Austin FC clinch first-ever playoff berth: “We can make it as far as we want”
Austin FC made history on Wednesday night, officially qualifying for the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time by securing an explosive 3-0 win over Real Salt Lake.
It’s been quite the turnaround for the second-year club. After finishing with the fourth-worst record in all of MLS in their 2021 expansion season (12th in the Western Conference), the Verde & Black have put together an at-times-dominant 2022 campaign, becoming just the second Western Conference club to lock in a postseason berth, alongside LAFC. They’ve quickly evolved from an expansion team to one of the most entertaining clubs in the league.
But while Austin’s rapid ascent has taken the rest of the league off guard, it’s not a surprise to those on the team.
“Last year was last year. It was laying the foundation,” said head coach Josh Wolff. “It was difficult at times. But we had ideas and certainly hopes and dreams that it would continue to evolve and grow and it has. Tonight’s performance was literally a snapshot of what we’ve talked about all year.”
Added midfielder Diego Fagúndez, who notched a pair of assists in the victory: “I think even last year we had a really good team, and we were just unlucky. Everybody is showing everybody wants to be here. We’re working hard and we’re having fun. With this team and this organization, I think we can make it as far as we want.”
Austin have developed into a contender this season in large part because of the standout performance of Sebastián Driussi. The Landon Donovan MLS MVP contender has wracked up 20 goals, good for second in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race, as well as seven assists. But equally as important has been Austin’s ability to find goals from all over the roster. On a night when Driussi was kept uncharacteristically quiet, the source of that production was a surprise.
Moussa Djitté had scored just two goals in his prior 26 MLS matches. The 22-year-old Senegalese youth international has shown flashes of brilliance in MLS, but struggled to find consistency as he adapted to a new league and new country. That all changed on Wednesday.
Djitté entered the match in the 58th minute. By the 80th, he had scored the first hat trick in Austin FC history.
“There’s not a player on their team who can deal with Moussa individually on a one-v-one,” Wolff said. “In training, he does this type of stuff all the time. He is impossible to deal with… I was so happy for him to be able to come in and contribute, and much deserved.”
While Austin’s success is ultimately down to their play on the field, the support they’ve received at Q2 Stadium has been monumental. Wednesday’s match was the 32nd consecutive sellout at the 20,738-seat venue, the longest active streak in MLS. The crowd has been vibrant, propelling them to eight home wins and a +18 goal difference, the league’s third-best mark this season.
“I think players get that energy. You see it when we score goals, the stadium explodes,” said Fagúndez. “It’s green, everybody is cheering, water throwing everywhere. It’s just an amazing feeling. Not everybody wants to come here and play. It’s a tough place to play.”
It’s an edge that could prove significant come playoff time, with Austin in prime position to clinch a top-two spot in the Western Conference that would assure them hosting rights for Round One in the playoffs, and for the Semifinals if they advance.
“This fanbase and this city pushes us and encourages us,” Wolff said. “When we grab a goal you can see how quick the game goes in our direction. The more you ensure you’re playing in front of these fans and getting this boost, the better our chances are, whoever is here. We’ve shown that. We can beat anybody in this league.”
Three games remain in Austin’s 2022 season, starting with Saturday’s visit from Nashville SC and fellow MVP candidate Hany Mukhtar. They’ll be searching for some revenge, having lost 3-0 at GEODIS Park just last week.