Passion. Promise. Point.
Yes, “points” would’ve flowed better in that statement than the singular alternative. Yes, I also would’ve liked using it more. However, one point is SO much better than 50% of the other alternatives.
Austin FC took a point from the most in-form team in MLS, at one of the hardest stadiums to play in the league. Admittedly, many of us had a worse scenario in our heads going into Sunday night’s game. Being a newly-minted expansion team, playing in just our seventh game and going up against an unbeaten home team isn’t ever easy, especially against two-time MLS Cup champions.
This game was a real eye-opener for the “what could be” crowd of ATXFC supporters, and I believe rightfully so. The offense looked as fluid and well-combined as it has in any match thus far, and the defense had by far their best showing of the season.
There were a lot of positives to take from this game, along with a few negatives that have stood out for the majority of the season thus far.
Let’s break down the takeaways from Sunday’s match against Seattle.
Josh Wolff isn’t afraid to make changes
Wolff started off Austin’s seventh consecutive road game with a few lineup changes due to some prior knocks and bumps, and some strategic fixes as well.
Offensively, many fans’ wishes were answered with both Jared Stroud and Jon Gallagher making their way into the starting XI—both helping kick start the game with fierce pressure against Seattle, which passes the ball better than almost any other team in the league. In addition, Dominguez started at the striker position for the first time.
Fans had been clamoring for changes as the team struggled to score goals the past few weeks, and believed that this week would be a good time to tinker with the lineup.
The adjustments showed off well for the Verde as they began the game with some of the strongest energy the team has showcased all season—they understood the task at hand. It paid off too. Austin kept pace with the dynamic Seattle offensive front in a go-for-broke strategy.
It wasn’t just offensive-minded changes though, Julio Cascante also came on in place of an injured Romana, partnering up in what proved to be a lethal defensive combination with Matt Besler (Austin FC’s Man of the Match). Cascante was instrumental in pressuring the Seattle attack from the jump.
It resulted in what may be Austin’s best game of the season defensively. Stuver finally had some excellent help.
Overall, the changes definitely were a positive step for the future of Austin FC. If Wolff can continue to increase the depth on this team as players find their footing in the new club, and use that depth strategically, it bodes well for the immediate and long-term future of this side.
The grind of so many early road trips makes the team stronger
It’s never easy to start off a season entirely on the road. It’s even more difficult to do that when you’re starting a franchise away. It’s almost unheard of to start your first season with eight games straight on the road as a new franchise.
There are some benefits to this school of soccer hard knocks for Austin.
By the time this road trip comes to an end, there will not be a stadium in MLS that can even make the Verde roster take one step backwards. An inaugural season with such a tough task will surely mean that, when they do have these sorts of (more manageable) road trips in the future, the attitude will certainly be “been there, done that” for much of the roster.
If the core squad remains intact heading into the latter parts of the season, and into next year (not to get too far ahead), this team will have already played in some of the loudest, most intense environments in MLS. Pair that trial by fire with capable, well-traveled leadership at the back in Alex Ring, Brad Stuver and Matt Besler, and you’ve got a lethal road team in the making.
Consider too that Q2 stadium will be a tough road trip in its own right for opponents—and watch the magic happen.
Finding creativity in the midfield and attack
Once again, even with the signs of improvement and change, the Austin FC midfield and forwards continue to underwhelm overall.
Don’t get me wrong, getting fluidity and creativity with an entire roster of players who haven’t linked up prior to the year is terribly difficult, and the Verde have done well at adjusting in other areas in order to remain competitive. Still though, the side definitely needs to find their footing in the midfield and attack if they want to win games down the road, even at home.
The defense and goaltending on this squad are looking solid as a whole, but when Alex Ring turns up missing for a game, we have seen how Austin struggle to get anything going in the opposition’s half.
Last night showed glimpses of, as Alex Ring put it, the team “Being built to play as a team.” and not through one or two high quality, fast-paced stars. That kind of faith and trust in the game plan will be pivotal for the team going forward, especially as potential big-name offensive players like Diego Fagundez and Cecilio Dominguez continue to get their offensive footing.
Look for MLS’ best dressed coach (there, I said it) to continue to play through the team as a whole, using more pace and long balls to move the ball forward.
Still looking for their MLS feet
That brings us to our final point from this impressive, even somewhat-surprising result against the Sounders: Austin’s key players in the midfield and forward spots, and even the defense to some regards, continue to find their footing in the league.
Many of our players high profile players coming into the season have struggled thus far to adapt to their new surroundings. I personally expect Diego Fagundez, and certainly Tomas Pochettino, to be bigger players in the second half of the season, maybe even as soon as returning from the international break.
For example, Pochettino found himself sliding backwards on the field last night into a deeper position, when in reality, Wolff likely wants him to play in a more natural forward spot, using the likes of Ring to slide the ball through to him as he plays in a more offensive role. At times, Pochettino was almost shoulder to shoulder with Ring, stifling any offensive opportunities against an incredibly stingy Seattle defense.
As Austin’s key players continue to grow with the franchise, look for the offense to gel better and better each week. It was arguably their best performance last Sunday. The next match against Sporting KC, and then the inaugural home game against San Jose (!!!), will reveal a lot about the development of this team.