After closing out its 2021 home slate in style with a 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City at Q2 Stadium on Wednesday night, Austin FC is set for the final match of its inaugural season this Sunday as the Club hits the road to take on the Portland Timbers at Providence Park.
Austin and Portland met twice before this season. On July 1, ATXFC recorded its first goal and first win at Q2 Stadium in a match against the Timbers, with Jon Gallagher opening the scoring in the 28th minute of an eventual 4-1 result for the Verde & Black.
Austin beat Portland again at Q2 Stadium on August 21, that time by a 3-1 scoreline. If ATXFC can earn a road victory on Sunday and make it three wins from three matches against Portland this season, it would end the Club’s first year competing in MLS on a high note.
Austin FC Outlook
Austin’s performance from back to front in its victory over SKC - which sits in second place in the MLS Western Conference - displayed plenty of reasons why everyone around the Club is optimistic about next season. From scoring the fastest goal in Club history to containing Sporting’s dangerous front line, the team’s improvement from earlier in the year was evident.
Head Coach Josh Wolff looks at the adversity he and his side faced throughout their first season together as something that will help the team moving forward.
“I think our resiliency, as this year’s gone on and we’ve layered in more quality, you can see having a goalscorer, having a forward, really added to our element as a team,” said Wolff on Wednesday.
“I look forward to the challenges of next year. We’re going to get better, we’re going to add players, and we’re already a competitive team. We have to get more consistent and a little more ruthless and those things will be welcomed in 2022.”
While the playoff line is out of reach for Austin on MLS Decision Day, the chance to improve its position in the table is still at stake. Wednesday’s win coupled with Houston Dynamo FC’s defeat to CF Montréal ensured the Verde & Black will finish above the Dynamo, and if Austin betters FC Dallas’ result in its match against the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday, ATXFC will finish higher than both its in-state rivals in the Western Conference standings.
Sunday will be a homecoming of sorts for Austin FC defender Julio Cascante, who made almost 50 appearances in three seasons as a member of the Timbers organization.
Portland Timbers Outlook
Portland is safely in a Western Conference playoff spot, and no matter what happens on Sunday, the Timbers are guaranteed to finish in fourth place. Whether Head Coach Giovanni Savarese chooses to rest his best players or keep them in a regular rhythm ahead of the postseason, getting a road result in the raucous atmosphere at Providence Park will be no easy feat for the Verde & Black.
Portland boasts the Western Conference’s third-best home record, and is coming off of back-to-back wins, including a 3-1 victory of its own away to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night. Timbers matches tend to be high-scoring: the team’s 53 goals scored are third-most in the Western Conference, but its 52 conceded are the most of any team in MLS currently occupying a playoff position.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Portland has plenty of firepower up front. Felipe Mora (11 goals, five assists), Dairon Asprilla (10 goals, three assists), and Sebastián Blanco (six goals, six assists) all pose headaches for opposition defenses, in addition to the dangerous duo of Diego and Yimmi Chara in midfield.
Going up against a Timbers team with a 4-1-1 record in its last six home matches, the key for ATXFC on Sunday will be to limit opportunities for that attacking trio while applying plenty of pressure on Portland’s backline.
Probable Portland Timbers Lineup
(4-2-3-1, R-L) - GK: Steve Clark; Jose Van Rankin, Bill Tuiloma, Dario Zuparic, Pablo Bonilla; Cristhian Paredes, Diego Chara; Santiago Moreno, Yimmi Chara, Dairon Asprilla; Felipe Mora