A thrilling Wednesday night win saw Austin FC clinch the first MLS Cup Playoffs berth in Club history in front of a sellout crowd at Q2 Stadium, thanks to the first hat trick in Club history by Moussa Djitté. The Verde & Black don’t have much time to revel in the moment though, with another home match against Nashville SC on the horizon this Saturday night (kickoff at 8 p.m. CT).
Austin FC Outlook
Djitté’s trio of goals were remarkable for a number of reasons in addition to ensuring a spot in the postseason for Austin FC. The Senegalese striker became just the sixth player in league history to score a hat trick as a substitute, and was the second-fastest to do so, with only 22 minutes between Djitté entering the match and scoring his third goal. The feat earned him MLS Player of the Week honors.
With a playoff place now guaranteed, Austin’s focus turns to securing home-field advantage for the first round, which they can achieve with a win or a draw vs. Nashville on Saturday. The Club can also set a league record for the biggest points improvement for an expansion team in its second year by winning any one of its remaining three matches.
The match against Nashville might prove pivotal in the race for the 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award, as it pits two of the top candidates and the league’s two leading scorers in Sebastián Driussi and Hany Mukhtar against one another. Austin has two weeks between Saturday's match and its next fixture against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and will look to enter the international break with strong momentum by winning a second-consecutive match.
Nashville SC Outlook
Nashville is one of the hottest teams in MLS, seemingly peaking at the right time as the playoffs loom. A run of five consecutive matches without defeat - including four wins - has lifted Head Coach Gary Smith’s side to fourth place in the Western Conference, six points clear of the postseason cut line.
Offensively, Mukhtar is the heart of the team. The German leads MLS with 22 goals and has 11 assists to boot. At the other end of the pitch though, Nashville will be without U.S. international center back and two-time MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman, who picked up a red card last time out against LA Galaxy.
For any team facing Nashville, trailing early is a recipe for disaster. The Music City side has not lost in its last 29 matches when leading at halftime (20 wins, nine draws), and has not been shutout in any of its last 16 matches, the longest scoring streak in its MLS history. However, if Austin can open the scoring at home on Saturday, they’ll set themselves up well for success.
Probable Nashville SC Lineup
(4-2-3-1, R-L) - GK: Joe Willis, Shaq Moore, Jack Maher, Dave Romney, Daniel Lovitz; Sean Davis, Dax McCarty; Alex Muyl, Hany Mukhtar, Jacob Shaffelburg; CJ Sapong