Austin FC put together one of its most complete performances through the opening 70 minutes, last Sunday in Kansas City—that was until things completely unraveled after a couple of ill-advised fouls from Alex Ring resulted in him being sent off. ATX fans will feel last weekend’s 2-1 loss doesn’t reflect the efforts of a team that has really come into its own as of late, being molded by exciting, young head coach Josh Wolff.
On Saturday, Wolff’s men have a chance to earn a result that will earn ATXFC some real league-wide credibility, going up against one of MLS’ most famous and in form teams, LA Galaxy, in Los Angeles.
Galaxy is flying high after a 2-1 win in El Trafico, amid a resurgent season under new head coach, and former MLS Cup Winner with Toronto FC, Greg Vanney. Austin FC can derail the Southern Californians if they do these four things:
Stopping the prolific Mexico legend is easier said than done, but ATX will need to do so if they are to come out of LA with any sort of result. The Little Pea’s own resurgence has helped Galaxy get back to winning ways this season. He has been open about how 2020 was a low point for him mentally, and says that he has been feeling back to his best self recently.
His recent performances back that up, as he has been in, perhaps, the richest vein of form he has seen in MLS. Hernandez has been involved in seven of Galaxy’s eight goals this season, scoring a brace in Galaxy’s opening match in Miami, a hat trick against New York Red Bulls, and last weekend he scored one and set one up against LAFC.
Each goal Chicharito has scored this season has been due to his individual brilliance, or his renowned instincts as a poacher. That means Jhohan Romaña and Matt Besler will need to stay tight to him, and Stuver can’t really afford to spill any shots in or around his path.
Back four needs to step up, defend set pieces and stop relying on Stuver
Austin FC’s defense has been relying on Brad Stuver too much as of late. While Sunday’s loss featured some nice attacking play from Austin, they gave up far too many chances. Had Dániel Sallói, and SKC at large, been more clinical, they could have routed ATX.
Stuver made a couple of tremendous saves in that one, and SKC missed just as many clear cut chances. Despite the great saves Stuver has been making recently, there have been a couple tense moments lately caused by sloppy passes out from the back. Austin cannot afford to make those sorts of mistakes playing out from the back, or Chicharito will punish them.
Nick Lima, and Romaña to an extent, were quite poor in Kansas City. The two right sided defenders will need to step up big time in order deal with USMNT’s Sebastian Lletget, and to stop the service into MLS’ hottest forward Chicharito. Galaxy’s lefthand side of Jonathan Dos Santos, Jorge Villafaña, Lletget, as well as attacking midfielder Ethan Zubak who likes to drift out wide to the left, will cause Austin FC a lot of problems if Lima plays like he did in Kansas City.
While Hector Jimenez could fill in for Lima, it is unlikely that Wolff will resort to dropping him just yet.
Last point on the defense, they need to do better defending in the air, particularly on corners. That has been the achilles heal for this defense all year, and it shot them in the foot late into the game last Sunday. They gave up two glaring chances from set pieces, and SKC was able to finish off the later of those for its equalizer.
Exploit Galaxy’s weak link—its center backs
LA’s attack, thanks to Chicharito, has been going off this season. However, its defense has yet to keep a clean sheet, and has shipped eight goals in its opening four matches, including three against Seattle.
Thankfully for Josh Wolff and Central Texas, Austin FC’s attack has come along brilliantly as of late. Wolff seems to have found his best front three in DP Cecilio Dominguez, as well as Jon Gallagher and Jared Stroud, who have really impressed as of late. Now that they have found their feet scoring and providing in MLS, the three of them have the potential to do damage in LA.
Stroud has provided a tremendous assist in each of Austin’s last two games. His assist for Gallagher’s first ATXFC goal was world class.
Gallagher should stay in the team after he did a phenomenal job controlling Stroud’s cross and slotting the ball under Tim Melia. He provides tremendous energy and movement up top, which will stretch Galaxy’s two center backs.
Someone needs to fill Ring’s boots
Alex Ring’s suspension due to the red card against Kansas City will leave a literal, massive hole in the center of the park. Wolff really only has a couple of options as far as remedying the loss of his captain for this match.
The first option Wolff has is simply plugging in Dani Pereira into the No. 6 role, and leaving the rest of the midfield as is. The rookie has shown he has the ability to defend, however it is not yet clear if he can anchor a midfield that only consists of him and attack-minded midfielders Diego Fagundez and Tómas Pochettino, just yet.
The second option, and the option I personally am in favor of, is using Sebastian Berhalter in the holding role. Berhalter has not seen significant time on the field in the regular season, but I thought he looked very promising when he started against FC Dallas. In that match, he was calm on the ball and instrumental in starting the attack from the back.
Berhalter was immediately brought on after Ring saw red, so he might be who Wolff has in mind to replace his captain. If he is to slot in for Ring, I think Pereira should also be brought in alongside him. Having Fagundez and Pochettino in there would leave the 20 year old way too exposed.
Austin FC vs. Sporting KC at Dignity Health Sports Park, Saturday (5/15), 2:30 p.m. Televised nationally on Univision and Twitter online.
4-3-3; GK: Brad Stuver; LB: Žan Kolmanič, LCB: Matt Besler (C), RCB: Jhohan Romaña, RB: Nick Lima; CDM: Sebastian Berhalter, CM: Tomás Pochettino, CM: Dani Pereira; LW: Cecilio Dominguez, ST: Jon Gallagher, RW: Jared Stroud
OUT: Forward Aaron Schoenfeld (Left Knee), Midfielder UlisesSegura (Left Knee), Ben Sweat (ACL)