Austin FC

Austin FC Opens the Season Like It Ended the Last One… With Disappointment

Austin FC goalkeeper Brad Stuver makes one of his eight saves against Minnesota United (credit: Austin FC)

After a four-month offseason power outage, on Saturday Q2 Stadium reignited into the bright green electric factory that soccer fans in Austin have become so accustomed to. Unfortunately, then the actual match had to begin.

Austin FC opened its fourth season with a deflating, frustrating 2-1 loss to Minnesota United in front of its patented sellout crowd, the majority of which had already vacated the premises in disgust by the time the Verde and Black scored their consolation goal in the final minute of stoppage time.

Conspicuous by his absence in the match day squad was star midfielder and captain Sebastián Driussi, whose hamstring injury in the final week of preseason training kept him out of the opener. (After the game, head coach Josh Wolff said that he does not believe Driussi’s injury to be something “terribly significant” that would sideline him for long.)

While the lack of Driussi often spells doom for El Tree, the home side still stacked up favorably on paper against a Minnesota team which finished just one place higher than Austin in 2023, was also missing its star No. 10 in Emmanuel Reynoso, and whose very-newly-hired head coach Eric Ramsay had not yet made it stateside from England.

The first half was simply abysmal from Austin. The Verde and Black managed just two shots against Minnesota’s 12, conceded 11 corner kicks while only earning one, could hardly get out of their own half, and eventually went down 1-0 when Robin Lod buried a loose ball into the back of the net in the 34th minute. If not for a half-dozen top class saves from goalkeeper Brad Stuver, Austin would have been left in the dust before the halftime whistle.

“You can’t waste 45 minutes like we did [in the first half],” Wolff said, sugarcoating nothing. “It was quite disappointing. It was unrecognizable from what our group has looked like in six, seven weeks of preseason.”

To make matters worse, just two minutes after conceding the opening goal, Wolff, who must’ve felt like he was in a bad dream, watched top center back Leo Väisänen go down with a foot injury. For the second straight year, the club lost a top center back to injury in the opening half of the season. Wolff didn’t immediately know the severity of Väisänen’s injury postgame, but the 26-year-old Finn was later seen leaving Q2 Stadium on crutches.

After an old-fashioned ass chewing in the locker room at halftime, El Tree came out in significantly better form in the second half. Substitutes Jáder Obrian, Diego Rubio, and Guilherme Biro, all making their Austin FC debuts, injected life into the club’s attack and finally created constant pressure against Minnesota’s defense. But the Loons’ backline and goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair held firm, denying the hosts an equalizer.

A beautifully-worked team goal from Minnesota in the first minute of stoppage time sealed the result, as Alejandro Bran finished things off to make it 2-0. It officially went down as the winning goal, too, as Biru managed to score in his MLS debut to put Austin on the board right before the final whistle.

All in all, it was a golden opportunity squandered to start the season on a high note and put the disappointment of 2023 firmly in the rearview. Instead, Saturday night felt like a throwback for all the wrong reasons.

The club now shifts its attention to the first road test of the season, next Saturday against the Sounders in Seattle, always a difficult place to play as a visitor. But veteran winder Ethan Finlay feels that might be just the environment the club needs to get back on track.

“Personally, I love the idea of, let’s get on the road and let’s find out what we’re all about as a group and a unit in a real hostile environment,” Finlay said.

For more Austin FC news and analysis, visit The Austin Chronicle's Austin FC hub. Follow “The Verde Report” columnist Eric Goodman on X: @goodman.

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