When Austin FC opened Q2 Stadium in 2021, it became quickly apparent that the Verde and Black were creating one of Major League Soccer’s most challenging venues to visit – at least in terms of fan support and energy encountered.
Now a second-year club that’s emerging from an offseason full of fine-tuning rather than wholesale changes, Austin FC are looking to unite the raucous atmosphere with consistent results.
The next step in that pursuit comes Sunday afternoon when Inter Miami CF visit ATX in hopes of spoiling the party (4 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
“We had good performances, really good performances down the stretch at home and we want to continue that understanding and initiative in the start of the season,” Austin head coach Josh Wolff said midweek. “Winning at Q2 is paramount, that’s our goal, that’s our objective. We have 17 games, and if you win a substantial amount of them, that puts you in a good position now to compete for playoffs.”
Austin went 7W-8L-2D at home in 2021 as an expansion club, all following eight straight road matches before their soccer-specific stadium opened. Hopes of reversing that trend went well in Week 1, a 5-0 thumping of FC Cincinnati that showed the fireworks their possession-oriented, incisive 4-3-3 system can produce.
But Wolff’s not getting too carried away, cognizant of how FC Cincinnati have finished bottom of the league table three straight years and are in the early days of life under first-year head coach Pat Noonan.
“There’s a humility and a hunger,” Wolff said. “They realize the result was good, it’s a performance to build on. It’s the start of the season, it’s game one of 34 and you don’t win championships in Week 1. So we’re building and we’re still in that initial phase. We have a lot of new guys and we’re still getting everyone up to speed.”
Inter Miami poses that next challenge, with the third-year club in revamp mode as sporting director Chris Henderson retools the squad. The Herons parted ways with, via one mechanism or another, nearly 20 players from their 2021 squad that missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
And with that turnover, Phil Neville’s squad included eight new starters in their season-opening 0-0 draw against Chicago Fire FC last weekend. Center back Jairo Quinteros (spent last year on loan in Bolivia), central midfielder Gregore and forward Gonzalo Higuain were the only holdovers.
The end product is a youth-filled group that Neville is confident will grow as games start piling up.
“I think the team last year would have lost that game because they weren’t a team,” Neville said. “So by the end of the game, you could see this young, energetic team get more confidence and more confidence. We’re going to have that probably in the first six weeks of the season.”
Another positive from Week 1, Neville said, was pitching a shutout. New defensive leaders include US international fullback DeAndre Yedlin and Jamaican international center back Damion Lowe, as well as Brazilian central midfielder Jean Mota.
“We’ve got a different type of defender now in the football club, and they’re the type of defenders that I like,” Neville said. “They want to defend and they get great pride in the clean sheet, and they get great pride in throwing themselves in front of the ball, they get great pride in working together as a team.”
As these nascent clubs convene Sunday, it’s a rare cross-conference match for both. And truthfully, they’ve struggled for results across their combined three MLS seasons, totaling 1.05 points per game and a minus-48 goal differential when tabulations are completed.
They’re slowly chipping away at that history, recognizing that big challenges await in 2022.
“Week 1 went well, but there’s also going to be difficulty throughout the year,” Wolff said. “We won’t get too carried away with winning one game and now we want to back it up with some consistency and another good performance at home on Sunday against Inter Miami.”
“This team over the last two years hasn’t had that many clean sheets and we want to be really hard to beat,” Neville said.