AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin FC is set to play its first-ever CONCACAF Champions League game Tuesday against Haitian side Violette AC, and while the franchise is brand new to the tournament, some of the players and coaches have experienced the spectacle.
Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff played in the tournament with the Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City (then the Kansas City Wizards), and while those days were long ago, Wolff said the talent level and competitiveness that Major League Soccer teams bring to the tournament has come a long way.
“The competition and the league have grown tremendously,” Wolff said. “It’s a grind and a dogfight wherever we go and you can’t take anything for granted.”
Having played games in Guatemala and Costa Rica, Wolff said there was “plenty of antics going on in the locker rooms,” during his playing days.
“Nothing was very private,” he said. “You had fans in your space, you had things thrown at you, things said to you … but that’s part of the gamesmanship inside our region. You come to deal with it and you learn to deal with it. It’s what makes this game challenging. You have to roll your sleeves up and be prepared.”
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When the teams take the field at 5 p.m. CT Tuesday on FS1, it won’t be at Violette’s actual home stadium in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but rather across Hispaniola in the Dominican Republic at Estadio Cibao in Santiago. However, that still doesn’t mean the local fans won’t show up and try to make life difficult for the American side.
Another thing Austin FC will have to adapt to is the playing surface at Estadio Cibao is artificial turf, and while some MLS teams play on that, it’s certainly not ideal.
The club’s first two games in the Champions League, both against Violette AC in a 2-leg first round, are shoved in the middle of a 4-game MLS schedule in March, so the balancing act Wolff has in front of him to play to win every match but still keep everyone healthy is just another thing on the list to navigate.
Even so, Wolff said this is an opportunity for the club to grow.
“We’re proud of getting into the Champions League and we’re ready to grow with the experience,” Wolff said. “We need that in our young existence.”
The teams will play the second leg of the opening round March 14 at Q2 Stadium.