The words expansion club in any sport typically means two things: excitement and losing. Just three weeks into the inaugural MLS season for Austin FC and the club readily identifies with one of those two things as it has surprised many of the pundits by winning two of its first three matches, all on the road. According to players Jon Gallagher and Jared Stroud, the early-season success is not by accident.
Austin FC earned six points in first three matches
Austin FC officials, players, and fans accepted that the start of the 2021 MLS season would be a challenge with the first seven games on the road. The first-ever game in franchise history posed additional challenges simply because of the opponent’s quality. Many identified LAFC as a team to contend for the Western Conference title.
Austin came out looking very much like an expansion club in the match’s opening minutes in LA. However, as the game progressed, Los Verde found its footing and displayed multiple periods of quality. In the end, it wasn’t enough as LAFC won 2-0.
Josh Wolff’s squad rebounded nicely the following week, and accomplished a couple of club firsts in the process. Diego Fagundez became the answer to a trivia question, scoring the first goal in franchise history, and the club earned its first victory, with a dominating 3-1 performance against the Colorado Rapids.
A week later, Fagundez found his name on the score sheet again, and it was the only goal for either squad as Austin topped Minnesota 1-0, earning the club its first clean sheet and improving to 2-0-1 on the season.
Proving doubters wrong
The strong early performances have come as a surprise to many who expected Austin to follow the typical route of an expansion franchise and struggle early and often in the first season. Forward Jon Gallagher said the team’s fast start hasn’t been surprising but gratifying and he said the win in the Rockies lifted the team’s spirit after the tough season-opening loss in LA.
“There was definitely a big confidence boost after the second game in Colorado and getting another result on the road,” Gallagher told reporters. “The good thing is the guys are still hungry. Although we have six points, we’re like, let’s keep going.”
Gallagher said the team has undoubtedly leaned on the standard line of thinking that expansion teams aren’t any good as a motivating factor.
“There’s that chip on our shoulder where a lot of people are writing us off early saying that they’re an expansion team, won’t make the playoffs, this and that. We know what we’re capable of, and I think that’s the attitude that we’re going to have to continue.”
Austin FC benefitted from strong organization and fans
While it’s easy to identify the team’s success based solely on what the players do on the pitch, midfielder Jared Stroud said the recipe for success started months earlier.
“It starts with the organization from Claudio (Reyna) and Josh and his staff. They lay out the picture. They make it feel like it’s not an expansion team. I think that’s the most important part is that we have a philosophy and we stick to it and guys are committed. The older guys on the team, they have been around the league, but they’re also good leaders.”
Stroud said, in addition to the club being well organized from top to bottom, the players have been energized by another surprising element.
“With the fans, the hype around the team has helped us a lot as well. Having that Colorado game, I don’t think if we had those fans, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten that extra energy we needed.”
Austin FC hopes to continue its strong start this Sunday on the road against Sporting Kansas City.