To anyone who’s watched Austin FC play this season, the year-to-year growth of midfielder Dani Pereira has been evident. After the Verde & Black selected the Virginia Tech product with the first overall pick of the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, Pereira had a solid rookie campaign in which he made 18 starts and logged over 1,500 minutes.

His sophomore season brought on a shift in role that the 21-year-old has adapted to quickly. Pereira transitioned into the No. 6 spot as the team’s primary defensive midfielder and has started all nine of the Club’s matches there so far. He has already matched his 2021 assists total with three, and his pass success rate of 89.5 percent is third-best among MLS midfielders with at least 400 pass attempts.

In Head Coach Josh Wolff’s system, Pereira’s role is key in connecting play.

“His exceptional quality is his ability to, and I’ve said it many times, to initiate attacks for us and to build us from back to front, from side to side,” said Wolff of Pereira. “We have a positional game that we want to adhere to, and he has a very good understanding of that.”

Pereira continued his strong start to the season by netting his first professional goal against Houston Dynamo FC last weekend, tying the match in the 39th minute with a leaping volley. It was a sequence of play which exemplified his and the team’s understanding of the system.

"They were man-marking me so I had to move myself," said Pereira. "I moved to the left a little bit, and [Sebastián] Driussi filled my spot. The person who was marking me completely forgot about me and so I arrived alone at the far post. It was a perfect ball from Ethan [Finlay]."

A picture of the finish ended up in the Louvre, courtesy of Austin FC fan Brian Engle and his iPad. Aside from exciting Austin’s fanbase, it was a special moment for Pereira and those close to him.

“My family was waiting for my first goal. I had a few opportunities this season, and thankfully it finally happened. My family, my friends, and my teammates were really excited for me. I was really happy," he said.

Pereira’s first MLS goal is but one of many indicators of the rapid progression the midfielder is making in his young career. Through his own view, it’s been a process of maturation both on and off the field.

“The experience I got from Year 1, I try to bring that into Year 2, and I’m glad it shows,” said Pereira. “I notice it too, but I shouldn’t stop, I should just keep going. That’s what I’m going to do.

“Especially playing wise, last year, I wouldn’t get nervous but I would be too hard on myself. I would try to not mess up a pass or a long ball, but this year it’s just play, have fun. Last year I had to take in a lot of information - new team, new teammates, new system, new coaches. It was just bringing all that together.”

As the season continues and the Verde & Black look to maintain their position near the top of the Western Conference standings, Pereira’s play in his role should continue to be important to the team’s success.