AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Bold FC’s 1-0 win over San Antonio FC on Saturday night was full of the firsts that Bold coach Marcelo Serrano said, with laughter in his postmatch interview, come with being a first-year franchise. It was, most notably, the first win for the new USL Championship team, the first home goal — courtesy of Kleber slotting home a 78th-minute goal on a corner kick — and the first home match in newly-erected Bold Stadium on the Circuit of the Americas grounds.
But it wasn’t the first clean sheet the team recorded; just three games into their young season, they’ve held opponents scoreless twice. Even with Serrano advocating possession and getting into the final third, the Bold are proving to be able defenders. On Saturday, the Bold’s defensive stand at the end of the match was arguably the most engaging segment of the match. San Antonio, determined to get a result, pushed the tempo and forced multiple chances the Bold repelled. Deep into stoppage time, the match came down to Restrepo v. Restrepo, when SAFC midfielder Walter Restrepo fired in a dangerous potential equalizer and Bold keeper Diego Restrepo leapt and tipped it over the bar to safety.
“Diego did a great job,” said Amobi Okugo, who was instrumental to the shutout in his centerback play. “He has a lot of experience, and for him to keep the shutout two out of three, that’s what we wanted to focus on.”
He credits some of the success to his partnership with Jermaine Taylor. The two were Portland Timbers teammates in 2016 and, as Okugo notes, “It’s all about communication. One goes, one covers, and we just test our old legs.”
Diego Restrepo earned USL Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2017, when he played for SAFC, and despite the mixed emotions that come with facing former teammates, he felt his new team did a good job showcasing its emerging style of play.
“Our identity is we’re strong at the back,” Restrepo said. “The guys right in front of me are tough guys, and the guys in the lines in front of them are getting their legs together, which comes from not having played the last couple of months. I think as time goes by, we’ll get better.”
Conditioning is a prime area of concern for Serrano, but he echoes Restrepo in his belief that fitness will come along as the season progresses.
“I believe the fitness is not there yet,” Serrano said. “Every game, we are getting better fitness; today was one more.
“With Reno,” he noted, referring to the 2-1 loss to Reno 1868 in their March 16 away match, “we suffered big time, but today, for the first time, we felt a little more ready physically. The back four was awesome, the midfield was awesome, and Restrepo was there when we needed him.”
While the Bold were outpossessed 54.6% to 45.4% and outshot 15-8, they bested the visitors in key defensive categories: 30 tackles to SAFC’s 14 and 25 clearances to SAFC’s 19. Serrano emphasized that even though the team may appear more defense-oriented for now, his mindset is still geared toward offense.
“We’re not going to be the team that backs up against the goal and waits for the counterattack,” Serrano declared. “We tried to play the game today and make it exciting.”