Is this real life? Did Austin FC, the league’s 4th worst team in 2021, just finish a 13-point April?
Yes and yes.
When April began, even the most optimistic Verde fans would have considered a nine or ten point month a rousing success. But 13?! That’s absurd. Austin FC had acquired just 38 points in it’s entire existence prior to April, meaning a full 25% of Austin’s all-time MLS points were gained over the last five weeks.
It’s funny how fast fortunes can change. On the evening of April 2nd, there was a lot of frustration within the Austin FC fan-base. ATXFC had just blown a 2-0 lead at San Jose and had to hold on to secure a draw. The game marked Austin’s first road point in 11 months, but that did little to soothe the feelings of the faithful. Little did we know that night would be the only league blemish.
That game was followed up by what some have come to call a “casserole match” against Minnesota United. Basically nothing about it was appealing, the game was largely mush, but the 1-0 victory got the job done. Oh, and Maxi Urruti provided a glimpse of things to come by rising from the dead to score.
I’m still not sure I can properly describe what happened at Audi Field on April 16th. And friends, I was at the damn game. Y’all, I have had the privilege of seeing some insane sporting events during my life. This was top 5 crazy. It had everything you could possibly want.
Large traveling contingent? Check.
Red cards? Check.
Bam bam sticks? Check.
False chicken imprisonment? Check.
Redemption goal after an injury plagued year? Check.
Insane comeback? Check.
Creation of a deity? Check.
Post-game Bob Marley sing-a-long at the bar? Check.
Amazing video from the team? Check.
When I tell you that Austin fans will remember this game for a long time, take it to the bank. I’ve easily attended over 1,000 sporting events in my life. This one was unforgettable.
The Bounce Back
Just a few days after the Pollo Miracle, Austin traveled to San Antonio for it’s first ever U.S. Open Cup match. Unfortunately the Verde & Black were “cupset”, as is known to happen in this tournament, losing 2-1 after a hard fought two hours. There were some very valid concerns for Austin after that game, as a home league match against bottom-dwelling Vancouver loomed. Vancouver, while not good, was rested. Meanwhile key Austin starters had played significant minutes on a hot evening just three days prior, including Diego Fagundez putting in a full 120 minute shift. Questions of “Who plays and who should rest” were abundant leading up to the match. But then Josh Wolff dropped this lineup, signaling that there would be no taking the visiting Whitecaps lightly:
Austin responded in kind, scoring two first half goals and dominating the game from start to finish. A comfortable 3-0 win had the team at 10 points for the month, surely enough to be happy with from every conceivable notion. Except there was still one very big game left.
7:30 a.m. That’s when four buses filled with Austin FC zealots left the parking lots of Q2 Stadium for the 3+ hour trek to Houston (with requisite Buc-ees stop of course) this past Saturday. Yet no one seemed groggy. Instead it was a group filled with anticipation and hope. Hope that for the first time, Austin FC would win a Copa Tejas match on the road. Hope that this winning streak would continue. Hope for redemption in Houston after last year’s debacle. Hope that we had enough beers on the bus to sustain the day (we did not).
In typical Houston fashion, the stadium was hot, humid, and half-empty. ATXFC supporters filled one corner of the stadium a full 30 minutes prior to kickoff while Dynamo SGs lagged their way in on the opposite end. Verde dotted the rest of PNC Stadium as well and the home field advantage was fully wiped away with the sounds of La Murga echoing throughout the park.
But despite all of these strong Verde vibes, it was the Dynamo who struck first on a midfield golazo, one that sent Austin keeper Brad Stuver sailing into the net and then out of the game after suffering an injury just six minutes into the contest. A feeling of despair immediately washed over us. Yet Andrew Freakin’ Tarbell stepped up, made a few key saves, and kept Austin in the game long enough to equalize in the first half when the emerging Dani Pereira finally got his first professional goal. The goal was so good that it ended up in the famed Louvre Museum in Paris!
A Sebastian Driussi second half banger put Austin in front and ultimately proved to be the difference, as Austin took a 2-1 victory back up Highway 290.
As we enter May, the Verde & Black find themselves sitting in 2nd place both in the Western Conference and the Supporters’ Shield races, just two back of LAFC. There has been talk of “soft” schedules and “bonus games” from some national pundits, but the fact right now is that Austin is one of just two teams in MLS with at least 20 points in their first nine games. What does that mean for the club’s playoff chances? A lot.
Here’s the minimum number of points needed to make the Western Conference playoffs in the only two non-Covid seasons where seven teams qualified:
2019 – 48
2021 – 48
(*2020 was expanded to 8 teams for one season due to Covid-19)
If we assume that baseline holds, Austin FC needs just 28 more points over the final 25 games to make the playoffs. That seems like the absolute minimum of realistic expectations for this team today. The goal now should shift to hosting at least one playoff match, meaning ATXFC would need to finish in the top four of the conference. Here’s the point total for 4th place in those two aforementioned seasons:
2019 – 53
2021 – 55
56 points. That’s the new goal for Austin FC. 36 points in 25 games. That equates to 1.4 points per game the rest of the way. Do that and we are all very likely at Q2 Stadium for the club’s first ever home playoff match in October.
April 2022 can be remembered as one of two things: the month that Austin FC announced it’s arrival among the league’s elite or the month of good times squandered.
Welcome to May, Austin. The heat is just getting turned up.