Post-match interviews with Josh Wolff and Nick Lima: Sporting KC vs Austin FC

Austin FC – Sporting KC post match press conference

Despite a bright start and an early goal, Austin FC lost 2-1 to a resilient Sporting Kansas City side. The home side wrestled pressure back from the Verdes after an Alex Ring red card and scored in the first minutes of stoppage time toward the end of the game, finally breaking through after what felt like an eternity the last 10 minutes of play. 

Austin can hold their heads high after the loss, even if it can be pinned down to individual or managerial error. Head Coach Josh Wolff and right-back Nick Lima spoke on rebounding from a tough loss and the incoming uphill battle against LA Galaxy, a game they must endure without their captain and anchor. 

Head Coach Josh Wolff

On Alex Ring’s red card:

“I think the red card changes everything. Is it a red card? I’m still trying to figure out… The ref said it was a reckless challenge, and it wasn’t for accumulation. I have a tough time seeing that as a reckless challenge. So it was a foul and obviously, it was a second yellow, and it [became] red, it changed the whole dynamic of the game. I think there was a big result there for us, and I think our guys know that, I think people that watch the game would know that as well. But Alex is our leader, he’s our captain, and he’s a warrior, and he’s an intelligent player. So of course you can always say it after the fact, that those are easy questions to ask and play Monday morning quarterback, but that’s not happening when you’re in Kansas City playing in that place, and the chaos begins with the fans, and the refs and everything that it is. Our guys played their asses off. They did a great job. I’m really disappointed that they couldn’t come up with points because we deserved it.” 

Has the team worked on 10 men situations?

“[No] excuses. We haven’t worked on playing with 10 men. We’re in our infancy; we work a lot on our game model our structure and playing, and I think that was on display today and in a lot of positive ways. It’s tough to replicate playing with 10 because one, you don’t have the fatigue, you don’t have the intensity from fans, from the opponent – but we have enough experience on our team that we can manage and deal with it. For me, as a young coach, it’s looking at it and thinking, ‘Could we have stayed in a 4-4-1 and maybe hold on a little longer [in] that structure? Or was the 5-3-1 something that [could] have held off to the end?’ So that’s for me to evaluate and assess but again, it’s not something we’ve worked on yet. I’m sure going forward we will.”

Did the team see vulnerabilities in SKC’s defense after they score, as Austin almost scored after each goal conceded?

“No, I don’t think we saw that in any games right after they score, but it’s certainly a tendency after goals, there’s opportunities for more goals, whether it’s for the team that just got scored on or scored. So from our players’ standpoint, that’s just a focus to get back in the game. It’s 1-1, you still want to try to maintain the 1-1 or go for the lead. And then obviously, when it’s late, you’re down 2-1, you got to take some more risks to try to get the equalizer. But I wouldn’t say we saw anything on Kansas City that after they score that they’re susceptible.”

Why Jon Gallagher started over Danny Hoesen?

“I think we had some ideas of what we thought we could exploit [in] Kansas City. I think it was really clear that it was working exactly how we planned on it. We gave them a lot of problems. They’re a good team. First and foremost, they’re a really good team, and they also pose problems. I believe the way that we played and certainly the way that we maneuvered midfield, and broke lines and [utilized] our speed against their backline was exactly what we wanted to do… and the balance of playing behind their line and what that did to open up space between lines was why we had so much success prior to the red card. So Jon deserved the opportunity. He’s been playing well; he could have three or four goals already. So really excited for him to get on the board but again, it’s a collective effort. [We] had a game plan, we had ideas that we wanted, and again, I can’t say enough about the guys’ ability to come in and execute it in this place, against that team. We’ll be better for it in the end.”

On what he felt after the game:

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t come up with points. We deserve points. We put a really good presentation and representation of what we’re about. I’m not angry, [we] could have came away with points, and that’s disappointing. But our effort and again, our ability to do the things that we came in expecting to do, I thought was really good. And when you go down a guy, the guys rolled up their sleeves and competed in a really good way. It wasn’t meant to be, we couldn’t hold on. Disappointing on a set-piece, and then obviously a deflection goal to take the second one. So we’ll look at it, we’ll analyze some of the things and we’ll learn from it. This is a good team, it’s a difficult place to play, and we’ll have another crack at them later in the year. We’ll move on, but I was really proud of our guys and our performance, in all honesty.”

