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10-man Real Salt Lake pushes Austin FC to the limit in dramatic penalty shootout

Austin FC has advanced to the Western Conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs after overcoming the realest of Real Salt Lake challenges: Pablo Mastroeni's team — a massive underdog away from home at Q2 Stadium — played down a man for 68 minutes, faced 38 shots and still managed to get it to a penalty shootout.    

After a regular season average of just 1.38 points per game (12W, 11L, 11D), RSL entered the 14-team playoff field widely regarded as the worst. All six ESPN FC writers predicted a first round defeat to Austin on Sunday, and FiveThirtyEight's model gave them a less than one percent chance of lifting the Cup. 

That's just the way Mastroeni likes it.

In front of a sell-out crowd in Austin, it took Sergio Córdova all of three minutes to give the visitors a shock lead.

The 25-year-old Venezuelan — on loan from the Bundesliga's Augsburg — wasn't the most prolific forward in the regular season with nine goals in 33 games, but he got his second of the day in the 15th minute from the spot after the VAR punished Austin for a handball.

Things had quickly gone to hell for an Austin side that finished fourth overall in the Supporters' Shield race, and we'd hardly even heard the name of MVP hopeful Sebastián Driussi.  

That changed in the 31st minute when Driussi darted into the area to get on the end of a Diego Fagúndez cross to make it 2-1.

RSL kept that 2-1 advantage going into halftime, but just eight minutes after the restart, the visitors went down to 10 men after Rubio Rubín was shown a second yellow for sliding in late on Austin keeper Brad Stuver when the ball wasn't there to be won.

From there Austin went about building its xG with attempt after attempt, but there was no overcoming Salt Lake's xDAWG. Los Verdes parked inside RSL's area, including a couple good opportunities for Emiliano Rigoni, but the quality wasn't there.

We entered six minutes of second-half stoppage time, and with just a couple remaining, Austin was delivered a lifeline: a ball into RSL's area led to an attempted volley, but midfielder Scott Caldwell blocked the effort with his arm.

Austin was awarded a late, late penalty and Driussi made no mistake with a clutch finish to knot it at 2-2 for extra time.

The assignment in the 30-minute overtime period was clear for both teams. Real Salt Lake's only option was to hang on for penalties; Austin had to breakthrough a tiring defense facing a total of 67 minutes down a player. 

RSL stood firm in the first 15 minutes. At 109', Driussi struck the inside of the post with a header off a corner. At 111', RSL's Andrew Brody led a counter the other way before poking narrowly wide. At 114', Driussi had the ball in the back of the net, but an Austin attacker was offside on the initial ball played into the area. Q2 Stadium was riding an emotional rollercoaster. The shootout arrived. 

RSL center back Marcelo Silva got fortunate and put his effort under the dive of Stuver. Driussi responded. Brody was denied. Fagúndez put Austin ahead. Stuver tipped Braian Ojeda's effort onto the crossbar and out. Rigoni made it 3-1. Tate Schmitt launched one into the stands.

Austin advances to the conference semifinals on Oct. 23 and hosts the winner of Monday's first round match between FC Dallas and Minnesota United.

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