AUSTIN (ABC4 Sports) – It was a valiant effort, but Real Salt Lake’s season came to an end with a penalty kick shootout loss to Austin FC in the first round of the MLS Playoffs.
Sergio Cordova scored two goals in the first 15 minutes for RSL to stun the sold out crowd. But Austin FC got one back on a goal by Sebastian Druissi in the 31st minute to cut Real’s advantage to 2-1 at the half.
Rubio Rubin received his second yellow card in the 52nd minute after making contact with Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver, so RSL had to play the rest of the match with ten men.
The Real Salt Lake defense was up to the task until the game went into stoppage time. Scott Caldwell was called for a hand ball in the box, setting up Driussi’s dramatic penalty kick to level the match at two.
After two scoreless overtime periods, the game went to penalty kicks, and Stuver came up huge. He saved shots by Andrew Brody and Braian Ojeda, before Tate Schmitt skied his attempt over the crossbar to end the match.
Driussi, Diego Fagundez and Emiliano Rigoni converted their penalties in the shootout for Austin FC, which won its first playoff game in his two-year history.
“That’s how soccer is,” RSL head coach Pablo Mastroeni said. “The most important thing for me is how the team fought and battled for one another. They never stopped trying to get the result. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. We did everything we wanted to do. The moment we went down a man, it changed everything. We were two minutes from winning and that hurts, but the effort and how they fought for me is necessary to think about for the next season.”
Austin, the second seed in the West during the regular season, moves on to the conference semifinals to play the winner of Monday’s first-round match between third-seeded FC Dallas and sixth-seeded Minnesota United.
Seventh-seeded Real Salt Lake was dispatched from the playoffs in the first round for the first time since 2016.
“When you have the result, and you’re ahead 2-1, [Austin FC is] a team that likes to break down the corners and really penetrate, they’re a really good attacking team,” Mastroeni said. “Being two minutes away from securing the results to move on is the most painful, but again, the commitment, the resolve, the desire to really try to right a wrong that happened in the game, as teammates, I couldn’t be more proud. Everything that the guys did tonight really speaks to the character of this group, and it’s a really good building block as we continue to move forward.”
The visitors struck early, as Brody’s cross from outside the right side of the box was perfectly placed at the near post for Cordova, who leapt high to head the ball into the far-left corner of the net in the third minute.
Cordova added his second goal in the 15th minute from the spot after Austin’s Jhojan Valencia was whistled for a hand ball in the penalty area. It was the first time all season that a Real Salt Lake player scored more than one goal in a game.
Austin cut the lead in half in the 31st minute when Driussi split defenders and jumped to deflect Fagundez’s pass into the goalmouth beyond the reach of RSL goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
Rubin was given his second yellow card of the match and was sent off in the 52nd minute after a bad foul on Stuver in the box while chasing a long pass into the offensive end.
Driussi, who had 22 goals in the regular season, tied the match on the PK after RSL’s Scott Caldwell committed a hand ball in the box in added time.
RSL now looks to get stars Damir Kreilach, Bobby Wood and Aaron Herrera healthy as it builds towards next season.
“For me, our fans were a driving force in our ability to win games this season,” Mastroeni said about the 17 consecutive sellouts. “They’ve stuck by our side, they’ve come out in droves, and at times, we’ve underperformed at home and didn’t come away with a result, but the fans never wavered. For me, we’re in the process of building a fantastic group that will make them proud and will be a symbol of what they expect from this group moving forward.”