Austin’s first professional match in its club history did not disappoint.
Despite the team losing 2-0 to hosts LAFC, the MLS newcomers did not look out of place or lost on the field. Head Coach Josh Wolff started a familiar 4-3-3 lineup, one seen in Austin’s La Copita preseason matches.
Brad Stuver got the nod to play in goal behind the backline composed of Sweat-Besler-Romaña-Lima from left to right. The midfield three saw Alex Ring, and Tomas Pochettino alongside Austin’s first overall draft pick Daniel Pereira. Up top, international signings Cecilia Dominguez and Rodney Redes were seated on the wings while former Quake Danny Hoesen played up the middle.
LAFC were without their top goal scorer Diego Rossi. As for their best player Carlos Vela, he would start the game, but unexpectedly exited mid-way through the first half.
In the 20th minute, after overextending his leg, Vela would require medical attention on the sideline. A miscommunication about the situation with staff resulted in Bob Bradley pulling the star player. Vela was visibly disgruntled on the sideline after being taken off so soon. Later in the match, Bob Bradley publicly admitted that he may have “jumped the gun” with the substitution.
In the first half, Austin FC retained their fare share of possession and imposed their attack on LAFC. The fluidity in midfield contributed to this early success: Alex Ring and Daniel Pereira helped build out the back while Tomas Pochettino played a more advanced role. Tomas Pochettino was quick to show his playmaking skills. He tightly maneuvered through the midfield and played in combination with others.
At first glance, ATXFC looked as if they had been playing together for quite some time. They were not hesitant to advance the ball and were quick to break once they regained possession.
Entering the second half tied at nil, Austin tried to continue to play its style but did so with limited success. LAFC started to come on strong and pressed deep in Austin territory. As Austin’s passing options started to narrow down, it became apparent that their defenders lacked the composure to play out the back. For a long stretch of time the ball remained in the Verde’s final third allowing Los Angeles more opportunities to score.
In the 58th minute, Coach Josh Wolff tried to inject more energy into his team by bringing on Jared Stroud & Jon Gallagher in place of Rodney Redes & Danny Hoesen. Unfortunately, LAFC’s Corey Baird would break the deadlock two minutes later, hitting a one-timed strike right outside the box.
Later in the game, it became obvious that Tomas Pochettino’s quality of play had dropped off and at the 70th minute mark he was replaced by Diego Fagundez. Left back Ben Sweat was also taken off for Žan Kolmanič. Wolff would use all five substitutions, bringing on Kekuta Maneh for Cecilio Dominguez five minutes before extra time.
As for how the substitutions played: Komanič progressed the ball far better than Ben Sweat and Diego Fagundez matched the quality of Pochettino’s first half performance. Gallagher was also a clear and obvious upgrade over Danny Hoesen. He was more physical and played through the channels effectively.
Despite these efforts to improve the team, LAFC would seal the victory by scoring right before extra time. A Matt Besler failed clearance landed at the feet of Kwadkwo Opoko who connected with Jose Cifuentes for a tap-in goal.
Even with the loss on opening day, there is a lot to like about this Austin FC team. They appeared well-versed when attacking and matched the intensity of their opponent. Austin will need to get better at playing against the press, if they are able to do so, we can set high expectations on where this team can finish. Looking forward to next week’s match against Colorado, here’s hoping they can improve on that quickly.
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