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Storylines: A New Season Brings New Hope


Storylines is feeling downright giddy this week. The offseason felt impossibly long, and there was nothing to talk about. Super Bowl? Bah. World news? Well, it’s good to keep tabs on that, but it’s not always the mood booster we’re looking for. Alas, Major League Soccer, the best conversation starter of all time, is finally back, and so are your Loons!

In this opening week, the Black and Blue are taking on the Verde and Black, deep in the heart of Texas. It’s a showdown between two franchises still reeling from disappointing steps back in their 2023 campaigns, and while the visitors have opted to try something new, the hosts are hoping to rediscover the magic they found in 2022.

Since joining the league in 2021, Austin has been on one heck of a rollercoaster ride. A twelfth-place finish in their inaugural season didn’t surprise anyone; expansion teams often struggle to find their feet, much like MNUFC in 2017. However, it was the 2022 season that shocked the league.

A 22-goal campaign from Sebastian Driussi powered El Tree to a second-place finish in the Western Conference, fourth in the Supporters’ Shield race, and a trip to the Conference Final against LAFC. Los Verdes took the nation by storm, scoring at will and turning Q2 Stadium into an absolute fortress. With the core of that impressive team returning for 2023, they seemed on track to make noise in the West for years to come.

But, much like their shirt sponsor spent 2023 being overshadowed by every Millennial mom’s favorite tumbler brand, Stanley, Austin fell behind the best of the West and ended up right back where they started.

2023 saw the capital city side dip back into twelfth place; Driussi’s goal haul was cut in half; and their goal differential went from +16 to -6. They’ve not added any significant signings this offseason, clearly banking on the hope that 2022 was more than a fluke. Two out of three ain’t normally too bad, but in Austin’s case, it’s been pretty terrible 66.6% of the time.

For the Loons, the story is a bit different. 2023 was undoubtedly a down year, as it saw the ending of the playoff streak and a general lack of killer instinct in the attacking third when it mattered most. However, a revamped sporting department and a slew of reinforcements in the locker room have changed the identity of the club in significant ways, ushering in a new era that will be defined during the 2024 season.

While the initial starting lineup will have many familiar faces, it’s the bench and reserves that will be new to fans this season. Between their improved depth and the hiring of Khaled El-Ahmad, the Loons have redefined their playing style, with plans to bring more energy and intensity to their pressing strategy.

Contrary to what many of the league’s analysts seem to think, MNUFC did anything but stand still this offseason. While their moves may not have grabbed the headlines the same way that signing retired Barcelona players did, they were nonetheless substantial changes. 2024 won’t be about reviving the past; it will be about showing fans they have good reason to hope.

Come Saturday, both sides will enter the match with new brands of hope—for vastly different causes. For Austin, a win could be the result that brings their core together for a return to form. For Minnesota, it could be the start of their own something special. Taking three points is the quickest way to feel a sense of validation, and though it isn’t the end of the world to miss out on that boost in game one, it certainly helps to rally the troops sooner rather than later.


Austin FC vs. Minnesota United FC

Q2 Stadium | Austin, Texas

02.24.2024 | MLS Game #1

7:30 p.m. CT (Watch on MLS Season Pass)