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Austin FC and fans are ready to take on LAFC in the MLS Western Conference Final

A person with a megaphone encourages Austin FC fans in a packed stadium as they cheer and raise their arms to celebrate a goal.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Austin FC fans celebrate after a goal in 2021. The team has improved from a second-from-the-bottom finish in their first season to a second-place finish this year. They play LAFC in the Western Conference Final on Sunday.

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

Austin FC has 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 Final, which was a big deal for the fanbase.

“Beating Dallas still feels like a dream for all of us,” said Carlos Treviño-Frank, 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.

IMG_4808.jpeg
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.

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.”

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

“We’ve beat [LAFC] 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 Final 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: Matthew McConaughey for Austin and Will Ferrell for Los Angeles.

Matthew McConaughey plays a bongo as Austin FC plays the San Jose Earthquakes on June 19, 2021 at Austin's MLS Q2 soccer stadium at the team's first home game. Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT News
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Matthew McConaughey plays a bongo at an Austin FC game against the San Jose Earthquakes in 2021.

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.

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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Jimmy is a reporter focusing on business, sports, and the odd. He is also an afternoon host on KUT and currently serving as Interim Program Director. Got a tip? Email him at jmaas@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @maasdinero.
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