LOS ANGELES – This city is all about star power.
From 2,695 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to megastars from LeBron to Leo to Tarantino, this is no city for dwindling violets. To survive here, you have to make it big.
They’re always looking for the next big thing, whether it’s on the Hollywood screen or the football field.
And the Los Angeles Football Club had a pinch more than the visitors. Well, a lot more than a pinch with three MLS All-Stars to Austin’s one.
“They could almost start with two penalties,” said Austin FC coach Josh Wolff. “They are so loaded.”
The assemblage of hometown stars like Carlos Vela and Chicho Arango and Giorgi Chiellini and Diego Palacios, to name a few, overwhelmed Austin FC 3-0 in a tidal wave of offensive pressure, ending Verde’s magical season in a snappy single-game performance – Elimination on the last Sunday of the Western Conference.
In a season in which the Austin team has made clear and undeniable strides, this wasn’t one of their finest moments, to say the least.
“It wasn’t one of our better games today,” said Austin winger Diego Fagundez. “Today the better team won.”
The Texas team, who surpassed everyone’s wildest dreams this year to become the first Major League Soccer team to bounce back from multiple deficits and win four times, never found the back of the net. In all honesty, Verde has saved his worst for last, or one of his worst, thanks largely to heavy pressure from LAFC, who have conceded just 38 goals all season, their third-best performance in the league.
As if Austin’s poor play at the worst possible time of the season wasn’t enough against the powerful LAFC, who won the Supporters’ Shield with the best record in the league, Austin’s reserve, Maxi Urruti, accidentally headed a corner kick into his own net to catch LAFC’s breath . easy second goal in the 62nd minute of the game. That would be more than enough.
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A third goal came in the 82nd minute when left-footed sub Mahala Opoku was separated by the Austin defense and sent him home for the clincher in front of a sell-out crowd of 22,175, including celebrities such as Owen Wilson and Brad Stuver “Sons of Anarchy”.
Austin was one of only two teams to win here at Banc of California Stadium, where the fan department waved several dozen black and gold flags and kept the noise going.
For an Austin team that had defeated LAFC in both meetings during the regular season and instilled some confidence in that first West Finals road playoff match, the stink will leave a bad taste that Verde will take with them in the offseason, but not the aftermath of a dramatic turnaround.
LAFC dominated the first half with 13 shots from Austin FC and ended with a stunning 22-7 differential as the black and gold controlled the game from the start and led by a stunning 10-1 on shots.
“They did a fantastic job and made it difficult for us today,” said Wolff. “They were the best team all year. We’ve been on the other side on things like that, building momentum and choking other teams. They didn’t give us a chance to breathe. They wouldn’t let us come into their half from the field and set up a shop. They were very relentless.
To maximize his chances of winning the first-ever MLS Cup in five years, LAFC made Sebastián Driussi a harmless spectator. Incredibly, Austin weathered the onslaught and was down just 0-1 in the first half thanks to some spectacular saves from Stuver that mostly kept the homeowners at bay.
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Driussi didn’t make a shot in the first half and was limited to just 16 touches in the opening 45 minutes, his fewest of the season.
And so it came to a crashing halt, Austin’s feel-good momentum dissipating in 90 minutes of rare mediocrity against a superior ball club. This one was over long before it was, well, over.
“We smothered other teams, peppered them and didn’t let them out,” said forward Jon Gallagher. “Today we were on the receiving end.”
The Verde and Black were one step away from claiming the MLS Cup championship against the winner of Sunday night’s matchup between East Conference winners Philadelphia and defending MLS champions New York City FC.
Austin had hoped to become only the third team in MLS history to attempt to win everything in just two years, having led the Chicago Fire in its debut and Atlanta United in its sophomore year. Perhaps Austin FC should lend their blueprint to Steve Sarkisian.
El Tree should have felt right at home with the black-tinged Banc of California, having played their first game of their freshman season here a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, that was a 2-0 loss to the Los Angelinos, who also won all three showdowns with Austin.
The tables were turned dramatically this year. Actually, it was turned around as Josh Wolff’s group was one of only two teams to win at the Banc, defeating LA.
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You might have caught one glimpse of the black-clad tailgaters east of the stadium and thought you were at a Raiders game, and in truth, LAFC brings a physicality to the competition that would make Al Davis smile. Just win, baby, and LA did it by winning the Supporters’ Shield by winning 22 league-level games, bowing out in the first round and then the LA Galaxy with a 93rd-minute Cristian Arango goal held back.
Austin FC fans received 280 tickets to the arena, which was designed by the same Gensler Architects who designed Austin’s Q2 Stadium and Texas’s Moody Center. However, a few hundred more were seized at the 5-year-old facility, located next to the Los Angeles Coliseum, where multi-millionaire Lincoln Riley lifted his USC Trojans over Arizona the night before.
LAFC’s allegiance rivals that of Austin in terms of decibels and butts on the spots, as they finished ninth in the league in attendance, one spot ahead of Austin, although both regularly sell out. No one does that more than El Tree because all 36 home games at the Q have been sold out.
LAFC’s squad underwent massive changes in the summer transfer window and includes all kinds of stars like Vela, Denis Bouanga, Ilie Sanchez, Kellyn Acosta and Palacios.
However, what a leap forward this Austin team has made in their transition from an expansion team to a seasoned team that has made their presence felt in a big way.
It’s rare for the MLS playoffs to get on form, but Austin came into the postseason No. 2 and challenged the best team in the West, while Eastern champions Philadelphia feuded with defending MLS champions New York City FC in the other semifinal .
“Playoffs are the playoffs,” Stuver said. “You win or go home. What we did in the regular season, we did in the regular season. We’re a little depressed.”
Better to be mad than bums. Austin is nobody’s bum anymore. A year ago, it was an embarrassing 12th-place finish in the Western Conference, doomed by an AWOL offense and a poor defensive transition. That scored a 180 this season, as Austin, fueled by MVP candidate Driussi and his 22 regular-season and MLS-best three playoff goals and dynamic winger Fagúndez, who was dangerously effective with his sweeping free-kicks, made the second-highest team in was the league. In fact, Austin’s 65 goals this season were one of LAFC’s.
On Sunday the gap was significantly larger.
By the end of the game, Austin was seeing stars, and almost everyone was wearing black and gold jerseys on this clear, sunny day.