Josh Wolff and Austin FC experienced their share of hiccups during their expansion season of 2021.
Austin ended that first year with 35 goals, the lowest total in MLS. They slogged through an early-season eight-match winless streak (4L-4D) during which they scored just two goals and were shut out six times. Their 13 away losses were tied with Chicago Fire FC for the most in the league.
In 2022, though, they've come out with the look of a team that is ready to put last year behind them.
It started with five-goal outputs against both FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami CF to start the season, the ten goals totaling the most by a team to open an MLS campaign. Compare that to 2021, when their tenth goal didn't come until July 1.
Following a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers and back-to-back draws against Seattle Sounders FC at home and away to the San Jose Earthquakes, Austin found themselves back in the win column on Sunday night at Q2 Stadium, via a 1-0 victory over Minnesota United FC behind a goal by Maxi Urruti just before the hour mark.
Maxi breaks the deadlock! Urruti goal puts Austin ahead against Loons
"I think the goal settled us," Wolff said in his post-match press conference. "Prior to the goal, I wouldn't say we were as fluid and certainly as structured with our setup when we were finishing attacks. But the goal settled us, and fresh legs also helped us."
A major headline, however, that threatened to derail the team's focus occurred on Friday evening as MLS announced that winger Cecilio Dominguez, who had a brace in the season opener against Cincinnati, had been suspended indefinitely for "possible off-field misconduct" pending a league investigation.
Wolff stated that a possible timeframe for the return for the Paraguayan DP — and whether he plays another minute for the club at all — hadn't been discussed, mentioning that it was business as usual at the team's training ground in North Austin to get ready for the Loons.
"Sure, there was something that happened this week that, obviously, it affects our group to some degree, but that was never going to be an excuse," the Austin head coach said. "I told our guys when we met [that] the process that needs to take place will take place. We've got one hour to work in our training session, and everything we have going forward was going into preparing for this game [on Sunday]."
And the preparations paid off as Austin have now claimed three wins and a draw at home to start the season, with the club's unbeaten streak at their ground now at six dating back to last year. It's a home-field advantage they hope to build on to catapult themselves into the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Still, according to Wolff, there's room to grow as the season progresses, starting with a trip to the nation's capital on Saturday to face D.C. United. But a victory against a Minnesota team that finished fifth in the Western Conference last year — and who took two of the three fixtures between the two sides last year by 2-0 and 1-0 scorelines — could be one to look back on should VERDE find themselves above the playoff line come Decision Day on Oct. 9.
"As this game went on, I think our guys executed in a really, really good way," Wolff said. "There's still some things to correct and fix, but it's not easy. [Minnesota is] a good team, well-coached. We'll see them again [on Aug. 20]. It's a battle every time we play them."