The arrival of Austin FC has always seemed so out of reach, so far in the distant future, that the mere prospect of the club’s existence seemed too good to be true. This weekend, Austinities, and American soccer fans at large, will be pinching themselves as 11 men in black and verde will actually take the field for a regular season MLS match.
On Saturday, LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium will play host to one of the most anticipated MLS expansion team debuts since perhaps LAFC’s own back in 2018.
While Austin FC’s preseason matches provided glimpses of how the team will look, ultimately we won’t see the full picture until Saturday when the team plays its first competitive match.
La Copita matches against MLS opposition in Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas provided a decent litmus test for head coach Josh Wolff’s newly formed bunch, but those games were just dress rehearsals.
Wolff was still getting a feel for what his best XI will look like, and that was most apparent against FC Dallas when he started a team composed of likely second-stringers.
Taking into consideration the two preseason matches against actual MLS opponents, Austin FC has work to do at the back. They conceded 3 goals to both Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas, and of those, all but one or two were avoidable.
Firstly, Wolff encourages his goalkeeper, defenders and defensive midfielder to maintain possession, and play out from the back, but a few times this led to costly giveaways. One of those giveaways led to Houston’s second goal.
Another defensive weakness for Austin is pace. Julio Cascante really struggled in both matches in this regard. He was beat for pace on two instances that directly led to Dallas’ first and Houston’s third.
Finally, Wolff’s team will need to improve its ability to deal with set pieces, particularly corners, which they struggled to defend against Dallas.
With that said, it appears Wolff’s best back four is the one that started against Houston. Cascante and Freddie Kleeman are decent options off the bench, but Jhohan Romaña and the experienced Matt Besler will need to start, in order to cope with LAFC’s dangerous attack.
In midfield, things look much better. Alex Ring is a commanding veteran presence, and will be the club’s first ever captain on Saturday. Diego Fagundez, Tomás Pochettino, Sebastian Berhalter, Dani Perreira, and even young Owen Wolff, are all solid options as well.
Perhaps this team’s deepest position is its wealth of wingers and attacking midfielders. Cecilio Dominguez will likely get the start and either Rodney Redes, Kekutah Manneh, Jared Stroud or the versatile Pochettino could get the nod on the opposite flank, all of which are great options who possess pace and trickery.
Danny Hoesen should lead the line for Austin, while neither him nor Jon Gallagher has grabbed the starting Striker role by the scruff of the neck.
No matter what the midfield or attack will look like, Austin FC did a good job possessing the ball and scoring goals in the preseason, getting a bunch of different players involved in the build up.
For LAFC, Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi are the clear danger men up top. They’re not quite as pacey as FC Dallas’ attack, but their goal scoring record in MLS will have this newly formed defense very worried.
At the end of the day, Austin FC will not be the favorites in most matches they play this season. However, they will have the chance to make a big statement on Saturday in California, if they were to beat one of MLS’ marquee clubs in just their first match.
Austin FC vs. Los Angeles FC at Banc of California Stadium, Saturday 4/17, 5 p.m. (CT). Televised nationally on FOX.
OUT: Forward Aaron Schoenfeld (Left Knee); Midfielder Ulises Segura (Left Knee)
Andrew Tarbell, Ben Sweat, Matt Besler, Jhohan Romaña, Nick Lima; Alex Ring (C), Diego Fagundez, Tomás Pochettino; Cecilio Dominguez, Danny Hoesen, Rodney Redes