AUSTIN (KXAN) — While captain and star midfielder Sebastian Driussi is out with an injury, Austin FC is playing well and is back above the playoff line after a 1-0 win Saturday over Toronto FC at Q2 Stadium.
Gyasi Zardes scored his second goal of the season in the first minute of second-half stoppage time to steal victory from the jaws of a scoreless draw. It’s the second consecutive win for Verde and Black after ending a winless streak of eight matches with a 2-1 victory over Seattle. Austin FC is now 2-1-2 in its past five matches across both MLS and U.S. Open Cup play in May alone, and they still have three more matches this month.
Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff said the team is trying to find its identity, and Saturday night’s win went a long way in that quest.
“This has been coming,” Wolff said. “They are growing and discovering who this 2023 version is. It’s next-man-up, real character and grittiness … knowing it’s going to be challenging in any season, but the ability to keep grinding and pushing and knowing there’s something better on the other side.”
Zardes, a 10-year MLS veteran who signed with Austin FC as a free agent in the offseason for $800,000, picked up his second game-winning goal in as many games. He was positioned just outside the 6-yard box when Adam Lundkvist swung a cross in from the left side. After a Toronto defender headed straight in the air and goalkeeper Sean Johnson decided not to make an attempt to leap and grab it, Nick Lima stuck his head on the ball and it rattled the crossbar. Zardes then coolly headed the rebound into the top left corner of the goal, far away from Johnson who was on the ground after jumping to save Lima’s shot.
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“It’s simple — we’ve just got to get him service,” Wolff said. “His greatest quality is his mentality. It takes a lot to take the abuse and criticism that the media and fans give him. He comes to work every day, packs his lunch, and him and Will (Bruin) are putting in extra work. He keeps pushing and grinding, and his quality in front of goal has always been clear.”
The goal was Zardes’ 99th of his MLS career during the regular season. Counting the playoffs, Zardes has put 104 in the net in his career.
Wolff said some of the team is “a bit leggy,” from all the matches recently, and with another U.S. Open Cup match coming Wednesday, Austin FC’s depth will again be tested. Austin takes on the Chicago Fire at 8 p.m. at Q2 Stadium in the Round of 16. Another win will put them in the quarterfinals June 6-7 against either Houston or Minnesota.
Austin (4-5-4, 16 points) is in ninth place in the Western Conference.