Austin FC has defied odds, predictions all season on its way to conference finals

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Using algorithms, math, and previous results, the website FiveThirtyEight gave Austin FC a 31% to make the playoffs at the beginning of the season, the sixth-lowest chance of any team in MLS. The predictions went even further to say Austin FC would have a minus-9 goal differential, earn 41 points during the season and have a 3% chance of finishing second in the conference.

Needless to say, the computers were wrong about Verde.

Austin FC is on the cusp of advancing to the MLS Cup Final in just its second year in the league, but first, Verde has to deal with the best team in the conference from start to finish this season, LAFC. Is it a big ask out of Austin FC to take down the giant in the West, even though they’ve done it twice before during the regular season?

“It should be Austin FC vs. LAFC in the conference finals,” Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff said. “They were the two best teams in the West all year, the consistency was there, and we’ll go to LAFC and do everything we can to put ourselves in a position to win a trophy.”

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An old adage in sports is that it’s difficult to beat the same team three times, and while history has done its part to support it, the teams are different than when they faced each other in the regular season. Austin outscored LAFC 6-2 in both regular season matches, 2-1 May 18 at Banc of California Stadium — the site of Sunday’s playoff match — and a resounding 4-1 victory August 28 at Q2 Stadium.

Since then, both teams didn’t exactly end the regular season with a flourish. LAFC was better than Austin, going 3-3-1 with victories over Real Salt Lake, Houston and Portland. Austin picked up just one victory over Real Salt Lake, thanks to a Moussa Djitte hat trick, over its final seven regular season matches at 1-4-2. LAFC is coming off an emotional 3-2 rivalry win over the LA Galaxy after getting a bye in the first round, while Austin has momentum after a penalty shootout win over Real Salt Lake and a 2-1 triumph over FC Dallas.

On paper, Austin FC is the underdog. That much is clear as they have the highest odds, +700, to make it to the MLS Cup Final. That means a $100 bet on Verde would net you some nice verde, $700, if they pull off the win. The bookmakers at BetMGM love LAFC’s chances to win after they lifted the Supporters’ Shield this year, giving them +100 on the money line.

After adjusting their math with all the regular season and postseason results, FiveThirtyEight now thinks Austin FC has a 24% chance to beat LAFC and advance to the MLS Cup, and then an 8% chance to win the title. That’s the worst odds of the four teams left, but Wolff doesn’t mind what other folks think.

“I think it’s merited given who is left,” Wolff said with a huge smile. “Understandable, don’t agree with it, but understandable. Not many people gave us a chance the first time against LAFC or the second time … we run with that and are confident with who we are.”