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“It’s a good place to start.”

That was Austin FC Captain Alex Ring’s response when asked last week how he felt about the fact the Club had yet to earn a victory in five previous matchups with rivals FC Dallas, in a press conference ahead of the Western Conference Semifinal match.

That fact is no more after Sunday, with the Verde & Black defeating Dallas 2-1 to advance to the Western Conference Final. It was another step in a historic second season during which the Club has often made the struggles of its inaugural campaign seem like a distant memory.

Head Coach Josh Wolff and Austin FC players have frequently mentioned 2021’s challenges as necessary building blocks for 2022’s successes, and the win over Dallas to continue the team’s run through the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs is a perfect encapsulation of that.

Austin lost all three of its meetings with Dallas in 2021, and despite winning Copa Tejas this year, tied both games against its north Texas neighbors during the regular season. In search of a different result, Wolff set the team up in a different way.

“Possession in this game I wasn't worried about,” said Wolff, whose team normally prefers to control the ball. “I flashed up some stats to these guys this week, four or five games where we were 40 percent or lower in possession, but the opponent’s not getting a whole lot. If we had to get to that point, the guys were willing to go there.”

“We had lots of answers for what they were trying to get coming after us... If we could draw it up, that’s exactly how you draw it up.”

Midfielder Dani Pereira, who formed a highly effective pairing with Ring disrupting Dallas’ press in the midfield, echoed his coach’s thoughts.

“Dallas is a team that kind of has the same style as us,” Pereira said. “We like to have the ball, and we’ve seen a couple of their games where they kind of get desperate when they have the ball too much and when teams sit down just like how teams sit with us. It just puts stress on them.”

Allowing Dallas more possession required more defensive awareness from Austin, and the team got its shape right and stuck to its adjusted tasks well throughout the match, limiting opportunities for Dallas’ dangerous front three of Jesus Ferreira, Paul Arriola, and Alan Velasco.

“Credit Josh and the rest of the coaching staff for making those defensive tweaks,” goalkeeper Brad Stuver said. “They knew exactly what we needed to do to limit how Dallas attacks. You could tell that it frustrated [Dallas] a little bit. They had to go around us and they just didn’t have an answer there in the first half.”

Despite the added attention on the defensive side of the ball, Austin remained threatening going forward, getting goals from Moussa Djitté – a bit of a surprise starter who brought solid hold-up play and created space with his runs – and MVP finalist Sebastián Driussi.

Austin took pride in its victory on Sunday, but quickly put it in the rearview mirror. The team’s attention turns now to the Western Conference Final against Los Angeles FC on Sunday, with the conference title and an MLS Cup berth on the line.