On how the team responded after the red card and whether it was hard to flip the switch from attack to defense:

“We have to see what Kansas City is. When you go down a guy, it’s just what structure do you want to be in? What are you comfortable with? What are your guys on the field able to execute? Even when they had when we had 11, guys, they have the ability to occupy areas on the field and obviously get the isolations out wide. So we had difficulty at times when we were in our low block or a mid-block with 11. So on that was my first concern is [being] able to control them with 10 guys. That was the idea of putting an extra one on the line so that we can get out to guys wider a little bit quicker, slow them down in the wide areas. We knew we were going to lose a lot of possession at that point but that’s part of the difficulty of being down a guy against a really good team. So we’ll look at it and assess it. There’s plenty to grow on, obviously, it would have been nice to get the second goal. I think there were plenty of opportunities to grab that second goal. We did a good job creating the things that we wanted and again, I think unlucky to not come out of here with a point, certainly with 11 guys I feel the points were there for us.”

On Tomas Pochettino’s performance:

“Yeah, I think Tomás is getting fitter, first of all, so now he’s able to carry the capacity and the workload. I thought offensively, he was good. What we wanted to do with Cecilio Domínguez and Tomás in pockets and having Diego Fagúndez and, and Alex ask questions in the build-up – we got exactly what we wanted to be. We could have executed a little bit better again, as we move into the final phase, but Tomás hit the bar, had a couple of other shots again, getting out of pressure and progressing the attacks from one side to the other, did a good job. There’s always going to be that balance around the edge of the box, how you complete attacks, but I think his fitness level is helping on both sides of the ball. I expect good things from him. I thought today was a solid performance for him. His ability to compete and take in the information that we’ve been giving over the last few months is only getting better, and it’s going to continue. These guys poured their heart and soul in today. We’re proud of them and certainly, our organization fans should be proud, they did a hell of a job.”

Will the formation change against LA Galaxy? Who steps in for Ring?

“Yeah, we’ll look at it, obviously. We’ll look and start assessing our personnel but also thinking about what LA Galaxy’s strengths are. Obviously, they’re in good form. They’ve got a striker that’s hitting on all cylinders, but just a very good collective team at the moment, and you can see that in the way they play. Greg’s [Vanney] a heck of a coach. We’ll have to look at that and assess what we think will give us the best chance. I don’t expect us to change structures too much, but we’ll talk about some of our specifics pretty quickly because the game will come quickly.”

What the conversation with the team after the game was like? How does the team return to winning?

“I think it’s a lot of the same. I think, again, for 60 minutes today, I think we were the better team. And I think that showed we go on the road, and we play the way we play. We’re going to try to push the tempo, and Kansas City had their moments. So I don’t think that’s changing. We’re a young team, but I want these guys to have the mentality, the understanding that we can go anywhere and play and compete, and play the way that we are trained to do. Defensively, you’re going to be tested in different ways from Kansas City or LA Galaxy. We’ll have to continue to get better on that side of the ball as well. But as you said, these guys will dust themselves off. I talked to them after the game. Be very proud about what they put into the game, and know that this is exactly what its gonna look like every week. And if we do that week in and week out and keep making the progress that we’re making, we’ll be in a good spot. This is a minor setback in the aspect that we lost the game, one that we were winning, and there’s disappointment. These guys will be disappointed. That’s okay to be disappointed because they put a lot into it and deserve more.”

Has the backline been more lucky than good these last few games?

“I don’t think lucky. I mean, we also challenged and could have had goals at the other end. So you’re playing against a good opponent on the road, and obviously, it’s tough to keep the opponent from creating any chances. But we have a good goalie, we have a solid backline. We just got to keep working getting better, and I think those are things that we’ll focus on going forward.”

Nick Lima

Did the team feel Kansas City switch their attacking priority from the left to right wing in the second half?

