My heart is hurting.
CCL fever has been a cruel, crazy ride, but my head knows that this outcome was always lurking in the shadows.
All Austin FC fans can justifiably bemoan the officiating tonight—and all of Violette’s time-wasting tactics (truly next level!)—but that’s not the real story of the match tonight.
Tonight, any injustices Austin FC could claim were nullified by the fact that only six Violette starting players from the first leg 3-0 loss in the Dominican Republic were able to take the field tonight (thanks to USCIS). They were also forced to use their backup goalkeeper at Q2 Stadium.
Boy did that young man look wobbly in front of goal during the first 20 minutes! But after VAC’s Paul Décius settled in, you could tell that he started to feel like he really belonged on that pitch tonight. Especially after his fully outstretched diving save to deny a perfect Sebastian Driussi header in the 35th minute.
He was helped the whole game by two things USCIS didn’t dismantle: the same starting back line from their home leg, and their workhorse captain, Steeven Saba.
The same Steeven who took Haiti to the Gold Cup semifinals back in 2019.
From an Austin FC fans’ perspective, that beautiful, yet unfruitful cross would become emblematic of their entire night: 76% possession, 56 CROSSES, 35 shots (10 on frame).
But only 2 goals on a night that demanded no less than 4 goals.
Add that to last week’s opening 90 minutes where the offense only generated one shot on goal, while giving up 3 goals, and there’s only one word to describe Austin’s performance in the whole round: wasteful.
Golden opportunities were repeatedly squandered!
Coach Wolff summed it up: “We need to score more goals. We created plenty of chances.”
Pure verde frustration, a bit reminiscent of 2021.
It definitely left our players wondering what could have been, and wanting more. You can hear it in this quote from Diego Fagundez:
“This should be an expectation for us to be here [in CCL] every year… it stinks to leave like this. But I guess the team needs to be better, and now we grow from this and we make sure that we come back.”-Austin FC Winger, Diego Fagundez
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That’s Not How Tonight Will Be Remembered in the History Books
The big takeaway from the opening round of the 2023 CCL will be this: a scrappy bunch of young men from a country on the verge of chaos, whose domestic league was therefore shut down, held themselves together to do what no other Haitian team had done in this tournament: advance out of the opening round.
Even when the whole world didn’t think they stood a chance—including their opponent who sent a less-than-full-strength squad to face them at a neutral site (though Josh Wolff had valid concerns for the health of his players) even when their best players were prevented from competing in all 180 minutes; even when they only had 3 subs on the bench; even when 10 minutes of stoppage time were added on at the end of 180… Violette fought.
You could see the passion that they harnessed in the way they celebrated after the match:
The Haitian players fought with everything they had to show their nation how to hold their heads high. Once he came down to earth from the ecstasy of his post-game celebration, Violette’s coach Rony Attimy had inspirational words to share with the Haitian people back home:
“Keep struggling, keep believing, because in adversity goodness comes out of it. Today for example, we knew we were going to suffer, we knew we would go through difficult moments, we knew we would have to put our hearts into it. We could not expect that someone was going to come help us out – we only had 14 players, but we fought. This is the message: keep struggling, keep fighting… and change the situation for ourselves.”-Rony Attimy, Violette AC Coach
This gutted squad of Haitians, who barely had enough players patched together to legally compete, achieved the impossible so that they could lift the hopes of their nation. It was gritty and grimy, and from Verde’s perspective it never should have come to pass, but it did.
And ultimately, despite all the CONCACAF craziness, if you had eyes to see it… we witnessed the beautiful game at its finest tonight.
And because I’m feeling it tonight, I’ll close this one with another thing of beauty that will lift the hearts of the Verde faithful—Driussi’s second goal of the season! Wow! (also Rigoni’s first time on an Austin FC scoresheet with the assist).