FRISCO, Texas – FC Dallas continues its postseason run after a dramatic 5-4 shootout victory over Minnesota United Monday night in the opening round. Next up is the Western Conference Semifinal where Dallas faces in-state rival Austin FC this Sunday at Q2 Stadium.
Let's take a closer look at Austin FC's season to have a better understanding of what FCD will face Sunday evening.
Sophomore Season Turnaround
After a difficult debut season that saw Austin finish 12th in the West in 2021, head coach Josh Wolff flipped the script and led his team to a second-place conference finish with a 16-10-8 record. The club's improvement tied an MLS record for second-year teams by earning 25 more points than it collected in its maiden MLS campaign. The feel-good factor was only somewhat diminished by a downturn in form that saw ATX earn just one win in seven games to finish the regular season.
"In terms of (Austin's playoff) expectations, I think everybody was maybe a little bit apprehensive just because of the form coming in," said Chris Bils who covers Austin FC for The Striker. "But there was also confidence because of what we've seen Austin FC do in big moments throughout the season, whether it was the win over LAFC or some of the other big comebacks that they've had. When the chips are down they seem to always rise to the occasion."
First Round Scare
Austin made hard work of its first-round matchup with seventh-seed Real Salt Lake. The visitors took an early 2-0 lead but Austin - as has become its trademark - was able to battle back and tied the game in the 94th minute through a Sebastian Driussi penalty. With the game still deadlocked after extra time, Austin booked its ticket to the conference semifinal with a 3-1 win in the shootout. While it wasn't the most convincing performance from a second seed, the MLS Cup playoffs are notoriously unpredictable so the name of the game is survive and advance. And Austin did just that.
Bils: "I think they feel good because they were able to come back out of another deficit. I think that there's a lot of confidence in that. And knowing that, even when the chips are down, they just seem to raise their level. Even if it wasn't the prettiest performance, they don't seem to really care about that as much as they do the result."
Austin's danger man is undoubtedly MLS MVP finalist Sebastian Driussi. The Argentine registered 22 goals and seven assists in the regular season (and tied FCD' Jesús Ferreira for most non-penalty in the league with 18), before adding another two goals in last round's match with Real Salt Lake. Driussi has previous against Dallas as well, scoring the first of Austin's two goals in the 2-2 draw at Q2 Stadium earlier this year. Whether or not Driussi ends up scooping the league MVP award, Austin FC and its fans know his value to their team.
Bils: "They definitely think that he's the MVP. I think that (Nashville SC's) Hany Mukhtar probably had the momentum (in the MVP race) coming out of Decision Day. And at this point, I think that Austin would love nothing more than for Sebastian Driussi to still be in the playoffs when that award goes out."
Dallas and Austin have already played to two exciting draws this season (1-1 at Toyota Stadium and 2-2 at Q2). But there can be no draw this time around. While Austin is the higher seed and the home team, the newcomers have never topped Dallas in five attempts (FCD won all three matchups last year). Does that give Dallas a mental edge? That remains to be seen. Either way, with so much on the line, expect a heated battle Sunday night.
Bils: "They know that they haven't beaten FC Dallas yet. They were able to lift Copa Tejas after getting a pair of draws. But I think this could be the one to really stick it to Dallas. I think in their eyes it could be a watershed moment in the rivalry."