“I felt they found a good amount of success there. They had a couple of opportunities in the beginning. They’re a good team, and I think they realized that we were pressing high with our wingers. So they dropped behind, found the zone and at times, we found ourselves in kind of a three versus one on the short end of the stick there. For me to release, you know, there’s a lot of space then left behind and it kind of was left on an island for a bit, so we had to solve that. It wasn’t the same in the second half, but they still found success and another way. I mean, credit to them for that. [We] kind of shot ourselves there, and then we weren’t able to adapt fast enough. Luckily they didn’t have a goal in the first half off of one of their opportunities.”

On playing with 10 men and a possible lack of experience in that situation:

“I don’t think you’re ever gonna over-practice 10 men. It’s a position you don’t want to put yourself in. So once it happened, we kind of collectively said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’ We have to fight defensively, and if we get an opportunity, we have to exploit it. They’re a good team, and they got fortunate. They got fortunate we got 10 men. That doesn’t happen, I think we go out and win. We held them for a while, but credit to the team, we fought hard. We lost as a team, we win as a team, but it was a[n] unfortunate event. We almost had them, but they’re a good team and they took advantage of the opportunity.”

What role do the experienced players step up when games start to snowball, and how do they bounce back for the next road game without their captain?

“I think we take the things that we did good from this game and things we did well in the first three and we snowball it optimistically. We are a good team. I’ll say it again, I think Kansas City got fortunate in that we had 10 men, got the second yellow. I feel that we could have won. We had opportunities. We have a couple of things that we’ll go back to the drawing board and fix as far as you know, defensively, and maybe why they scored what we could have done differently, but it’s a work in progress. We’re still four games into the season, and everyone’s more and more excited each game. So I think with that, yeah, to your point, the guys who have played more games in the league, we know it’s hard to win on the road. We’ve proved that we can win games on the road and compete. We’re gonna play a game on the road regardless. We’re gonna come in and implement the system, and regardless of who the opponent is, we’re gonna do it.”

Is the extended run of road games bringing the team together?

“It’s all we know right now. To have the success we’ve had on the road and to be, like you said, with each other so frequently on the road, traveling each weekend, going on a plane, spending time together in hotels, and competing in different environments – and Kansas City, today is one with a crowd, it was the biggest ground we’ve been in so far – it’s fun. We build together. We build confidence. I think like I just said, we go in on the road, and we play our system like we showed we can do today for the first 65 minutes before we went 10 men, then we keep building off of that. As soon as we come home or just step on the field next game, we continue to build that camaraderie and just confidence in our style. Josh always references that we compete first and then we play our system, and we’re showing that consistently. So it’s a good thing to see in the group.”

Did frustration play a role in the foul/decision for the red card?

“I didn’t really see the foul when it exactly happened. It’s unfortunate that it got called. They cause problems in the midfield, especially in the first half. I think when [Andreu] Fontàs came in he was spraying balls. And yeah, Ilie Sánchez, he’s a good player. You can’t always contain these guys. But we’re gonna compete, we’re always gonna compete. Alex is the tip of the spear there, and he’s always going to compete, even on a second yellow, and we’re all gonna follow that. We’re gonna do that for 90 plus minutes. It’s just unfortunate what happened there.”

How does he feel the defense has gelled so far? Will Alex Ring’s absence impact that?

“It’s a work in progress Our defense is continuing to improve set-piecewise, defensively, when we’re in a low block, mid-block; we’re continually going over that. That’s one of the things that we’re training on every single day. Continuing to communicate, there’s obviously a language barrier between some of the guys but to have a guy like [Matt] Besler on the backline with so much experience and quality, it helps a lot to have him leading us. We have a player who played abroad. Žan [Kolmanič] and then Jhohan Romaña, who obviously you can see is physically bigger and stronger than most guys in this league. It’s a good backline, it’s been solid and then Alex leading there in front of us as a six. I’m confident in us and we’re all continuing to keep pushing forward. We had our first shutout last weekend. That’s positive, that felt good. and Brad Stuver obviously has been a wall back there. It’s good to see, game by game. Regardless of the result. It’s continuing to improve.”

Want to read more about the Sporting KC match? Check out our takeaways from the game.

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