Austin FC and its fans are ready for the LAFC matchup in the MLS Western Conference finals

The two squads share many commonalities and big moments in their histories, but only one can advance to the Cup Final.

By Jimmy Maas, KUTOctober 28, 2022 10:30 am, ,

From KUT:

Austin FC plays Sunday against the Los Angeles Football Club for a spot in the Major League Soccer Cup Final.

Austin FC is a young team with just two seasons in the books. The team hasn’t even had enough time to carve out real rivals on the pitch. Sure, there is Houston just down the road, and one could guess Columbus, given the team ownership and administration’s roots running that club.

From a competitive standpoint, Austin just beat FC Dallas for the first time to make it to the Western Conference finals, which was a big deal for the fanbase.

“Beating Dallas still feels like a dream for all of us,” said Carlos Treviño-Frank, a huge Austin FC fan who gained notoriety for driving in for all of Austin’s home games in 2021 — from Arkansas.

“But to be able to do it in the playoffs on our home pitch was incredible,” he said. “And the emotion that ran through myself and all the other supporters that I know — I couldn’t tell you how many of us cried. It was incredible.”

Yes, things can get a little emotional between Dallas and Austin, but perhaps the team’s real rival is this weekend’s opponent: LAFC.

Austin Head Coach Josh Wolff reminded everyone at a recent news conference that LA had the league’s best record.

“I think it’s a natural conversation that we are the underdog,” he said. “This is our second season. We’ve made a lot of progress, and we’ve been a good team, a very consistent team over the entire year.”

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Austin FC defender Julio Cascante and Head Coach Josh Wolff speak at a news conference Thursday ahead of the MLS Western Conference final match between Austin and LAFC. They spoke downtown at the Yeti store, Austin's primary uniform sponsor.

Wolff knows that while perhaps an underdog, his squad is not sneaking up on anyone.

“We’ve beat them twice 6-2 over two games,” he said. “They’re not going to be too kind to us coming to their place and trying to take them down for a third time — very challenging to beat a team three times.”

Every great rivalry comes from some point of commonality. Whether you’re competing for first-chair piccolo, a promotion at the office or just the best ugly sweater at the holiday party, the person you’re competing against is almost always the person you find the most irritating. Or worse: They’re just like you.

Austin and LA are recent MLS expansion franchises. LA also made it to the Western Conference finals in its second year. When the lead architect finished LA’s field, Banc of California Stadium, he moved his family to Austin to design and build Q2. They also both have big personalities owning part of their teams: Austin’s Matthew McConaughey and LA’s Will Ferrell.

But rivalries are also built on big moments, and LAFC has been there for a lot of Austin’s biggest.

Austin’s first game ever in 2021? Against LAFC.

Austin’s first time atop the conference standings? After a win in Los Angeles against LAFC earlier this season.

Arguably Austin’s biggest home win of the 2022 regular season? Against LAFC in August.

“It was a big, big moment,” Wolff said. “We came out and put them under a lot of pressure. Sustained that pressure. It was one of our complete dominant performances. Do I expect Sunday to be the same? Probably in some ways, but more challenging in other ways. They’re a good team. We’re going out to LA to play the best team, and in order to win a championship you have to beat the best team.”

And, now, Sunday awaits.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Matthew McConaughey plays a bongo at the Austin FC game against the San Jose Earthquakes in 2021 at Austin's Q2 stadium.

Stephanie Dempsey is ready. She’s a leader with La Murga de Austin, the band that keeps the Q2 pulsing through its home games.

“Houston and Dallas are in-state, so I think it feels more personal,” she said. “But with LA, it’s more like fun banter, you know, like when you play basketball on the street with your friends or something. It’s like, ‘I want to win, but I respect what you’re doing on the pitch and in the stands.’”

And just like LAFC, Austin’s supporters section has few rivals. Austin has built a reputation around the league with its fanbase. The team has played to 36 consecutive sellout crowds, the longest streak in MLS.

Treviño-Frank, the guy who drove to every Austin home game from Arkansas, had his streak snapped for the birth of his second child in the summer. But he was soon back on the road starting another streak in August. He says he’s not ready to tally up the mileage he’s added to his truck this season.

“That was something I looked into last season at the end of the year,” he said. “I know I put in 16,000 (miles) last year. This season, I know I put in a little bit more.”

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