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NYCFC to Austin FC: Can Claudio Reyna lift his new club to the MLS championship?

Austin FC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna is looking to transfer his skills from creating a now-championship club at NYCFC to Austin FC. (Austin Anthem/Twitter)

When Austin FC Sporting Director Claudio Reyna calmly took to the Q2 Stadium pitch to discuss Austin FC's second season Friday morning, he didn't look like someone scrambling to explain a new club's lackluster first season performance.

Perhaps it's because he's been here before. In 2015, the former international soccer superstar was faced with a similar burden: like his time with Austin FC, Reyna's first administrative gig as Sporting Director for NYCFC saw the new club struggle with up-and-down performances, including an 11-match losing streak, to finish third to last in the MLS East.

The club later reached the conference semifinals for Reyna's final four seasons with the team, and the lingering fruits of Reyna's labor were felt as NYCFC took home its first MLS Championship title in 2021.

With a second-to-last finish in the MLS West for its first season, it's hard not to see the parallels between Austin and Reyna's first team. For Reyna, the signs are everywhere as he looks to build a legacy of success for the club.

"So much of it really is just being able to learn from year one," Reyna said. "It's evolving similar to how it was at NYCFC... now it's about really ramping up the winning mentality."

A tale of two expansion teams

Austin's first season wasn't for the weak. One minute, the club was celebrating its first goal and first win all at once with a surprise 3-1 road victory over the Colorado Rapids; the next, the club was struggling through a streak of scoreless games at its home venue.

Similarly, NYCFC took its fans for a ride in its first season, dominating its first exhibition match and beating the New England Revolution in front of a packed stadium for its home opener before suffering a brutal 11-match losing streak later in the season.

Like Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff, NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis often bore the biggest burden for the team's misfortune. But while Kreis was let go just one season in, Reyna has applied a Zen-like patience to Wolff's first season as a head coach, and he's even more satisfied with Wolff's work in the offseason.

"He's always been a very good coach and good at running practices, but now it's beyond that," Reyna said. "He's much more comfortable, and you see him really be at ease with it... he'd be the first to admit that he's learned so much from his experience last year and he's looking full steam ahead for this season."

Comfort and competition

Unlike NYCFC, which spent the most of any expansion team in the past 10 years, Austin FC was frugal with its first roster.

That decision soured as a series of injuries left Austin stretched thin just weeks into its season. But Austin FC has taken it in stride, patching the wound with two big-money recruits in Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi midseason before making a string of recruitments in its first offseason.

While New York chose to pick a few former European league greats to carry its first lineups, Reyna said he looked to MLS vets, including renowned winger Ethan Finlay, Houston Dynamo striker Maxi Urruti and longtime MLS midfielder Felipe Martins to build leadership and stability in the club.

And aside from outlier Driussi's $2.7 million, Austin FC stuck to its guns, spreading its salaries more evenly among its crop of up-and-comers and under-the-radar players alike.

It's a recipe that has led to plenty of competition in each position, something Reyna said is a welcome sight after a year of injuries.

"That's something that was a priority for us," Reyna said. "Throughout the squad, we want to make sure that in every position, there are players fighting for their spots, and that's something we weren't able to do last year."

Both Reyna and Wolff's self-assurance in preseason interviews appears to be infectious. In addition to joining a new team and building a new identity from scratch (in the middle of a pandemic to boot), eight of Austin's 2021 roster flew straight in from countries on four different continents.

The adjustment can be tough: Reyna said former Designated Player Tomas Pochettino returned to Argentina on loan partially due to wanting to play back in his home country. But Reyna said Austin's remaining international players have grown more comfortable and cohesive ahead of season two.

Looking ahead

Antsy Austin fans can wait no longer for promises from the club. Wolff himself told Austonia he expects the team to reach the playoffs this season, and the club has shown new vigor in its 4-0 preseason win to Houston Dynamo and 1-1 draw to Mexican league champs Atlas FC in an exhibition match.

If Reyna's track record has merit, the club will be looking at more than just playoffs in its second season of existence. But as the Austin FC architect, he said he's "expecting success" that lingers for longer than just a winning season.

"It's not just for one year but really every year that's the goal," Reyna said. "It's (about) always being one of the best teams in the league."


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