Expansion club Austin FC drops inaugural match 2-0 to LAFC

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Corey Baird scored in the 61st minute, and Los Angeles FC sent expansion Austin FC to a 2-0 defeat Saturday in the inaugural match for Major League Soccer’s 27th team.

Jose Cifuentes added a goal into an open net in the 91st minute for LAFC, which improved to 4-0-0 in season openers in franchise history.

Austin FC put on a creditable performance against one of MLS’ top clubs, but the first major league sports franchise in Texas’ capital city officially joined North America’s top soccer league with a lively, narrow loss to one of the model franchises of the current MLS expansion boom.

LAFC played without top goal scorer Diego Rossi, and then lost former league MVP Carlos Vela to an early injury.

After a well-played first half, LAFC went ahead when Baird — a Southern California native acquired from Real Salt Lake in January — celebrated his debut by firing a low shot into the corner off a pass from Danny Musovski.

Pablo Sisniega made two outstanding saves on shots by Austin’s Jon Gallagher in the closing minutes, including a reflex stop in the 90th minute that eventually turned into a goal at the other end when Kwadwo Opoku took the ball from two Austin defenders and fed Cifuentes.

LAFC had about 4,900 fans in its 22,000-capacity stadium, including 600 fans in the raucous North End supporters’ section. Dozens of green Austin FC jerseys were scattered through the crowd — no surprise for a much-anticipated team that already had four supporters’ groups before its first match.

Austin FC began its life against a fellow expansion franchise that exemplifies much of what it will try to build.

Along with Atlanta United FC, LAFC stands as the exemplary ideal in MLS’ lucrative plan to add 10 teams — and their increasingly large expansion fees — in seven seasons from 2017-23. Backed by deep-pocketed owners in large metropolitan areas, Atlanta and LAFC have immediately built devoted local followings and enjoyed on-field success by attracting international talent.

LAFC has been MLS’ highest-scoring team since it joined the league in 2018, scoring 200 goals and putting 571 shots on goal. Atlanta won the 2018 MLS Cup championship in its second season, while LAFC claimed the 2019 Supporters’ Shield in its second year with the best regular season in MLS history.

Austin might not reach those heights, but the franchise has a solid foundation with rookie coach Josh Wolff, the former U.S. national team forward, and two South American designated players: Tomás Pochettino and Cecilio Dominguez.

While Austin finally has a team, Austin won’t see it soon: The team will begin its inaugural season with seven consecutive road games before Q2 Stadium is ready on June 19.

Austin’s growing, educated population and its lack of in-market competition made it a prime target for MLS. Austin FC owner Anthony Precourt attempted to move the Columbus Crew to Texas before being granted an expansion franchise.

LAFC faced Austin without 2020 Golden Boot winner Rossi, who has a minor left hamstring strain. Vela then was pulled after 20 minutes when he came up limping after sprinting for a pass and falling down.

Vela was visibly upset he had been removed from the game by coach Bob Bradley, who acknowledged in a halftime interview he probably jumped the gun while a trainer looked at his star striker. Vela missed nearly all of last season with injuries after winning the league MVP award in 2019.

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