Haters, doubters and critics. Austin FC had their fair share of them heading into the 2022 MLS season.
But after a remarkable second-year turnaround, the Verde & Black are just 90 minutes away from MLS Cup on Nov. 5, with only LAFC standing in their way during Sunday's Western Conference Final (3 pm ET | ABC, ESPN3 in Spanish).
It's safe to say there are very few haters, doubters and critics left. Even so, Austin and their players have been more than happy to publicly call out those who questioned their rise – going so far as to laminate and distribute this very website's less-than-flattering preseason predictions.
"I think it's funny that it still goes around," head coach Josh Wolff said about the now-infamous piece of stationary that has inspired parodies on social media.
" … There's no injustices there. That was their opinions and rightfully so, but that was February and March," he added. "I don't think this has been brought to light by any of us in that way."
Wolff also revealed that the genesis of this perceived "us" against "them" ethos was fueled by Felipe Martins, well known for stirring the pot since joining MLS in 2012 and accumulating over 300 regular-season appearances.
"Felipe's great," Wolff said of the 32-year-old Brazilian midfielder. "He's like the consummate antagonist for MLS. Ten years of doing what he's doing. He put this together, the experts' predictions, and laminated it and put it around the training room. So I merely brought it to the attention of the players, which they already knew.
" … It just lends to who Felipe is. He's been getting yellows and reds from the opposition for years. This is him continuing to be able to poke that in the media or 'keep doubting us' with some of his commentary. It's who he is as a character and a villain, and he loves that. We love that about him."
A quick glance at the Brazilian's social media account reveals just how eager he's been to run with this narrative throughout the season and into the team's Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs run. Ask Wolff, however, and he'll tell you it's old news for both him and his squad.
"That was something that was utilized for our players, for us, I think early in the season," Wolff said. "It's more, I don't know why it continues to make the rounds. But it is what it is."
Alex Ring echoed his coach's sentiments, arguing that a chance to lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy is inspiration enough for him.
"It's not like I lose sleep over things that people write or say and I don't need extra motivation," Austin's captain said. "I can't speak for other people, but at least in my case I think it's being made a little too big for what it really is."
Still, Austin are the mathematical underdogs heading into Sunday's visit to Banc of California Stadium, despite beating the Supporters' Shield winners twice during the regular season.
"Don't agree with it, but understandable," Wolff said of FiveThirtyEight's latest forecast that gives them an eight percent chance of winning MLS Cup.
" … Not many people gave us a chance the first time against LAFC, the second time against LAFC, or maybe to be in this situation this year. So we run with that, we're quite confident in who we are and believe in what we have been able to build and establish over the course of a season."
Austin center back Julio Cascante likes how the projections are shaping up: "This game, we are not the favorites. I think people don't see us as the favorite to win MLS Cup or not even the Western Conference. So I think that's good for us."