If there’s one game Austin FC had circled on the schedule when the MLS schedule was released during the offseason, it might be Saturday’s game against FC Dallas.
As El Tree returns to Q2 Stadium for a league game for the first time in over a month, there will be no shortage of motivation against a state rival who sits just behind him in the Western Conference standings. .
But apart from the game being a derby – a football term used for geographical rivalry matches – and having big implications for the Copa Tejas – a trophy competition between the three Texas MLS teams – it represents a chance to beat Dallas for the first time.
While Austin FC have already topped Houston three times in their brief history, El Tree went 0-3 against FC Dallas a year ago and were denied the Copa Tejas trophy in a loss. 2-1 at the end of the season.
It’s something that stuck with the players who were part of the squad a year ago.
“We have a lot of unfinished business with FC Dallas,” said Austin FC goalkeeper Brad Stuver. “They won the Copa Tejas last year and they came on strong in that last game. We didn’t respond and they got the better of us. One of our goals for the season is to win the Copa Tejas and it started with Houston and continues with Dallas, it will be more than a normal game.
For a game at the end of June, this has far-reaching implications.
Both teams are in the top four of the Western Conference table, with Austin FC in third, and each already has a win over Houston.
Due to the expansion of MLS this season, teams from Texas only play each other twice now, so every game has added value, and the winner of the Copa Tejas will be determined over the next 23 days with the three teams that will face each other in this sequence.
“There’s a small body of work that’s built into the derbies now,” Austin FC coach Josh Wolff said. “From our point of view we have to stay humble and hungry for our position in the league and we continue to look for consistency individually and as a group. We are playing against a very good team who are a local rival. We will see them later in the year, but they beat us three times last year and our guys have heard that from me before, our guys know where we stand with them in the standings and are aware of their qualities.
Austin FC will enter the game with little depth in midfield.
Defensive midfielder Dani Pereira will miss this match after being shown a red card in last week’s 1-0 win over Montreal, and Jhojan Valencia – who has essentially been Pereira’s backup this year – is recovering from a minor knee surgery and will be out for several weeks.
“It’s something we’ll have to deal with over the next two games with limited numbers,” Wolff said. “There are some things we have worked on in practice. There is competition throughout the group and we will do what makes the most sense.
Wolff didn’t say exactly who would start for Pereira at his weekly press conference, but he gave some hints noting Owen Wolff could move inside the wing or veteran Felipe Martins could get his second start of the year.
FC Dallas also represents a practice match against longtime friend of Josh Wolff.
He and FC Dallas boss Nico Estévez together coached Gregg Berhalter’s Columbus staff and the United States men’s national team.
Estévez is in his first year in charge of FC Dallas, and both coaches are up for the MLS Coach of the Year award with the way their clubs have played so far.
“There are a lot of similarities to what we were exposed to with our ideas of football in Columbus and with Gregg and the national team, and they all evolve when you’re in your own environment,” Josh Wolff said. “We exchange phone calls regularly and I’m not surprised that he is so successful because he is a very intellectual coach. It will be good to see him, but we don’t want to make his trip here too pleasant because we want win the game.
MLS All-Star Game voting is underway
Voting for the MLS All-Star Game has begun and Austin FC is expected to have several candidates, the most obvious being forward Sebastián Driussi.
Driussi would be in the run for league MVP award though the season ended today thanks to his eight goals, four assists and overall brilliant play, and he noted that going to the game would be an honor.
“I think it would be something really good for the club and me and a good experience for me to go to the game,” he said. “But the voting has just opened, so I will continue to work.”
El Tree fans can vote for Driussi and others Austin FC players on MLS website.
Austin FC vs. FC Dallas, 8 p.m., Q2 Stadium, The CW Austin, 97.5