AUSTIN – Pablo Mastroeni’s Real Salt Lake might be the most willful team in MLS history. Down a man from the 53rd minute, the plan went well enough to go to penalties. Then Brad Stuver happened. Austin FC in their first every playoff game, survived the angst of being down 2-0 inside 20 minutes. RSL, the dragon slayers of last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs are out.
Austin RSL Takeaways: RSL’s will, Verde’s poor finishing, Brad Stuver Penalties
It was a dream start for RSL. Sergio Córdova scored on a header just three minutes in. Then Jhojan Valencia was called for a handball in the box. Córdova converted and it was 2-0 to the visitors inside 15 minutes. Austin broke through in the 31st minute with Sebastian Driussi scoring a header of his own from Diego Fagundez.
Verde doubled up RSL on shot attempts over 90 minutes, but finishing was poor. Emiliano Rigoni had several chances including a sitter that he messed. The match turned on its head in the 53rd minute. Rubio Rubin chased down a through ball into the box, running into goalkeeper Brad Stuver after Stuver had possession of the ball. Rubin was given a second yellow card, reducing RSL to ten men. Mastroeni subbed on runners and RSL set up to defend for their lives.
and that my friends is how you start an #MLSCupPlayoffs game pic.twitter.com/oMq279M5HU
— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) October 16, 2022
Austin threw everything they could at the RSL goal, getting a lifeline in the second minutes of stoppage time when a shot by Rigoni went off Scott Caldwell’s arm for a handball. Driussi buried the penalty and the match went to extra time.
It was all Austin in extra time, with RSL only mounting one attack. Felipe Martins missed a great opportunity minutes in. He demanded a penalty on more than one occasion. Driussi hit the post. He had another goal rightly called offside. Zac MacMath made saves. The match headed to penalties.
The home crowd may have been nervous RSL was going to repeat what they did to Seattle last year. Stuver saw to that, saving shots from Andrew Brody and Braian Ojeda. Austin’s kickers were perfect through three rounds. Tate Schmitt put his PK over the bar and Austin advanced on penalties 3-1.
EL CRACK ICE COLD FROM THE SPOT. 🤌 pic.twitter.com/xhfIdHCngA
— x – Austin FC (@AustinFC) October 16, 2022
RSL’s will runs out
I genuinely thought RSL was going to pull this off. All the pressure was on Austin as the home team. Mastroeni’s side had a proven track record of playing defensive soccer and advancing against superior teams in the playoffs. The fact that they got to penalties playing 68 minutes down a man was remarkable. They put numbers behind the ball, ran their socks off, and defended well in packs. Austin had a hard time breaking them down. They got just enough luck to make it to penalties, then their luck ran out. If this team was fully healthy, they win this game.
👏 BRAD 👏 STUVER 👏
Rising to the occasion and then some.#VERDE // Audi #MLSCupPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/XsvgvRhM91
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 16, 2022
Austin struggles to finish but stars shine
Sebastian Driussi, one of the top two players in MLS this year. Brad Stuver, a top five goalkeeper in the league. Playoff success often comes down to gamechangers. Driussi had a brace. He, Fagundez, and Rigoni, for all their misses in 120 minutes, converted their penalties. Stuver came up big in the end. Austin survived this game in that regard. But they should have won it in 90 minutes. Rigoni’s newness showed. They cannot have another performance like this finishing wise and expect to advance.
Penalties giveth and taketh away
RSL’s approach was unsustainable. It finally failed against Portland last year in the playoffs. They could only withhold Austin for so long. In the end, the team that controlled the game and were the protagonists won out. Stuver was great. MacMath couldn’t rescue his team from some poor penalty takes. Salt Lake did so well given their circumstances. This should be a lesson on their roster build (and injuries to an extent) on what they need to build on for 2023 to be a playoff team capable of controlling games.