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What we’re watching for as FC Dallas takes on Austin FC

If FC Dallas can maintain composure throughout the match, they should be able to take down their in-state rivals.

MLS: Austin FC at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

After two draws in the regular season, FC Dallas and Austin FC will meet one final time in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Both teams are putting some final touches on their preparation for Sunday’s match that will see the winner advance to the Western Conference semifinals against either LAFC or the LA Galaxy.

As we look towards Sunday, here are a few key items I’ll be looking out for as FC Dallas looks to keep their unbeaten run against their newest in-state rivals alive.

Withstand the early wave, their press and the crowd

I think one thing we can expect to see early on in this one is the crowd in Austin being loud and giving their squad a bit of a boost in terms of early energy in this one. We know Austin and its fans want to take this rivalry to the next level by just being themselves (look, I love Austin, the city, but I am starting to get why people in Dallas don’t like the fans there).

Also, we’ll likely see this dude amp up the crowd in pregame:

But in all of that, FC Dallas has to mimic what Real Salt Lake did last weekend by taking the crowd out of it early. RSL found easy ways to get behind the Austin defense on the wings in the opening minutes, which caused a lot of havoc and ultimately led to their two goals in the first 15 minutes.

The quicker FC Dallas can silence the crowd, the better. Thankfully it has been done before.

“I think we are a good team when breaking down a press,” said FC Dallas head coach Nico Estevez in a media call on Thursday afternoon. “We have quickness, we have the quality to attack spaces, and that is how we hurt them. We hurt them in two ways, in transitions and breaking their press through the lines.”

Lock down Driussi

Austin will be a bit like Minnesota was with Emanuel Reynoso; they’re going to run everything and anything through their MVP candidate Sebastián Driussi. For a good reason, too, the guy was clinical at times in 2022, and he was one of the main reasons they were able to come from behind to beat RSL in the opening round last weekend.

Limiting Driussi doesn’t just mean limiting his time on the ball in and around the penalty area. It means limiting the service to him. Last weekend, we saw that RSL gave guys like Diego Fagundez was given too much space in the midfield; he had time to set up crosses into the penalty box that Druissi got on the end of.

Staying on top of the service into Druissi and even guys like Maxi Urriti, Moussa Djitté, or Emiliano Rigoni will go a long way in keeping the pressure off Maarten Paes.

Hold on and advance

Estevez mentioned to the media on Thursday that while their environment is impressive in Austin, they’re not worried about breaking them down as long as they hold their composure.

“We’ve played there a number of times in that environment,” said Estevez. “It is something that we know it’s not going to change, and I think it is going to help us. Maybe another team that is not used to that environment might get a little scared, but it is something that we already know. It will come down to if we can have the composure or calmness to execute.”

The two meetings with Austin should be a good barometer for how FC Dallas has to adapt and improve this year's final meeting. Both games saw FC Dallas grab leads early and lose them late.

That can’t be the course of action for this game on Sunday. Thankfully the final couple of months of this season showed that FC Dallas could gain a lead in a match and hold on to it, even with the other team providing constant pressure. A good example is the season finale against Sporting KC, a team that had nothing to play for but still provided a big playoff-type test.

Other notes:

Pomykal’s health: Estevez mentioned that the team is relatively healthy going into the Conference semifinals. Paxton Pomykal did have an MRI to evaluate his hamstring issue that pulled him out of Monday’s game early. Thankfully, that MRI didn’t show anything serious other than light inflammation. Pomykal had a light training session on Thursday and will rejoin the full team training on Friday.

Ferreira and Arriola’s health: Both have been training with the full team this week, so while both looked a bit banged up on Monday night, they’ll be fit to go on Sunday in Austin.

Lletget’s first crack at Austin: One interesting tidbit from Thursday’s media call was that midfielder Sebastian Lletget hasn’t played Austin this season since he was with New England for the first part of the regular season. He mentioned that he’s excited to play them and enjoys these rivalry-type games, thanks to his time in LA with the Galaxy going up against LAFC. His experience in those big matches could be a nice bonus for FC Dallas.