2-0 down to D.C. United after 40 minutes. To Colorado after 22. To Sporting Kansas City after 23. Despite those slow starts, Austin FC fans will remember how each of those matches ended: with victory for the Verde & Black.
So when Austin found itself behind by that same scoreline once again on Sunday against Real Salt Lake – with 15 minutes on the clock in its highly-anticipated MLS Cup Playoffs debut, in front of a national TV audience and a sold-out crowd at Q2 Stadium – there was no need for panic. Instead, the team showed the same resilience that it relied upon so often during the regular season to battle back in the face of adversity.
“That’s kind of our trademark,” said Austin FC Head Coach Josh Wolff after his side came back to beat RSL 2(3)-2(1). The result made Austin the first team in MLS history to win four separate games in which it trailed by two goals in a single season, and only the third team in the last decade to advance in an MLS Cup Playoff match after facing a multiple-goal deficit.
“I wouldn’t say they’re comfortable,” Wolff continued when asked about his players’ mentality under duress. “But they understand what’s needed.”
"I think because we've unfortunately put ourselves in those situations and come through them on the other side, there isn't any panic. There isn't this this lump of anxiety now."
Following Sergio Córdova’s quickfire brace for RSL, a beautiful cross from Diego Fagundez found the head of Sebastián Driussi to halve the deficit before the break. RSL’s Rubio Rubín was sent off in the 52nd-minute, and Austin used its man-advantage to pile pressure on the visitors’ defense.
As the minutes ticked agonizingly closer to full-time and the Verde & Black grew more desperate for an equalizer, the players kept pushing, and the raucous atmosphere at Q2 Stadium spurred them on. Just when it seemed time might run out, the team and crowd alike got the reward for their unwavering belief in the form a stoppage-time spot kick won by Emiliano Rigoni.
With the Club’s season on the line and Q2 Stadium collectively holding its breath, Driussi was the calmest presence in the building. The MLS MVP finalist coolly dispatched the 94th-minute penalty – his league-leading 24th goal of the MLS season between the regular season and playoffs – to send the match to extra-time.
“What we experienced today was something incredible,” said Driussi after the match. “In these games where we don’t start in the best possible way, the fans fill us with a lot of energy.”
The Argentine nearly won the match three times in those additional 30 minutes, seeing a pair of goals disallowed – one for handball and one for offside – and a flicked header carom off the base of the post.
Even though the Verde & Black couldn’t find their way through a packed RSL defensive third, they entered the shootout confident, and that confidence shone through.
Driussi, Fagundez, and Rigoni all converted from the spot. Brad Stuver heroically saved back-to-back RSL attempts before Tate Schmitt missed the visitors’ fourth, sending Austin through to the Western Conference Semifinals and the crowd into delirium.
"Obviously we don't want to put ourselves in that hole,” said Stuver. “But it's always good to know that we have the resiliency to come back."
It was far from easy, but for those who experienced it, Austin FC’s MLS Cup Playoff debut is an immediate entry into Club and city folklore.
“We won for them,” said Driussi of the fan support. “They deserved it for all the effort each one makes to come see and encourage us.”