Austin FC entered the 2022 MLS season with several goals for the club.
Coming off an inaugural campaign that ended with the then-expansion side finishing second-from-bottom in the Western Conference standings, the Verde retooled ahead of their sophomore season and have vaulted atop the Supporters’ Shield standings pending LAFC's Week 21 result.
Austin finished with a 2W-0L-2D record against their Texan rivals to finish atop the Copa Tejas' MLS standings and lift the supporters-created trophy, beating Houston Dynamo FC twice and drawing both battles with FCD. The final standings are below:
- Austin FC: 8 points, 2W-0L-2D, +3 goal differential
- FC Dallas: 6 points, 1W-0L-3D, +1 goal differential
- Houston Dynamo FC: 1 point, 0W-3L-1D, -4 goal differential
“It’s a great moment. It’s a special moment. You can see what it did mean to the players. You can see what it meant to the fans,” said Austin FC assistant coach Davy Arnaud, filling in for head coach Josh Wolff – he was unavailable for the match due to health and safety protocols. “This is why players play, they want to win trophies.
“We started the year with some objectives and one of those was to win Copa Tejas. They’ve achieved that objective and I’m very happy for them. We’re moving in the right direction.”
FC Dallas won Copa Tejas in 2021 as MLS got three Texan teams, besting Austin and Houston in a year that saw the intra-state trio finish in the Western Conference standings' bottom portion and miss out on the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs completely.
All three teams then went about making changes with a different philosophy in the offseason and have seen those roster moves pay dividends in different ways.
Austin took a pragmatic approach, bringing in MLS veterans Felipe, Maxi Urruti and Ethan Finlay, as well as international signings Ruben Gabrielsen and Jhojan Valencia. Houston invested heavily with Hector Herrera and Sebastian Ferreira as Designated Players in their new regime, adding to a nucleus of talent alongside free-agent goalkeeper Steve Clark. Meanwhile, Dallas made a record-breaking trade for Paul Arriola and signed Alan Velasco for a club-record deal, while also bringing in goalkeeper Maarten Paes to shore up the defense.
Both Houston (Paulo Nagamura) and Dallas (Nico Estevez) have new head coaches as well.
Young rivalry reaches new heights
One year in, there already is new life in the rivalry.
Arriola staked FC Dallas to a first-half lead with his ninth goal of the season, but the Supporters’ Shield leaders would not be denied as Diego Fagundez found the equalizer in the 79th minute. The only thing keeping Austin's explosive attack from walking away with three points was a series of stellar saves by Paes, who finished the night with four saves to preserve the draw as FCD remained in the thick of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference.
For their efforts, Austin FC celebrated with the droves of traveling supporters who made the trip to Frisco for the match.
“First and foremost for our fans, it’s an award between them, they have bragging rights for the year, which they truly deserve – especially for last year, the way they supported us last year when times were tough,” said Austin FC captain Alex Ring.
Job not finished
Copa Tejas is just the first in a series of trophies ATX hope to lift by the end of 2022. Now, after an early US Open Cup exit, their eyes are set on the Supporters' Shield, followed by MLS Cup.
“It’s nice to have this. It’s something we are proud of and we worked hard for, but our work is definitely not finished,” Arnaud said. “The group is in a good way with results, but by no means do we feel like the job is done. That’s one thing I can say about this group, they are committed to looking ahead and saying ‘What’s next?’”
Added Ring: “I’m happy for the fans that they have the bragging rights for this year. But in the end, we have bigger things that we want to accomplish with this team, with this community and with these fans. This is a good first step, but we’re not done yet.”