It was a moment, years in the making. The two-plus-year wait finally came to an end on Saturday as Austin FC made its MLS debut on the road against Western Conference contender LAFC. Despite an uncharacteristic mistake by LA manager Bob Bradley early in the match on a bizarre miscommunication that cost him star player Carlos Vela, the home squad held off a feisty Austin side in its inaugural match for the 2-0 shutout.
Austin FC announced as 27th MLS club
In January 2019, the MLS officially announced Austin FC as the 27th club in the league. In the months since, the organization has gone from a concept to a team embraced by a large contingent of those living in the state capital of Texas.
Despite being the new kid on the block, the club has delivered a consistent message since hiring Claudio Reyna as the team’s sporting director and Josh Wolff as the head coach — it was an expansion team in name only.
With Reyna’s previous experience building NYCFC from scratch and turning it into a perennial playoff team, the same is expected in Austin. To that end, the team signed quality players, including defender and former USMNT player Matt Besler and DPs Tomas Pochettino from Argentina and Cecilio Dominguez from Paraguay.
Austin FC gets early gift as LAFC coach Bob Bradley mistakingly subs out Carlos Vela from lineup
Austin FC and its odds of winning the franchise’s inaugural match improved before kickoff when LAFC announced that forward Diego Rossi, the MLS Golden Boot winner last season, would not play due to a hamstring injury.
Despite Rossi being out, the visitors started the match off slowly and looked the part of a team that hadn’t played together. However, Austin received another unexpected tilt of momentum in its direction at the 22-minute mark when Carlos Vela went down to an apparent leg injury, motioned toward the sideline for assistance, and coach Bob Bradley misinterpreted the communication and immediately subbed him out.
Bradley admitted during an in-game interview he made a mistake.
“I might have jumped the gun. That might be my fault. I’m not sure. He gave us a sign early on that he needed to come off I thought. I can’t say more than maybe it’s my fault.”
After Vela’s departure, the expansion side found its footing and went on the attack. Despite being on the front foot for a good portion of the half, Austin didn’t have anything to show for it, and the teams headed into the break knotted in a scoreless tie.
LAFC takes command in the second half
The team that many believe is a title contender for the 2021 season came out and played like one to start the second half. LAFC opened its scoring account in the 61st minute, when Corey Baird, who was acquired from Real Salt Lake in the offseason, delivered a one-timer from the left wing that deflected off an Austin defender and into the back of the net.
Austin FC coach Josh Wolff used the team’s allotted five substitutions in the second half with great effect. Similar to the first half, the visitors looked equal to their counterparts. In the 88th minute, Austin sub Jon Gallagher nearly tied the score for the visitors, but LAFC keeper Pablo Sisniega got an outstretched glove on the ball, preserving the lead.
Two minutes later, LAFC capitalized on sloppy play from the Austin backline, and Jose Cifuentes took a pass from Kwadwo Opoku and scored to seal the game for a 2-0 victory.
Austin FC didn’t win its inaugural match against a depleted LAFC squad, but the expansion club flashed glimpses of quality throughout the match that reflected the organization’s goals from the outset of not looking like a first-year team. Now it’s just a matter of producing that same type of quality on a consistent basis that will turn that concept into reality.