The Verde failed to score.
These two things have been fairly consistent so far in the inaugural season for Austin FC — one a great thing, and the other…well, not so much. Brad Stuver has won our fan’s Man of the Match voting a massive three times since the start of this season, and for good reason. Despite letting in the go-ahead, and game-winning, goal against Nashville (a goal in which I would argue he simply lost his footing), Stuver showed again that he is the top performer in the squad.
On another day, with the offense firing on all cylinders (or even just a few years ago in a world without VAR), he very well could’ve seen this game to a different result. There’s a reason Nashville FC remain undefeated, however, and it comes in the form of their highly-effective back line. Once again in this treacherous (and virtually unheard of) road trip for the Verde, the offense was stifled but for a few opportunities.
Rather than our normal four positives, I’m going to take some time to swing this one into the realm of “four thoughts” for this week’s sake. Let’s take a recap of what we learned, and what was reaffirmed, in this week’s music city derby.
The Offense has potential, but continues to struggle
Expansion sides in MLS are no strangers to adversity. Even the best expansion sides to date have had to suffer through some hardships in the immediate or early goings of their respective existences.
Austin FC are on that same path, fraught with growing pains, despite playing what anyone who’s watched MLS expansion sides over the years would recognize as a distinct, attractive form of soccer. In terms of watchability, Austin FC continue to show why they are such an intriguing team going forward.
Despite the hardships caused by an uber-effective Nashville press, credit to Head Coach Gary Smith for that, there were glimpses and periods of time where it looked like Austin FC could really bring forward some attacking potency. Specifically through the likes of super-sub Jared Stroud (more on him later), Austin’s attack has moments where it looks like that crisp-passing, high-energy brand of play would pay off.
Though it didn’t end up paying off in Sunday’s matchup, if the side can continue to mesh (and potentially improve) once a firm, effective Starting XI is found, those sparks could eventually lead to a fire.
Halftime adjustments and super-subs seem to help
Despite a challenging first half and twenty minutes of the second, ATXFC eventually started to grab a foothold in the game even as Nashville were often dropping their full squad back into a defensive block. After Head Coach Josh Wolff made his halftime adjustments, and even more so after Josh Stroud and Jon Gallagher made their way onto the pitch, the Verde started to fight back.
Building up to the 73rd minute when Stroud’s goal was ruled offside by VAR, Austin started to recover some of the swagger we’ve seen in past games, stringing together passes in a much more efficient manner than the first half. However, one of Major League Soccer’s best defenses held firm, and Nashville made it out faultless despite various periods of back-and-forth counter attacking.
Regardless, there was progress made in the second half by Josh Wolff’s squad, which was a sight for sore eyes after watching the first half’s action. Still, the team struggled with creativity in the midfield, and finishing overall, which brings us to our next point…
Starting line-up may not stay starting for long
Most of the time the phrase we hear is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s all well and good, but sometimes, when things aren’t working out as you’d have planned, you have to fix it. Now, before I say this, don’t think that I’m hitting the panic button on the season just yet — far from it, actually. For an expansion side, this Austin FC team has lots of potential. That being said, it wouldn’t hurt for Josh Wolff to experiment just a bit.
Outside of a few key players, it’s safe to say there is room for improvement in this squad, and pieces that could be utilized differently to seek out that improvement. Just as in the past few weeks, we have seen players come off the bench and have a big impact on the game. Dangerous, creative weapons like Josh Stroud, Jon Gallagher and Kekuta Manneh are waiting to be used on the bench.
Josh Wolff has some room to work with guys like those mentioned, who should be discussed as being potential starters in a side struggling to create scoring opportunities. It’s entirely possible, especially facing the toughest challenge yet up next in the Seattle Sounders, that Coach Wolff could see this as an opportunity to experiment, and see if he can find a line-up that cracks the code to the team’s scoring woes.
The midfield could use some creativity, and the forwards could use some finishing. Who better than the two players who have created plenty of buzz off the bench the past two weeks in Manneh and Stroud?
Reinforcements (about 20,500 of them) are coming
Doubtless by this point, you’ve heard the news. When the Q2 opens its doors for the first time (for Austin FC, that is) on June 19th against the San Jose Earthquakes, full capacity seating will be available. The corner of Burnet and Braker will no doubt be rocking that week, with the U.S. Women’s National Team set to play on the 16th, and the previously mentioned Austin home opener following shortly after.
Since COVID-19 shut the entire world down, many eyes (mine included) have been opened to just the impact that a home crowd can have on a sporting event’s atmosphere, and the boost that it can be to the home side.
We’ve already seen impressive turnouts by Verde faithful, and it’s highly likely we’ll see a sell-out in the home opener, creating what could be one of the best atmosphere’s in U.S. soccer history. With a tough Seattle matchup waiting for Wolff and Co. next week, and another road game in Kansas City following after, there will literally be a sigh of relief from this squad, and the supporters, with the team coming home to Austin.
Could it be that a place to call home is what this team needs to solve some of its woes?
Have no fear, Verde fans. It’s almost your time.