If ever Austin FC needed a result in its inaugural season, it would be on Sunday night at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Following a two game losing streak, and with a trip to Seattle looming, the team from the live music capital must get at least a point in Music City.
Here’s what Austin FC needs to do to leave Nashville with a result in the bag:
Play to Hoesen’s feet
It’s no secret that Danny Hoesen has really struggled to get off the mark wearing Verde. Not only has the Dutchman failed to open his scoring account in MLS this season, but he hasn’t been enough of a presence, stretching defenses up top yet.
In midweek, head coach Josh Wolff said Hoesen has been struggling due to a lack of service. While Austin has been creating chances for Hoesen this season from crosses, that isn’t the attacking gameplan Wolff envisioned for his side.
Playing the way Wolff wants to play means playing a possession-oriented style. That means playing the ball to Hoesen’s feet, and letting him hold the ball up and look to play in others.
So far, it’s clear that Hoesen isn’t a target man, and that in order to get the best out of him, he needs to be involved in the build up. Austin will need Hoesen to step up against a Nashville defense that boasts former FC Dallas man, Walker Zimmerman.
Invert the triangle in midfield
Wolff opted to go with two attack-minded midfielders in Tómas Pochettino and Diego Fagundez, last weekend in Los Angeles, despite the absence of his captain and anchor Alex Ring. We all know how that midfield fared against a potent LA Galaxy, who was lethal on the counter.
Now, playing against a side like Nashville, and with Alex Ring back and available for selection, is the time for Pochettino or Fagundez to try and get forward and play in between the lines. However, the way to go about doing that isn’t by using both of them to stretch Nashville’s midfield.
Aside from its back line, Nashville’s strength is its two holding midfielders, Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy. That calls for either Fagundez or Pochettino to play in more of a No. 10 role, playing in between the two, rather than having the two of them go toe to toe with McCarty and Godoy.
If Wolff opts for playing Pochettino or Fagundez as a 10, then the other should play a more withdrawn role and look to link play between Ring and the attacking midfielders in behind Hoesen.
While it isn’t likely that Wolff will stray from his beloved 4-3-3, Fagundez and Pochettino can switch off trying to drop in between the two Nashville defensive mids. If Wolff is feeling very bold, he can switch to a 4-2-3-1, and even use Dani Pereira as a second holding midfielder alongside Ring.
Mitigate the counterattack
ATX really struggled to do this against LA Galaxy. While Nashville doesn’t have guys like Lletget and Chicharito at its disposal, defending in transition has still been a thorn in Austin FC’s side no matter who they’ve faced.
Nashville likes to sit back. They’ve kept a clean sheet three games in a row, and as I mentioned they play with two holding midfielders. Wether Nashville goes with two up top, or with a man playing in behind the striker, they will look to use the counter to exploit Austin’s weak transitional defense.
When Romaña and Besler get caught too high up the field, disastrous things happen. Last weekend, Galaxy exploited this and played balls over the top that led to the penalty Romaña gave away, and Lletget’s goal. Easier said than done, but Austin’s back line needs to do a better job to recover faster in those situations.
Austin FC vs. Nashville SC at Nissan Stadium, Saturday (5/23), 8:00 p.m. Televised nationally on FS1.
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: Danny Hoesen, RW: Jared Stroud
OUT: Aaron Schoenfeld (Left Knee), Ulises Segura (Left Knee), Ben Sweat (ACL), Hector Jimenez (MCL)