With Austin FC on a three game losing streak, the expansion team will need a result in Seattle on Sunday night to try and stop the schneid. Yikes. If anyone can stop the Western Conference giants, it probably wouldn’t be Austin at the moment.
Can Seattle be stopped?
The short answer is, probably not.
Since joining MLS back in 2009, Seattle Sounders have been MLS royalty. They’ve been a fixture in the MLS Cup Final, having played in four of the last five, and having won two. While making MLS Cup Playoffs would be a resounding success for Austin FC, Seattle will have their sights set on a third straight MLS Cup Final appearance.
And Seattle has already made a tremendous start to the season. They remain unbeaten through seven, having won five, while outscoring their opponents 14-3.
Sounders and ATX have had a few opponents in common this season, with Seattle having played Galaxy, Minnesota United, and LAFC, who they have played twice. Sounders have beaten all three, including a 2-0 win over LAFC, a 3-0 win over Galaxy, and a 4-0 win against Minnesota. If playing LAFC and Galaxy was a tough proposition for Austin, Sunday night could prove to be a nightmare.
Raúl Ruidíaz is having a flying season for Seattle up top, with six goals in seven to start the season. Just in behind him, USMNT’s Cristian Roldan has found a new lease on life filling in for the injured Nicolás Lodeiro at No. 10. The pair of them should cause lots of problems for Austin’s ailing back four.
Can Cascante help solidify Austin’s back line?
Once again, the answer is probably not. The former Timbers man, Julio Cascante, will have to step in against his former Cascadia rival on Sunday, after regular starter Jhohan Romaña picked up a knock in Tennessee last weekend.
Cascante has typically been an unused substitute before replacing the injured Romaña in the first half in Nashville, barring a start in ATX’s 3-1 win in Colorado. He has looked reasonably solid in his limited time on the field, but certainly isn’t the answer for Josh Wolff’s struggling defense.
Alongside Cascante will be Matt Besler. It has to be said, especially after his performance last weekend in Nashville, that Besler has a lost a step or two since he represented the US at the 2014 World Cup.
Perhaps one the most exciting of Austin’s winter acquisitions due to his USMNT and MLS fame, the 34-year old has been quite poor much of the season. His lack of pace has often been exploited, including by Jhonder Cádiz last weekend, who got in behind Besler too easily and nearly doubled Nashville’s advantage.
Besides Austin FC’s centerbacks lacking pace, the positioning of ATX’s fullbacks has often left them susceptible to the counter.
Part of Wolff’s attacking philosophy is that he likes his fullbacks to get forward as much as possible, which was extremely evident in Austin’s loss in Tennessee. With Žan Kolmanič and Nick Lima so far up the pitch in the first half at one point, Danny Hoesen losing the ball in midfield allowed Nashville to have almost a four on two opportunity, which they capitalized on for the match’s only goal.
Austin’s fullbacks, especially Lima, need to do a better job of picking times to go forward, so that they don’t keep getting caught out of position. This will be of much importance against Seattle, who with their 3-5-2, like to push their wingbacks very high up and the pitch and could cause Lima and Kolmanič problems.
Will Gallagher, Stroud and Fagundez come back into the lineup?
Danny Hoesen has still been really disappointing this season, and if Jon Gallagher is fit, he has to start.
While whoever plays up top for Austin will likely be starved of service against a ruthless Seattle team, Gallagher has by far looked the more likely to take his chances this season. If he is to get a sniff of goal on Sunday, he may just put one in the back of the net.
Also, Rodney Redes has continued to be very poor this season, and Jared Stroud needs to come back into the Starting XI. Stroud has actually looked very good all season, with two fantastic assists, and he took his goal that was disallowed very well last weekend.
Finally, with Dani Pereira injured and the timetable for his return unknown, Diego Fagundez, Austin’s first ever goal scorer, will likely return to the Starting XI.
4-3-3; GK: Brad Stuver; LB: Žan Kolmanič, LCB: Matt Besler, RCB: Julio Cascante, RB: Nick Lima; CDM: Alex Ring (C), CM: Tomás Pochettino, CM: Diego Fagundez; LW: Cecilio Dominguez, ST: Jon Gallagher, RW: Jared Stroud
OUT: Aaron Schoenfeld (Left Knee), Ulises Segura (Left Knee), Ben Sweat (ACL), Hector Jimenez (MCL)