Second year, second in the Western Conference regular-season standings, and second to LAFC in the Western Conference Final.

A GIF is worth a thousand words:

Score one for the structuralists! Across the various areas of study that delve into this great game of ours, there is a field of thought that any team with a clear ideology that codifies its structure – that has a clear and consistent set of principles on both sides of the ball – gives itself an inherent advantage. The ability to create order out of chaos is one way this manifests itself; the ability to impose that order onto an opponent, and force that opponent to bend to the will of the protagonists… that’s the other, and I’d argue even more important, manifestation.

Even in Year 1, a season in which Austin fell well short of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, you could see that underlying structure for good chunks of time. There were gaps in it (much of those gaps were talent-related), but it was there, and if Josh Wolff could make the foundations of that structure a little more stable, and the talent could be boosted in a couple of key spots, a big step forward seemed plausible.

Jumping from 31 points to 56, though… and a place in the 2023 Concacaf Champions League. This season pushed to the outer limits of plausibility.

But that’s why we love the game, right? Austin got an MVP-caliber season from Sebastian Driussi, a massive step forward from young Danny Pereira, and all-League-caliber performances from Diego Fagundez, Ruben Gabrielsen and Brad Stuver. And everybody up and down the roster bought in.

It was a hell of a lot of fun even if it doesn’t feel entirely sustainable.

Formation and Tactics

A 4-2-3-1 almost every time out, though Driussi had so much freedom it often looked like a 4-4-1-1. And Alex Ring is such a wild card it sometimes looked like… I don’t know, a back four with Pereira holding and everybody else just sort of interpreting space? El Verde tended to be at their most vulnerable in those moments, but also at their most effective.

The way it all translated was to a lot of possession, a lot of touches and a lot of goals. They scored 65 on the year, which was third-most in the league, and were in the top quarter of MLS in possession, chances created, expected assists and everything related to that, up and down the line, as per TruMedia via StatsPerform. That includes their typical passing sequences, which were longer – both in terms of total passes and total time on the ball – and wider than almost everyone.

This was good, old-fashioned “use the ball to disorganize the opponent” soccer, and Austin were good at it.

Defensively there were few frills, as they mostly defended in a middle or low-block 4-4-2 – and relied a ton on Stuver.


It says something about how good a year Austin had that I’m not even considering their 6W-1L-2D start to the season, nor their seven-game unbeaten run in early summer that solidified their spot near the top of the Western Conference table.

No, there are only three choices:

  1. The 4-1 destruction of LAFC on August 26.
  2. The wild PK shootout win over Real Salt Lake in Round One of the playoffs.
  3. The comprehensive dismantling of FC Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals.

There are great arguments for all of the above, and since MLS is the league of chaos, I initially leaned toward picking the win over RSL. Any time you get your first playoff win, it’s memorable, right? Doing it in that fashion makes it doubly so.

But it’s actually the Dallas game that gets the nod here, because the ability to impose order upon chaos is at the heart of who Austin are trying to be:

WATCH: Austin FC march past FC Dallas into Western Conference Final!

There is no point in these highlights, just as there was no point during this game itself, in which it felt like Dallas were going to come back and force extra time. It wasn’t a blowout by any stretch – just a ruthless, composed and controlled win over a local rival in the postseason.

Performances like that don’t come around often.


A week later Austin came face-to-face with the fact they’re probably not quite as good as their record. They had unusually good injury luck this season, an all-timer of a year from Driussi, and obviously made some sort of blood sacrifice to the fickle gods of finishing variance.

All of that goes a long way, but eventually you run into the buzzsaw and the buzzsaw kills you. Their late-season dip in results (they weren’t really playing any worse; they were just getting kicked in the pants by said finishing variance) put the writing on the wall. And then LAFC said “off with their heads” and that was that.

Just remember, there are 24 other teams in this league who’d kill to have their “lowlight” come in the Conference Finals.


Stuver being so good for the entire season feels like a revelation, but it comes in the context of him being excellent for about the first two-thirds of 2021, so the real answer here is Pereira.

In college he was an attacking midfielder, and when Austin took him with the top pick in the MLS SuperDraft ahead of last season, it was with the intention of playing him as a No. 8. Which they did, and he was ok-ish.

This year they moved him back to the No. 6, and he was excellent – one of the very best young players in the league (not young enough for 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR, but if he was I’d have him in that promising d-mid group of Leon Flach, Cesar Araujo, Obed Vargas).

I’m gonna drop this in here because it’s fun…

WATCH: Austin FC's Dani Pereira scores long-range banger two minutes after subbing on

But that’s not what to look for when you watch this kid. What you should look for is all the little, subtle things veteran d-mids do. Think stuff like body shape when receiving the ball, or which foot they play a pass to, or the positions they take in support when the team’s moving possession into high-risk/high-reward areas.

Pereira’s got all that already.


They needed that from Pereira because Jhojan Valencia… woo boy was he in over his head in MLS. And they needed an excellent year from Maxi Urruti (a huge part of the reason Austin were better defensively in transition this year was because Urruti single-handedly made it about 50% harder to build out against them) because last year’s U22 Initiative signing at center forward, Moussa Djitte, didn’t make much progress to speak of.

And they needed a very solid season from Ethan Finlay because DP winger Cecilio Dominguez was poor, and then was released for off-field issues, and then his replacement Emiliano Rigoni kept doing stuff like this:

That last one was truly killer because 1) Rigoni is, somehow, a DP, and 2) the third heat missing from Austin’s attack was someone – anyone! – who could beat a guy 1v1.

And I guess, well, he did technically complete two dribbles in that clip. But yeeesh.

2023 Preview

Five Players to Build Around

  • Driussi (AM/SS): Much more of a second striker than a classic South American No. 10, the dude was absolutely brilliant.
  • Fagundez (LW): Had his best overall MLS season, and finally looked consistently like the type of high-level match-winner we all thought he’d become when he burst onto the scene a decade back.
  • Pereira (DM): I’ll sing his praises again if you want!
  • Stuver (GK): Was one of the top five in the league at his spot.
  • Gabrielsen (CB): The big Norwegian needed to be excellent and was.

Offseason Priority

I’ll write the same thing I wrote last year: they’ve still got to work on their scouting network because so many of their imports have underdelivered. Rigoni, Valencia, Djitte, Dominguez, Rodney Redes, Jhohan Romana, Tomas Pochettino (another DP!)... there are a lot of wild swings and gigantic misses in there. And it’s telling that, two years in, the vast majority of this team’s good players are guys who they’ve acquired from within the league (or, in Pereira’s case, via the SuperDraft).

How would this season have ended if they’d been able to give Driussi more high-level help, guys who performed at a level commensurate with expectations/expenditure? Pretty killer “if," right?

That’s not a question they want to be asking themselves once again at this time next year.