Austin FC will face Nashville SC at Q2 Stadium on Saturday

In the toughest year of his life, Austin FC forward Moussa Djitté turned in his best professional performance.

Djitté’s hat-trick on Wednesday in the team’s 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake was not only the first time he accomplished the feat in a career that has gone from his native Senegal to the Switzerland to France and now to Austin FC, but it was also the first once in club history.

He did it in impressive fashion, scoring all three goals in 20 minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute, becoming only the sixth sub – and the first since 2010 – to record a hat-trick in MLS history.

While that doesn’t make up for the pain he’s endured this year – Djitté has lost a grandmother and a brother and hasn’t yet been able to see his newborn son – the soon-to-be 23-year-old was able to smile shortly after a performance that earned him MLS Player of the Week honors.

One-on-one with Austin FC’s Josh Wolff:Paddleboarding, Zoom recruiting and sophomore success

“I’m happy to do this for the club, but it’s not about me, it’s about the team,” he said. “Anything I can do to help the team is the main objective.”

Djitté said the three goals were dedicated to the two parents he lost and the child he gained, and that although it has been difficult to be abroad and away from his family, he appreciates what his teammates and the club have done.

“It was difficult, but the team supported me throughout everything,” he said. “The players call me all the time and the club has never let me down. There are only good people here, and I feel like it’s a family.

Austin FC coach Josh Wolff noted that Djitté had done a good job in the face of a difficult situation – a more difficult situation because he is one of only two French speakers on the team – and that since he joined the club at the end of last summer, he is a great addition personally and professionally.

“Moussa is an amazing person,” Wolff said. “He’s taken care of much bigger things than football, and he’s hung in there. … On the pitch, he’s got a physique that not many people can handle. It’s noticeably different, and at the moment training, he does (what you saw on Wednesday) all the time. He is very difficult to defend and manage, and he showed why we had such an interest in him.

Pictures:Austin FC beats Real Salt Lake with first-ever hat trick

A win over Nashville could secure the second seed in the playoffs

Saturday night’s home game against Nashville SC will be the club’s last before the international break, and although some MLS teams have matches over the next two weeks, Austin FC will not return to the field until the end of the international break. October 1 in Vancouver.

The team enters the game in second place in the Western Conference with 54 points, five ahead of FC Dallas and eight ahead of Nashville.

Austin FC goaltender Brad Stuver, left, and forward Moussa Djitté celebrate the team's first appearance in the playoffs after Wednesday's win over Real Salt Lake.

A draw would earn El Tree a playoff berth on home soil, but if we’re practical, it’s hard to see how Austin FC wouldn’t host a postseason game.

If Austin FC loses and Minnesota and Portland win, all three clubs finish with 54 points and are tied for fourth place, El Tree would own the tiebreaker on goal differential.

However, a win on Saturday night and a loss or draw for FC Dallas in San Jose would secure Austin FC second place in the West and potentially two playoff games at home.

After:New midfielder Emiliano Rigoni set to join Austin FC

“Finishing as high in the standings as possible and playing as many games as possible in front of our fans is important,” Wolff said. “We can beat anyone in this league, and we’re pretty comfortable here at home pushing the intensity and the game. The energy in the stadium is evident and the players are feeding off of it.

Austin FC’s final regular season game is Oct. 9 at home against Colorado.

Saturday game

Austin FC vs. Nashville SC, 8 p.m., Q2 Stadium, KNVA, 97.5