The MLS West Conference throne slipped from Austin FC's grasp as the club fell for the first time this season in a 1-0 loss at the Portland Timbers' rainy home fortress on Saturday.
Austin's 10-goal momentum was slashed in the match after a hard-fought 90 minutes complete with eight yellow cards, a fateful handball call and goalpost-hitting shots. But despite the scoreboard, this match may have been a better testament to Austin's new skillset than any game so far.
Here are three takeaways from Austin's first road match of the season:
Is Austin FC still legit?
Even with back-to-back five goal wins—which broke an MLS record—some league fans still questioned whether Austin FC is really the team it seems to be.
This loss might not silence all of the naysayers.
The club may have been blessed by the MLS scheduling gods, but they were in for a real test for their first road match. Away games have always been Austin's weak spot—the club won just two road matches last season, while Portland gave up just four losses at its home fortress.
It didn't help that the game was cold and wet, making for a slippery surface on the Timbers' artificial turf. And fans may rag on the ref after every sporting event ever, but there were some fateful calls—or lack thereof—that could have directly contributed to the end result.
Either way, the match goes down as the first loss in Austin FC's 2022 schedule. But this is not yet a tale of two seasons—unlike the club's scorelessness and nine-game losing streak on the road last season, Austin FC showed grit and poise through most of the match, controlling possession and ping-ponging back and forth with swift, (mostly) accurate passing strategy.
Already three goals in, Austin's Sebastian Driussi was guarded hard alongside Captain Alex Ring, leaving the team with a weaker front end that couldn't quite finish. And while the club was lacking in the final third, it showed that second-season confidence up front that nearly led to a goal before another would-be Driussi goal was called offsides in the 32nd minute.
Even though the club may continue to be chronically underestimated—perhaps rightfully so this week—Austin FC did not leave this match without a good fight.
Defense—and depth—make the difference
After taking the backseat in Austin's first five-goal wins, the Verde and Black back line shone in the club's first road match.
Zan Kolmanic and Nick Lima—Austin's starting left and right backs—rarely get the limelight, but they proved their importance in head coach Josh Wolff's build-from-the-back playing style with plenty of game savers Saturday night.
Both defenders won most of their duels with Portland winger Yimmi Chará and the rest of the Timbers offense. Lima's speed and calm helped slow down tense situations before they led to goals, while Kolmanic was a key cog in Austin's offense as he funneled his passes up the left side.
New Finnish center back Ruben Gabrielsen took the stage alongside the two with his first start of the season over young CB Kipp Keller. Gabrielsen took a tumble on a corner kick to help give up Portland's only goal, but he and speedy sub Jon Gallagher became Portland's public enemy No. 1 in the second half as the two kept the score 1-0.
Austin FC promised better defense and depth at the end of last season, and it has delivered.
Wolff swapped five players just after the set piece goal. It might have been too late of a decision for some fans' liking, but the players he chose kept the Verde and Black in the game for the rest of the match. Gallagher, who started as a winger to the club, outran every Portland forward with ease at left back, while Ethan Finlay took post at the wing.
Even Rodney Redes, who failed to end last season with results, was in the fight for a late-game goal. Striker Moussa Djitte was the only sub who seemed to lack some oomph in the final minutes of the match.
Recovery is key
Austin was all fight in the first half, but some old cracks began to resurface as the club was hit with three straight yellow cards to start the second half.
Afterwards, the Verde and Black seemed to lose control, leading to more mistakes and lost goalscoring opportunities as frustration mounted.
Austin has historically struggled with "second-half curses" and recovering when it's down, something it'll need to stamp out as it heads into a home match against the formidable Seattle Sounders without its 10-goal momentum on Sunday.
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Show your love for Tito's and for the community this year with a wide selection of not that ugly, uglyish, ugly, uglier, and ugliest holiday sweaters.
There's lots choose from, and plenty of accessories like scarves and socks, plus gear for your dog, too.
All of the items can be purchased online or at the Love, Tito’s Retail Store in Austin, TX. 100% of all net proceeds from online or in-store purchases go to one of the nonprofits we’ve teamed up with.
🗓 All weekend
Check out this highly anticipated art exhibition with illuminated art along Waller Creek. Tickets are free and the event includes food vendors, dazzling lights, live music, and hands-on activities
All weekend 6 p.m - 10 p.m | 📍Waterloo Park
This iconic holiday tradition lights up for the first time this holiday season starting this weekend! Reserve your spot for an enchanting light and sound performance, delicious hot cocoa, sweet treats, and some overall fun with your friends or family. The show runs till January 6th.
6 p.m and 9 p.m | 📍Mozart's Coffee Roasters - 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703
This fitness event is free and open to the public. Get your morning started right with a "Fitness in the park" class for kickboxing! The class will be led by certified instructors and is a great way to get a cardio workout in while also honing your self-defense skills.
10 a.m - 11 a.m | 📍 Metz Park
Support local LBGTQ+ and female artists at this outdoor market with over 150 vendors. Get your holiday shopping out of the way at this event, with vendors for food trucks, handmade goods, raffles, hands on workshops and activities, and more.
Did someone say cheese?! If you're like me and always willing to get your hands on a bowl of mac and cheese, then this event is for you. Check out the Mac and Cheese festival happening this weekend to decide which vendor has. the best mac and cheese for yourself, and enjoy the bar with creative cocktails while you're at it. Tickets start at $45.
11 a.m - 3 p.m | 📍Lantana Place - 7415 Southwest Parkway