Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff, expressing a clear theme, called Tuesday night’s events at Q2 Stadium "disappointing" nearly a dozen times during his 10-minute postgame press conference.
Stunning, shocking and deflating are certainly other descriptors for it.
The Verde & Black were part of arguably the biggest upset in Concacaf Champions League history, losing 3-2 on aggregate to Haitian side Violette AC despite winning their Round-of-16 second leg 2-0 behind Sebastián Driussi’s second-half brace.
Austin’s first-choice squad, with a 35-6 shots advantage and several Video Review calls that went against them, couldn’t overturn a 3-0 first-leg loss against Violette in the Dominican Republic (neutral-site venue).
"These results hinge on plays and I don't know what we had, 30-something shots tonight," Wolff said. "It's disappointing. But there were a lot of opportunities today to right the wrong from the first leg. We weren't able to do that."
In a massive understatement, the contrasts between Austin and Violette, both on and off the field, are significant. That pertains to squad valuation and facilities, as well as how the Haitian league hasn’t played consistently for years amid the COVID-19 pandemic and unrest in the Caribbean island nation. The MLS side, in only their third year, are one of the country’s rising soccer markets and have an attractive playing style – with star names and international-level talent – to boot.
Perhaps most striking of all, Violette had a reduced matchday squad (just 14 players) on Tuesday amid visa entrance issues. They reportedly had to bring American-based players to avoid a possible forfeit, only adding to the adversity and odds the visitors had to overcome.
"Their play shows that no matter what difficulty we are facing, we need to keep going. We need to be strong to face these challenges," Violette head coach Rony Attimy said postgame through a translator, also addressing the challenges back home.
In many ways, this matchup was a case of haves and have-nots. But the beautiful game can be a great equalizer, as Austin learned the hard way. And Wolff attributes some of their struggles to the club trying to grow and develop.
"We're two years into our build and we've got growth that needs to continue to happen, development that needs to continue to happen," Wolff said. "… We didn't do well enough in these two games to advance and that's kind of the long and short. We've got to continue to build out depth in our group. In these moments we have to show resiliency when it's needed."
Violette, who qualified for this year’s CCL as 2022 Caribbean Club Championship winners, will face either Liga MX’s Club León or Panamanian side Tauro FC in the quarterfinals.
For Austin, it’s now readying for a regular-season test at Houston Dynamo FC on Saturday (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). They’re hoping to make it three wins in four attempts to start the new campaign, but more importantly not let this CCL ouster derail their year-over-year progress.
"This is disappointing, it will hurt [and] you want to learn from it," Wolff said. "That's the biggest thing. We're all disappointed.
"Being a league that has the team that won the Champions League [last year], it's quite important to our league, to our fans, to our ownership, to the players. It is disappointing but we have to move on and obviously get back and get focused on the weekend. We play an in-state rival on the weekend and we have to freshen up."