into an empty net. A few nervy minutes followed, but Austin hung on for the W by a score of 3-2.

On a night where the ATX faithful did not want to contemplate a first Copa Tejas defeat particularly on home turf, Austin FC secured both the points and the pride.

Three Key Takeaways:

Fagundez never gives in, never gives up: When the Uruguayan has the bit between his teeth, which to be fair he has in the majority of games this season, he is superlative. A constantly willing runner, putting in a defensive shift as well as an offensive one. He is the definition of perpetual motion.

Accidents will happen: Today isn’t the first time Austin’s defense has gaffed a goal. The team’s style of play does increase that likelihood. Nevertheless, Wolff will want to ensure that those mistakes are kept to an absolute minimum.

Feast or famine: Austin have only scored in 2 of their 7 home games this season. And in those two games, they’ve registered an astonishing seven goals! There’s no doubt that Austin would benefit from a couple more offensive options, and a recognized No. 9, but what’s going on here? It’s either goose eggs or goal fests?!

Last Word: The man-advantage definitely influenced the outcome of this match. But, to be fair to Austin, they had to work to make that advantage count. Ring, Pochettino, Dominguez, and Fagundez were especially influential. They led the way with their work ethic and influence on offense. ‘Round 1’ of Copa Tejas was incident-packed and high-energy – here’s to more of the same when Austin faces Dallas this Saturday for ‘Round 2’…

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