AUSTIN (KXAN) — Using algorithms, math and past results, the website FiveThirtyEight gave Austin FC a 31% chance of making the playoffs at the start of the season, the sixth lowest chance of any team in MLS. Predictions went even further, saying that FC Austin would have a minus-9 goal difference, earn 41 points on the season and have a 3% chance of finishing second in the conference.
Needless to say, the computers were wrong about Verde.
Austin FC is on the verge of making the MLS Cup Final in just its second year in the league, but first the Verde have to deal with the best team in the conference from start to finish this season, LAFC. Is it too much of an ask for Austin FC to beat the giants in the West, even though they’ve done it twice before during the regular season?
“It should be Austin FC vs. LAFC in the conference finals,” Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff said. “They’ve been the two best teams in the West all year, there’s been consistency and we’re going to go to LAFC and do everything we can to put ourselves in a position to win a trophy.”
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There’s an old saying in sports that it’s hard to beat the same team three times, and while history has played its part to back it up, the teams are different than when they faced each other in the regular season. Austin defeated LAFC 6-2 in both regular season games, 2-1 on May 18 at Banc of California Stadium – the site of Sunday’s playoff game – and an emphatic 4-1 victory on August 28 at Q2 Stadium.
Since then, both teams have not finished the regular season with success. LAFC was better than Austin, going 3-3-1 with wins over Real Salt Lake, Houston and Portland. Austin has just one win over Real Salt Lake, courtesy of a hat trick by Moussa Jite, in its last seven regular season games at 1-4-2. LAFC is coming off an emotional 3-2 rivalry win over LA Galaxy after receiving a first-round bye, while Austin has momentum following a penalty shootout win over Real Salt Lake and a 2-1 triumph over FC Dallas.
On paper, Austin FC is the underdog. This is clear as they have the highest odds, +700, to reach the MLS Cup Final. That means a $100 bet on Verde would net you a nice verde, $700 if they manage to win. Bookmakers at BetMGM like LAFC’s chances to win after lifting the Supporters’ Shield this year, giving them +100 on the moneyline.
After adjusting their math with all regular season and postseason results, FiveThirtyEight now thinks Austin FC has a 24% chance to beat LAFC and advance to the MLS Cup, and then an 8% chance to win the title. It’s the worst chance of the four remaining teams, but Wolff doesn’t mind what others think.
“I think it’s well-deserved considering who’s left,” Wolff said with a big smile. “Understandably, I don’t agree with that, but understandably. Not a lot of people gave us a chance the first time against LAFC or the second time … we’re working with that and we’re confident in who we are.”