While the 2023 season has been a struggle for Austin FC, the club’s performance in their 3-0 win over DC United on Wednesday kept their playoff hopes alive and gave fans a reason to be optimistic about their upcoming meeting with LAFC on Saturday.
The road to the playoffs will certainly be a difficult one at this stage for Austin, as their nearly four-month-long winless streak prior to their midweek home win leaves them only a few scenarios in which they can sneak into the newly-expanded 18-team playoffs.
Scenario 1: Austin overtakes in-state rival FC Dallas
For the sake of bragging rights over their rivals, many Austin FC fans would prefer this scenario in which Austin slips past FC Dallas on the final few days of the season.
FC Dallas currently sits one spot above Austin in the Western Conference standings, with three points separating the two. To step in front of their rivals, Austin would need Dallas to lose out, and Austin would need to win against LAFC on Saturday, and win or draw their final game on the road at San Jose. This scenario would have Austin slide into ninth place with 42 points and set up a Wild Card battle with San Jose.
One important note to remember is that FC Dallas’ midweek matchup with Colorado on Wednesday was postponed, so Dallas actually has three games remaining, while Austin and most clubs have just two remaining.
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Scenario 2: Austin knocks out San Jose in their final game
This scenario would likely be the most dramatic of the three, as it would mean Austin FC would essentially play a win-or-go-home match in the final week of the season.
In order to set up the dramatic final game, San Jose would need to lose or draw to FC Dallas on Saturday, and Austin would need to beat LAFC. This would keep Austin in tenth place, one or two points behind San Jose for the final playoff spot.
From there, Austin would need to go on the road and beat the Earthquakes head-to-head, giving them 44 points to San Jose’s 42 or 43, setting up an epic Wild Card matchup with FC Dallas or Portland.
Scenario 3: Austin forces Portland out
The third scenario would see Austin avenge their struggles against the Portland Timbers, a club they haven’t beaten since their inaugural season, by knocking them out on the final day.
In order to do so, Austin would need to win their final two games against LAFC and San Jose, and Portland would need to lose their final two games against Montreal and Houston. This would give Austin either the eighth or ninth seed, depending on how FC Dallas and San Jose perform.
Nonetheless, the result would set them up for a Wild Card meeting with Dallas or San Jose.
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Scenario 4: Austin escapes on goal differential
Austin FC’s fourth and final scenario would allow them to lose or draw against LAFC on Saturday, but would require some help from other clubs as well.
A loss against LAFC would require FC Dallas to lose out, and Austin would then need to beat San Jose by multiple goals to give them a chance to erase Dallas’ five goal advantage on GD over Austin. An Austin FC draw on Saturday would require San Jose to lose or draw their weekend meeting with FC Dallas, putting Austin two points behind the Earthquakes, but giving the Verde and Black the lead on goal differential.
Either way, Austin would still have to beat San Jose in the final game of the season to either overtake them on points or on goal differential.
Though it’s been a rough season for Austin FC, a strong finish and a playoff berth would be a good sign of improvement and something to salvage from a rather disappointing 2023 campaign. While fans are eager to look ahead to the future and some potential decision-day drama, Austin’s hopes will dwindle if they don’t get the job done Saturday against LAFC.
While Austin has been embarrassed by the reigning MLS Champions in their past two meetings, the Verde and Black certainly have both revenge and the playoffs on their minds as they attempt to defend their home turf. While LAFC has already clinched the playoffs, they still are in the hunt for home-field advantage, so expect a fairly strong lineup coming into Q2 Stadium Saturday night.
Any way you look at it, Austin FC certainly has their work cut out for them if they want to make a run at the MLS Cup this season.
Cover image courtesy Austin FC