AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin FC pulled off one of the biggest turnarounds from its inaugural season in Major League Soccer history this season, and the club is chasing a feat only done once before.
Verde moved up 10 spots in the conference standings last season, finishing second to LAFC this year after finishing 12th out of 13 teams a year ago. It is tied for the biggest such jump up the table with Sporting Kansas City, which improved 10 places after finishing 11th in 2019 to first after the COVID-altered 2020 regular season.
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Maybe putting the cart before the horse, but FC Austin is two wins away from doing something that hasn’t been done since 1998. In FC Chicago Fire’s first year making the playoffs in 1998, they cruised through the tournament and beat D.C. United for the MLS Cup. Sure, the league was emerging and only had 12 teams, but Chicago’s title in its first postseason berth was still incredible.
Austin FC have a big hurdle to overcome on Sunday, which is league leaders LAFC, but who better to help them achieve such a feat than someone who’s been there before? Verde head coach Josh Wolff was a rookie forward on that Fire team and scored eight goals during the regular season. At that point, he held the single-season rookie record.
This season has been all about growth, and with the club being established in 2019 and just starting MLS play last season, Wolfe said he’s just proud of not only the organization, but what it’s become.
“This is the culmination of four years of hard work, building this thing,” he said after the Verde’s 2-1 win over FC Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals. “I told Anthony [Precourt] last week, “Man, if you’ve ever dreamed of it looking like this, it exceeds expectations.”
The turnaround from penultimate to second best came outside the Q2 Stadium. The team had to play their first eight games away from home last year while construction on their home stadium was being completed, and for a top-flight side trying to climb, that’s a tall order. After the team worked through their lumps in Year 1 to collectively get under their feet, they finished the regular season with six more road wins and one of the league’s best records away from home at 8-7-2.
It’s not easy to score goals in professional soccer, and Austin FC made it look incredibly difficult last season with just 35 goals in a 34-game season. One goal per game won’t get a team very far, but this season has been basically the opposite of the first. Austin FC finished third in MLS, scoring 65 goals behind 22 by the club’s first-ever All-Star selection, Sebastian Driusi.
Note the fact that FC Austin conceded seven fewer goals this year compared to last year, and Verde’s goal difference has gone from -21 in 2021 to +16 this season. Simply put, scoring goals is how you win games, and Austin FC did a much better job of putting the ball in the net.
With all the goals, die-hard supporters had even more reason to chant, cheer and throw their half-full beer glasses high into the air. Q2 Stadium has been sold out every time Verde has taken the field in MLS competition, 34 straight games, and Wolff said Q2 Stadium is the loudest place he’s ever been for soccer. His whole life revolves around football, so that’s saying something.
“We have the most amazing fans and the greatest stadium in the league,” he said. “It’s amazing to come and play here. We’ve accomplished some good things, but we’re not done yet.”