Rivalry Week

Dallas next? Austin FC eye Texas supremacy after defeating Houston Dynamo

After Austin FC defeated Houston Dynamo FC, 3-1, on Tuesday night and became the first MLS team to reach the 40-point threshold, Los Verdes winger Ethan Finlay admitted his team is squarely eyeing a trophy. Not that trophy. The other one.

Yes, Austin are the new Supporters' Shield leader with a one-point edge on LAFC following a fourth consecutive victory. But the immediate business at hand is Copa Tejas.

The duel for supremacy among Texas’ MLS clubs will conclude Saturday night when Austin visit FC Dallas (9 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) with a two-point lead in the three-team season series. They need only a draw to secure the honor.

“When I showed up here, very quickly I learned how much this meant to our supporters and to our ownership group, really both,” Finlay told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview after Tuesday's win. “And that’s unique, where ownership in Year 2 is already saying this matters to us. We’re prideful. We might be a new team in this market and a new team in Texas, but we want to be the best team. They take a lot of pride in that.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to really give [our supporters] something mid-season to be able to really cheer about and be happy about.”

Finlay isn’t ignoring the bigger picture of a team that missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in their expansion season now emerging as possibly the surprising best foil for LAFC’s Gareth Bale-infused quest for dominance.

And while Los Verdes have religiously adhered to a game-by-game mantra, he admits 2022 Austin FC is beginning to feel reminiscent of the 2015 Columbus Crew team he helped capture the Eastern Conference championship and host MLS Cup. He also knows off the top of his head roughly when the Black & Gold, whom Austin defeated 2-1 in Southern California back in late May, make their return visit in late August.

But like so many players in Austin’s core, Finlay has been around this league. It's his 11th MLS season and first with his third club. He knows just how much can change between now and Decision Day in early October.

“We’ve talked all year about being within striking distance to have a home playoff game, and I would say we’re in that,” he said. “It’s too early to really pull away at this point, I’ve always thought the summertime is the time where you can differentiate yourself and make a move. And I think right now what we’re doing is we’re continuing to add wins to our tally, and we’ll see how that turns out come fall."

What encourages him more than Austin’s perch atop the table is how they’ve arrived there.

“There’s an explosive element to our offense, and now I think this summer we’re really focused on being compact and very good defensively,” Finlay said. “What I love about where we’re at right now is the ability to win in different ways.”

If Saturday’s 3-0 win at Atlanta United was about using the home side’s eagerness against them, Tuesday was about solving a visitor willing to be stubborn.

Houston kept their two-headed attacking monster of Darwin Quintero and Sebastian Ferreira on the bench in the first 45 minutes, as well as recently-arrived Mexico star Hector Herrera.

Adalberto Carrasquilla even put the visitors briefly in front, before Diego Fagundez leveled with a stunning free kick. But it was in the second half where a patient home side found joy, with Maxi Urruti scoring an opportunistic go-ahead goal. Then Finlay provided the final service on a gorgeous, full-field attacking move finished off by an Alex Ring header in the 70th minute.

“We talk about hot zone service,” said Finlay, who curled in his cross from near the right corner of the penalty area. “You get the ball in that spot, I don’t even have to look up. I know the guys are going to be there making runs. And Alex is there, and it’s a great header by him.”