Plenty of qualifiers could be applied to Austin FC’s 2-1 win over LAFC at Banc of California Stadium Wednesday night.

It was a narrow win, delivered by some outstanding shot-stopping from Brad Stuver, and nearly slipped away in the final minutes as Video Review let rookie Kipp Keller off the hook on a tight penalty-kick no-call. And as elated as the Verde are to climb to the top of the overall league table, it’s still only May, with many hard miles left to go in the season.

Such quibbles won’t gain too much traction in the ATX locker room, though. For a fledgling club who played their first-ever match at this same venue almost exactly 13 months beforehand, it’s a milestone, and a sweet one at that.

“This is a big result,” Stuver told reporters after his man-of-the-match performance in goal. “On the road is always difficult, it snapped a two-game losing streak for us. It's the first time that we've beat LAFC. They were top of the West, they were top of the Supporters’ Shield race, and with this result we jump that and we go top of the West, top of the Supporters’ Shield. It's a statement game for us.

“I think all of these games have been important – you see the grit, you see the grind, you see the chemistry that the guys have, but this one just feels a little bit different. Being able to take points here is something special.”

An Austin side that’s earned attention for its meticulous principles of play and sequences of beguilingly fluid attacking had to showcase different qualities on this evening in order to take down an opponent that’s been showcasing much the same style for longer, and with heavier weaponry.

“We're going to play a lot of games; you got to hang in, you got to grind,” said head coach Josh Wolff. “Winning games 1-0, winning one-goal games, is about character and belief and being difficult to break down. Of course you're going to give a little bit, the important part is that you don't break. We've had a number of one-goal wins this year. We’ve had a couple where we blow them out. This builds a little more character, and the group has better character.”

Defender Ruben Gabrielsen’s opportunistic, coolly-taken finish in the wake of a Diego Fagundez corner-kick delivery provided a priceless early lead for the visitors. Fagundez’s 80th-minute transition strike seemed to have iced the victory, and extended the New England Revolution homegrown product’s impressive campaign.

LAFC’s furious late rally threw all that into question, however, as Carlos Vela rifled home a penalty kick to cue a chaotic conclusion as Wolff shifted to a five-man backline in hopes of seeing out the W. Weathering all that was a timely test for the Verde’s strong start to 2022, and perhaps a bellwether of pragmatism to complement his otherwise aggressively proactive game model.

“Late in games, if you're winning, especially, the opponent does start to throw a lot at you and it starts to look a little desperate. LA throws a lot at you anyway,” said Wolff. “But we have some flexibility, I think, in our normal defensive structure where we can almost look like we did here at the very end, where it's a little more of a 5-3-2 or a 5-2-3 [formation].

“We’ve just got to keep pushing forward. We got a long ways to go, but we’re proud of this effort tonight and we’ll go get ready for Orlando [who visit Q2 Stadium on Sunday].”

Young clubs can generally use all the proof of concept they can get their hands on, and knocking off the league leaders to seize hold of first place with over a third of the season gone is certainly that for Wolff and his staff.

“It's a difficult place to come and get a result. Second half, we knew that it was going to be a grind,” said Stuver. “We knew that we needed to grab that second goal, because otherwise we were going to be fighting for our life the entire time.

“It wasn't always perfect. It wasn't always pretty. I think we've grown in so many ways where, when we can play we can play, and if we need to grind it out, we can grind it out. At the end of the day, three points is the most important thing. So I just think it shows the growth mindset of this team, and the maturity that we've gone through in the past 18 months.”

Wolff has spoken of his squad’s markedly different character from the year-one roster, and Stuver’s allusion to their championship aspirations hints at a quiet confidence taking root.

“Guys like Diego, Alex [Ring] and growing into a little bit more leadership role, Julio Cascante; there’s a lot to go around in this locker room right now,” said Wolff. “Again, I can't say enough about the guys’ spirit and resiliency. But it's a really unified, collective group and nights like tonight don't happen if we're not in the space that we're in right now. Really proud of the way this group continues to grow.”