Before the season, three wins out of an opening eight road matches would have sounded like a decent proposition for an expansion team — under a first time head coach — trying to find its feet in MLS. Austin FC already has the opportunity to do that in Kansas City on Sunday, just four matches into the season.
In order to pick up their third win in a row, here are four things Austin FC needs to do in Kansas City:
Keep creating chances from wide positions
Wingers Cecilio Dominguez and Jared Stroud weren’t just the standout players in Austin’s front three last weekend, they were probably the best players on the pitch. The past two matches, this attack has finally hit the ground running thanks to Dominguez’s quality. Having attacking left back Žan Kolmanič overlapping Dominguez has given Austin some flair and trickery down that left hand side, as well.
Over those two matches, Stroud has taken his opportunities in the starting XI by the scruff of the neck, taking this attack to the next level. His cross for Diego Fagundez’s goal in Minnesota was inch perfect. Also, the two of them can afford to go full pelt from kickoff, because Josh Wolff has plenty of widemen at his disposal to bring on late in games and provide a spark, like Rodney Redes.
With Danny Hoesen struggling out of the gate this season, it is crucial for Dominguez and Stroud to provide as many chances for the dutchmen as possible. Also, the two wingers have been finding late runners from midfield brilliantly this season, as was the case for Fagundez’s goal in Minnesota.
Danny Hoesen needs to get off the mark, or Jon Gallagher needs to step in
I think I have said some variation of this in all of my previews, but Hoesen has not given me a reason to stop saying it. He had a great opportunity at the end of the first half in Minnesota from another beautiful cross from Stroud, but he didn’t even hit the target. Since the LAFC match I have been saying Jon Gallagher should get the start up front, and it’s not even like he has set the world alight. He just hits the target when given the opportunity and has at least looked close to scoring a goal this season, on a few occasions actually.
Hoesen doesn’t even offer that match in terms of linking up the attack and creating chances for himself. His holdup play has probably been the attribute that has kept in the team, but Gallagher actually runs at the defense and makes things happen. Overall, the “Hoesen should still start” camp has been shrinking with each poor performance the past few weekends, and Wolff will have a big call to make on Sunday.
Tómas Pochettino and Diego Fagundez must be goal threats from midfield
With Pochettino back in the lineup — and back at his best — Austin FC has a very strong midfield. Fagundez has been on fire the past two games, despite Pochettino missing the Colorado match and not being at his best when he returned to action in Minnesota. If both of them can get firing at the same time, ahead of captain Alex Ring, Austin FC’s midfield should boss Sporting Kansas City.
With Ring mopping things up in the hole, Pochettino and Fagundez have had the license to go forward, making late runs into the box and getting on the end of crosses. Also, the two of them, especially Pochettino, are adept at creating chances and finding that killer pass. Look for either of them to pick up an assist against Kansas City, or to get on the scoresheet themselves.
Stop Kansas City’s wingers
Kansas City has the luxury of starting either Johhny Russell, Daniel Salloi or Austin Aztex product, Khiry Shelton, on the wings. All have a good amount of goals in MLS, but only Salloi has gotten off the mark for Kansas City this season. Salloi and Shelton are most likely to start, and while it feels like the two of them have been in MLS forever, they are really only coming into the prime of their careers.
While Kolmanič is an exciting player to watch at left back, the jury is still out on wether he can defend. He held his own in Minnesota, and will have to do the same to keep Shelton quiet and help Brad Stuver keep another clean sheet.
Austin FC vs. Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park, Sunday (5/9), 6:30 p.m. Televised nationally on FS1 and Fox Deportes.
4-3-3; GK: Brad Stuver; LB: Žan Kolmanič, LCB: Matt Besler, RCB: Jhohan Romaña, RB: Nick Lima; CDM: Alex Ring (C), CM: Tomás Pochettino, CM: Diego Fagundez; LW: Cecilio Dominguez, ST: Jon Gallagher, RW: Jared Stroud
OUT: Forward Aaron Schoenfeld (Left Knee), Midfielder UlisesSegura (Left Knee), Ben Sweat (ACL)