Austin FC II forged an identity as a defensively tough team to face early on in the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season, and carried that strength throughout the season to hang among the top teams in a stacked Western Conference.
Goalkeeper Damian Las emerged as one of the league's top players, claiming 12 regular-season clean sheets and four shootout wins.
Valentin Noël propelled Austin FC II into the Western Conference final last weekend, scoring on the end of a David Rodriguez cross to earn the playoff win in the 82nd minute. Austin FC II knocked off No. 2-seed Tacoma Defiance on the road.
Austin FC II also took to the road to start the playoffs, and will continue away from home with a Western Conference final clash against Colorado Rapids 2.
Sunday's Western Conference final pits Austin FC II, the league's top defensive side with only 23 goals allowed in the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season, against Colorado Rapids 2, whose formidable attack leads the league in scoring with 70 goals.
Las and center back Joe Hafferty were named to the MLS NEXT Pro Best XI following the regular season. Hafferty, a 25-year-old who has started all but two games this season, logged the second-highest number of minutes among outfield players this season.
While Austin FC II is known for its defensive strength, a group of talented players lead the attack. Sebastien Pineau leads the team with seven goals, while Austin FC II's scoring is well distributed with Noël scoring five goals, Rodriguez scoring five goals, and CJ Fodrey and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez providing four goals each.
In three regular-season meetings, Rapids 2 claimed a clear advantage. Austin FC II is seeking revenge after suffering two losses and a shootout loss in three meetings. Both outright results, however, were decided by only one goal.
Plenty of questions wait to be answered in Sunday's Western Conference final. Can Austin FC II take revenge on Rapids 2 after a winless record against them in the regular season? Which wins out, the league's top defensive team or offensive team? Most importantly, can road warriors Austin FC II make its first MLS NEXT Pro Cup in club history?
Austin FC II will take on Rapids 2 at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday from DICK's Sporting Goods Park.