It's ATX's fourth straight win and extends their unbeaten streak to six matches in regular-season play. While the Supporters' Shield challenge is pleasing to head coach Josh Wolff, it's perhaps just the beginning of what could be an epic sophomore season, building off a challenging expansion debut last year in which Verde finished 12th (second-to-last) in the Western Conference standings.
"It's something we talked about a lot in the offseason," Wolff said of the difference between last season and this one. "I think game management, understanding what it's gonna look like in the first five to 10 minutes, knowing what we can do to opponents as the game goes on. Being aware of the climate, being aware of what the strengths and weaknesses are of our group and the opponents."
"We learned a lot in the foundation that puts us in a place now where we're operating at a higher level," he added. "And there's a real fluidity and understanding because of the work that we did last year. And I think we've refined that and added some players and the execution gets better."
Andrew Tarbell, surprisingly called into commission as goalkeeper after Brad Stuver was injured on Sebastian Ferreira's stunning 5th-minute opener from midfield, remarked: "I think as a group, we just are able to quickly solve problems on the field. We have a really good understanding of the way we want to play. Every person on the field, everyone on the team knows what we want to do and we can adapt to different situations."
"And for me, that's the biggest difference," Tarbell added, contrasting the '21 and '22 seasons. "As soon as the game starts, we can read what the team wants to do. And we know what we want to do is very clear, and Josh has done a good job of instilling that in us. And I think we're in a good place right now with that. It's just clear. We have confidence with what we want to do and then it's just a matter of executing whatever that game plan is."
The match also allowed a national audience a look at Sebastian Driussi, who scored the match-winner and stays tied for the Golden Boot presented by Audi lead (alongside Toronto's Jesus Jimenez) with his seventh of the season. While Wolff might not be ready to declare him the league's Landon Donovan MLS MVP frontrunner quite yet, he acknowledges the candidacy is well underway.
"I think he's quite a valuable player for us," Wolff said. "He's quite a valuable player in this league. When you think of the age that he's come at, where he's coming from. He's impactful on the field."
Wolff added to the praise by saying: "He's a beautiful player, and he's extremely talented. And again, his ability to make other players around him better is incredible. And then, his work rate again is tremendous. His goal was fantastic. I would have liked to see more. I always say that, but he brings a lot to this team, for sure."
In between the praise, though, Wolff called out the attention Driussi's been getting on the field – including a late-game hit from Tim Parker that fueled on-field tempers and appeared to contribute to Wolff getting tagged with a yellow card.
"I'll always look at making sure these guys are protected," Wolff said. "And I think we've seen tactics in the last few games – he's obviously making a name for himself in the league ... he takes plenty of licks, plenty of hits. And we've got to be mindful that as a league."
Driussi's not the only difference-maker on Austin, though. Wolff has praise for Dani Pereira, who got his first MLS goal on the field where, seven months earlier, his defensive lapse against Darwin Quintero contributed to an Austin defeat and led Wolff to call Pereira out by name in the post-match press conference – a moment the No. 1 MLS SuperDraft pick has said was crucial in his evolution as a player.
"He's taking things on board," Wolff said of Pereira's growth. "He's taken a real responsibility, and he's playing with a lot of confidence. He's gotten stronger, he's gotten fitter, and to play the way that we play, he's quite influential and instrumental."
But then, Wolff was also quick to praise the interconnectedness of the group.
"It's also the people around him. It's very much a connected game model and he has a big role in it as do the other players," Wolff said. "When that fluidity is there, and that execution is there, you can see how unbalancing it can be. It's difficult to deal with, so we've got to keep getting better. We're gonna have more games on the road. We're gonna play tougher opponents and you know, it's part of our growth. But today was a good example, a good response to the first goal."