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Trial by VERDE Fire: The Early Struggles of an Expansion Team.

It is no secret that being an expansion team in MLS is no easy task. Outside of the Sounders, LAFC and Atlanta; teams like Cincinatti, Nashville and Miami have all had relatively slow starts. On top of that, Austin FC has to deal with a stretch of 8 away games to kick off. A trial by fire which has shown equal parts promise and worry. The Twin Oaks started their club history with a 2-0 defeat against LAFC, and rebounded with back to back victories against the Rapids and Minnesota. Then came injuries, red cards, shifting tactics, a few defeats and a raging passionate fanbase behind the team. How has Austin FC’s blueprint materialized in its inaugural season so far?

Cecilio Dominguez duels M.A. Kaye in ATX's first match

From the very beginning ATX seemed to get things right. Coaching staff and adjacent personnel were hired off the get-go, hiring promising young coach Josh Wolff and experienced Sporting Director Claudio Reyna as the two most notable names on the list. These acquisitions set the tone for what was to follow: a roster build that had purpose behind it. Every player signing seemed to fit a few of the following criteria: Veteran MLS experience, inexpensive young talent with high upside, players that can fit into Wolff’s idea of how soccer should be played and/or players that fit well within - and stretched the boundaries of - the acquisition rules the league allowed.

This criteria saw the emergence shining talents such as Tomas Pochettino and Cecilio Dominguez, promising Young Money signings like Zan Kolmanic and Rodney Redes, league veterans like Alex Ring and Matt Besler, as well as underrated talent existing in the league, such as Jared Stroud and Brad Stuver. These last two in particular have been some of the most important pieces in how ATX has found some of its early success, while at the same time being inexpensive additions to the club’s payroll.

Preparation has paid off well enough, launching the Twin Oaks a stone’s throw away from having one of the best inaugural seasons since the Seattle Sounders in 2009. Nonetheless, that fateful night in Kansas City became the turning point. Despite taking an early lead, a red card to Alex Ring - the first in his career - was the catalyst to the club’s second ever loss. With the third loss following the week after vs an LA Galaxy with a Chicharito that, at the moment, cannot stop scoring.

The loss of Ring, and the lackluster performance vs the Galaxy brought many ATX fans back down to Earth. This is our first ever season, and it isn’t going to be easy. Nonetheless, for every question that has arisen from the first few games, a potential answer has also risen, and usually a positive one.

Whether it is tactics or acquisitions, the club still has the depth and time to adapt to the league, our DP signings continue to pick up form - with Tomas Pochettino being the best performer in my opinion - and our Goalkeeper might soon become a Saint and legend in Austin lore with how many shots he stops.

Not to mention, the team still has room for another Designated player, or another Young DP followed by Young Money signings(yes, MLS is complex and confusing I know). The bar is set, perform well enough to make play offs, and from there look to make history.

All in all, with all relevant contexts considered, I cannot leave these games with anything but excitement. This trial by fire has not been easy, but iron sharpens iron and this stretch of away games can only make the homecoming all the more exciting. The legend is growing and there is a vibrant, fiery fan base ready to back the team up. Both the club and the fans will be looking to Nashville - or NashVERDE to those in the know - to emulate the return to form seen in Denver - or DenVERDE - with the hope of building a momentum that will carry into the club’s inaugural home match vs the San Jose Earthquakes in June 19th.

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