Brad Stuver: Wash, Rinse and Repeat
One of the biggest takeaways from the early goings of Austin FC’s inaugural season is that they have found their No. 1 man between the posts — perhaps even in record fashion for MLS Expansion sides.
Stuver has been one of the most consistent keepers in MLS, especially when you consider the often underwhelming performances of his defensive line in front of him. In last week’s 2-1 loss against Kansas City, Stuver was Capital City Soccer’s Man of the Match, keeping the game close after captain Alex Ring was sent off.
This week was no different, decked out in his pristine blue keepers kit (which we’d better see on sale in the Verde Store — and I mean A.S.A.P.), Stuver made two saves in the 2-0 defeat, none of which were better than his stop on a well-placed, well-powered penalty shot from Javier Hernandez. Austin may well have been out of the match sooner had that PK found the back of the net.
There is no doubt that the defense needs some work and a tune-up, but that could certainly still come with time as various pieces begin to mesh together. However, there is nary a doubt among the side, the staff or the fans that Stuver is a crucial piece to this team going forward.
If one thing is for sure, Josh Wolff and Sporting Director Claudio Reyna were wise to give the 30-year-old journeyman a chance.
Kekutah Manneh looking more like himself
Despite Kekutah Manneh being a recognizable name for most MLS fans, and seeming as though he has been out on the pitch professionally for as long as most can remember, Manneh is only 26 years old.
What many may not remember is that Manneh has some Texan roots of his own. After leaving The Gambia for the United States at a young age, he featured on two different Texas-based youth programs, the Texas Rush and Lonestar SC. Manneh also played for the Austin Aztex back in 2012, before beginning his career.
Manneh, once the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the MLS, now finds himself back in Austin, starting off the new season with his first appearance in a fairly impressive way. Once taking the pitch in the 59th minute, it took only 6 minutes for Manneh to draw a foul past midfield.
Manneh was arguably the best player throughout the course of the match during his time on the field, creating several chances and being within inches of scoring a curling effort from just outside of the box. He nearly found the net again in the 69th minute, but his shot was deflected in a crowded penalty area.
Josh Wolff’s side clearly need to show some growth in the midfield going forward, and the Gambian-born attacker looked much more like the youngster who once was reportedly coveted by the likes of Chelsea during his time with Vancouver.
Despite underwhelming performance from stars, the offense kept up the pace
Admittedly an underwhelming showing on the road in Los Angeles, Austin’s offense had promise at times, specifically prior to the Galaxy’s second goal. There were times where Austin, specifically through play from Lima and Manneh, appeared as though they were about to break through the Galaxy defense.
Though forcing goaltender Jonathan Bond only to make two saves, Austin nearly matched a prolific L.A. Galaxy’s shot total, tallying 15 shots, with two on target, to the Galaxy’s 16 with four on target. They even finished with more than their fair share of the possession, holding the ball for 55% of the match despite the loss of Alex Ring to suspension. Ring has proven to be a force in the midfield, and will be a welcome reinforcement when he rejoins the team.
It was far from a prolific showing from the Austin attacking players, with the midfield looking particularly flimsy at times, but there’s hope going forward as the team continues to mess, and potentially, players find their form.
Expansion sides have a history of struggling in the MLS, and some could say that Austin has already beaten a few expansion stereotypes. The pieces for a winning side are there, but they have yet to come together completely, even in their best moments.
The grind of road games will reap rewards later in the season
I, for one, was nearly baffled at the inaugural MLS schedule for Austin FC upon release day. Typically, expansion sides are given a relatively lax schedule heading into their first season, with many home games thrown throughout the first half of the season. We later learned that ATXFC wanted a delay in order to have more time to complete road building, traffic signals, and staff training, even though the stadium was ready.
We’re left with Austin not having a true home game for some time. That being said, this could end up working in favor of the Verde in sort of a “Trial by Fire” scenario. After leaving Los Angeles, the side will travel to Nashville and Seattle ahead of a rematch with Kansas City in the coming weeks. After that, the real fun begins.
The back half of the season for ATXFC is overwhelmingly favored with home games, with a very lengthy road trip to begin their inaugural season rewarded by a long stay at home at Q2 field. Better yet, they may even be rewarded further should the CDC guidelines allow for more fans in attendance as the season grows older. While the early goings have surely been stressful as far as schedule so far, the squad should get a boost as things start to click when they get their home fans rallying behind them.
A 2-0 loss to one of the hottest teams in the MLS is no-less hard to swallow, but there’s hope on the horizon for Josh Wolff and the Verde.