AUSTIN (KXAN) — Colorado’s Diego Rubio equalized in stoppage time to keep Austin FC from a season-ending victory in a 1-1 draw Sunday at Q2 Stadium.
As far as playoff positioning goes, the result of the match didn’t matter. Austin FC was already locked in the No. 2 position in the Western Conference and the Rapids were eliminated from playoff contention.
“The end of the game was a little anti-climatic, but I don’t think it should take away anything that these guys have done over the course of the season,” Austin FC acting head coach Davy Arnaud said. “They’ve been great. Second place in the West is a huge accomplishment, and so is a home playoff game. It has been fantastic.”
Arnaud is an assistant with the team but assumed the helm in place Josh Wolff, who was suspended for the match due to “technical staff yellow card accumulation,” after a skirmish following the match against Vancouver on Oct. 1. Wolff will be back to coach in the playoffs.
It was Decision Day in Major League Soccer and all of the final conference games were played at the same time. The playoff field in the Eastern Conference was settled early Sunday with matches beginning at 12 p.m. CT, and the Western Conference field was decided in the late window with matches starting at 4 p.m. CT.
Austin FC will play Real Salt Lake, who earned the No. 7 seed in the conference behind a 3-1 win over Portland, at Q2 Stadium in the first round of the MLS playoffs. MLS announced the game will be at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 16.
If Austin wins the first match, they’ll have another home match for the Western Conference semifinals. It’s possible they host the conference finals if they keep winning, but LAFC would have to lose on its side of the bracket for that to happen.
Verde’s Sebastian Driussi connected in the 81st minute on a penalty kick. Colorado turned the ball over inside its own penalty area, and Austin’s Felipe Martins collected the errant pass. He made a move toward the goal and was immediately brought down from behind by Colorado’s Bryan Acosta.
Driussi calmly slid the shot down the middle of the goal as Rapids goalkeeper William Yarbrough dove to the left. It was Driussi’s 22nd goal of the season, and he finished the year in a tie for second place with Philadelphia’s Daniel Gadzag for the league’s Golden Boot award, given to the top scorer. Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar finished as the league’s top scorer with 23 goals.
Rubio’s match-tying goal came after some questionable officiating decisions by both the center official and assistant officials. Immediately after Driussi converted his penalty kick, it looked as if Diego Fagundez netted Verde’s second goal on a high-arcing ball from Maxi Urruti. Multiple angles from broadcast replay cameras showed Fagundez was onside when Urruti played the ball, and Fagundez looped the ball over Yarbrough — who came off his line — and into the net. However, the assistant referee called Fagundez offside and the center official didn’t ask for a video replay review, which is handled at the MLS review center in Atlanta.
Arnaud said he thought that decision was “clearly wrong.”
“The official said VAR (video assistant referee) checked and didn’t change the call, so the VAR thought he was offside like the assistant official did,” he said.
Driussi was also pushed down on a breakaway shortly before Rubio’s leveler, and again Arnaud was told the center official checked with VAR and said it was clean. He also said the staff thought the decision was “clearly wrong.”
Rubio headed in a corner kick at very close range in the 93rd minute to tie the match.
Austin FC is somewhat limping into the playoffs with just one win in its past seven matches after dominating most of its opponents all season. However, the one win was against its playoff opponent, a 3-0 romp over RSL at Q2 Stadium.
“They compete and make life difficult for you,” Arnaud said about RSL. “We’re at our best when we make the game about us, and when we play at Q2 Stadium, that’s when we’ve had our best performances.”