Austin FC head into Saturday’s clash with Nashville SC with a slice of club history, and a place in the MLS Cup playoffs, already assured.

The Texan side defeated Real Salt Lake 3-0 on Wednesday to book their playoff place, meaning the pressure is off ahead of a visit from Nashville.

Saturday’s clash still promises to be an enticing encounter, with two MLS MVP candidates going head-to-head in the form of Austin’s Sebastian Driussi and Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar.

Driussi took a back seat on Wednesday, as Moussa Djitté’s hat-trick saw Austin claim the win. Diego Fagundez teed up two of those goals, and he believes Austin have what it takes to go all the way.

“I think even last year we had a really good team, and we were just unlucky. Everybody is showing everybody wants to be here,” he said.

“We’re working hard and we’re having fun. With this team and this organization, I think we can make it as far as we want.”

“Last year was last year. It was laying the foundation,” said head coach Josh Wolff. “It was difficult at times. But we had ideas and certainly hopes and dreams that it would continue to evolve and grow and it has. Tonight’s performance was literally a snapshot of what we’ve talked about all year.”

Mukhtar leads the race for the MLS’ Golden Boot with 22 goals. He also has 11 assists, while Driussi has seven assists and 20 goals.

Former Portland Timbers star and 2017 MLS MVP Diego Valeri, however, backed Driussi to win the award. “Without a doubt, I think he is the 2022 MVP. These last few matches will be important. Hany Mukhtar is another that has been at an MVP level, but Sebastian has been the best.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Austin FC – Moussa Djitte

Djitte became the sixth player in MLS history to score a hat-trick as a substitute and the first since Chris Wondolowski for San Jose against Chivas USA in October 2010, and will be aiming to carry on that form as the playoffs approach.

Nashville SC – Hany Mukhtar

Whoever shines brightest in the Driussi-Mukhtar tussle might well go on to become the MVP. Nashville’s playmaker has contributed to at least one goal in 13 of his last 14 MLS appearances (16 goals, six assists).

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Mukhtar’s 22 goal contributions since June 25 alone are more than all but five players have managed the entire season.

– Nashville has won both of its MLS matches against Austin, both at home, including a 3-0 victory on September 3.

– Nashville has lost its first two visits to Texas this year, losing 2-0 at both Dallas and Houston.

– Austin ended its three-match losing streak with a 3-0 win over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. It was Austin’s 12th game with at least three goals scored this season, most in MLS as only six teams in league history have had more such games in a single season.

– Nashville won its last away match, a 3-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps on August 27. Nashville has won six road games this year (D4 L5) after winning just eight times on its travels in its first two MLS regular season (D12 L9).