Austin FC has yet to fill their third designated player (DP) spot, giving the new team the rare opportunity to inject some quality into the side early on into the season after a string of middling results.
There’s one clear need within the squad already, as the list will detail, but other spots in the squad can still be filled out should Austin look inward or find a cheaper solution to the most pressing issues heading into the summer transfer window.
5. Center Midfielder
So far, Tomás Pochettino’s not lit the MLS on fire in his first few games, so it’s still likely too early to pull the trigger on getting another star midfielder to possibly oust Pochettino or the currently-productive Diego Fagúndez.
Were the Austin brass to look for another midfielder, they’d likely want something different from Pochettino — an “8” rather than a “10”, someone more willing to track back and carry the ball from deep rather than receive it further upfield and cause chaos in with their vision. As Daniel Pereira is more of a long-term solution than an immediate one, a partner for Pochettino willing to do some dirty work, or a rival for the DP to give Wolff options in the engine room, so to speak, could be a solid option.
There is a risk of stifling Pereira’s development by bringing in a midfielder hogging up minutes, so any signing here would be more wish-fulfillment than reality. For speculation’s sake, let’s aim high, but at least slightly within the realm of reality.
Aside from the interest from big European clubs in the young midfield star, it’s very unlikely Sporting Kansas City would both weaken their aspirations to lead the Western Conference and strengthen a team in said conference looking to make inroads. As hesitant as the team may be to sell their homegrown star to anything but the highest bidder — something Austin FC likely would not be — the Black and Verde could entice him with the prospect of a much higher salary than what he currently makes for what is currently a better side.
It’s a tough sell; ATXFC would be a step down for a player who may see his future in the Old World, but maybe a little (a lot) of the verde could entice him. Become the face of the franchise and a burgeoning city with little-to-no competition from other professional sports. Grow the legend and in a few years, walk away from MLS with an even bigger price tag and even bigger wage demands. An easily refutable argument, but the team would be transformed by a player like Busio.
4. Full Back
This one’s a bit more complex, given the nature of the injury to Ben Sweat early in the season, and the loan-with-option-to-buy of Žan Kolmanič. At the moment, the Slovenian left back’s looked average on the defense and intermittently impressive on the attack. He looked like a serious contender for the starting spot in the inaugural Austin FC game, but ever since he’s been forced into the starting XI, results have been mixed.
This could be as a result of the entire team looking questionable during the three-game losing streak, and there’s still a lot of season left to play. The fact remains that in Josh Wolff’s system, as in every 4-3-3, there are few players more relevant than the fullback. Liverpool broke the Premier League last season and won European glory through creation in the wide channels, and it’s no coincidence one of the first things Pep Guardiola does when arriving to a team is splashing on wide defenders.
At the moment, the simplest answer is to look for inspiration from the top — the Seattle Sounders. Either Alex Roldan or Brad Smith, Sounders wingbacks, would fit smoothly into an Austin side. Which one could join the side is entirely up to Wolff, as neither flank appears to be the “weak point”, rather the discipline of the backline as a whole could be questioned.
These players would likely not take up a DP spot on their own, but would likely demand higher wages to move away from the league’s best team if they wanted to in the first place. This looks more toward the future, admittedly, as a long season of Seattle dominance would inflate their price tags.
3, 2 and 1. Striker
It’s no secret Danny Hoesen’s yet to impress in his first few games for the Black and Verde, so this most “pressing” need may tumble down the list with a string of convincing performances. At the moment, that looks unlikely, so Wolff may want to look elsewhere for a number 9.
Austin FC could very well promote from within, as Jon Gallagher’s convinced in the opportunities he’s been given. A darting run to smash a whipped ball from Stroud into the back of the net against Sporting Kansas City proved he’s got the know-how to expose defenses and wasn’t just capitalizing off tired legs as an impact sub.
But if the idea is to look outside of the club to spark some attacking play, there’s more than a few options to consider. Let’s get the fantastical out of the way first.
El pistolero. One of the greatest strikers of the modern era, playing in historic clubs like Ajax, Liverpool, FC Barcelona and most recently, a La Liga-winning Atletico Madrid side. At his 34 years of age, the Uruguayan legend is still one of Europe’s clutch strikers, even if he’s in the twilight of his career.
There are many issues with Suárez taking up the third DP spot: his age limits his contributions to the club in the long term and likely limits his involvement in a physical side focused on pressing and sitting back to play the long ball against better teams, his wage bill would absolutely suck up resources needed to strengthen other parts of the squad, and he probably will not want to travel halfway across the world to play in a league he may views as too much of a step down.
Suárez’s contract ends in July 2022, so any immediate transfer would require paying the $16.5 million Transfermarkt says he’s worth, a steep price to pay for a likely abridged tenure. There less tangible issues with the transfer as well; Wolff will likely not want players who significantly change the system he’s trying to build, and Suárez will require regular rotation.
Suárez also perpetuates the “retirement home” narrative MLS and those in and around it combat online and in the press. Best-case scenario, he becomes a Zlatan Ibrahimović-like figure, who thrives in the team, but eventually decides he can still play at a higher level and leaves.
There’s also the more delicate point of an international superstar not wanting to move to a relatively small market like Austin. There’s a reason Ibra went to LA, and why rumors of Messi moving to David Beckham’s Inter Miami in a few years’ time persists — celebrities gravitate toward these big markets. Frankly, Austin still lacks the international appeal of the nation’s largest cities, no matter how enthralling its residents already know it is.
This signing is best saved for the simulations and the daydreams at work — doesn’t make it any less fun, though.
Rafael Santos Borré
Perhaps just as big of a financial splash as the Suárez transfer, Borré is another unlikely transfer, as Austin FC’s kept their transfer business tidy and have yet to truly break the bank for a star player who could have made their living in leagues with more notoriety. Such is the case for Borré, who already seems destined to leave River Plate for Europe.
As is the case for some of the more expensive DPs, more than just a convincing PowerPoint presentation will be required to convince a 25-year-old from one of South America’s biggest teams to move to a league with a less-than-stellar competitive reputation.
The idea behind this entry is the type of player the third DP should be. A hungry striker in their prime who wants to make a name for themselves in a new club. Ideally, a transfer like this works out like Sebastian Giovinco’s in 2015: a player who could arguably still play at the top-level elsewhere makes themselves a legend in an often-derided league and gives it legitimacy.
As is the case for most of these signings, one can only dream.
A far more reasonable, yet difficult signing is Jonathan Rodríguez from recently crowned Liga MX Clausura champions Cruz Azul. Los Cementeros relied on his nine goals in 15 appearances in the Clausura,as well as his even more impressive 12 in 16 during the Apertura.
The Uruguayan would mesh well with the growing South American contingent in the Austin FC locker room, so adapting may not be as much of a task as it would be with other players on this list. Liga MX is also the closest in quality to MLS of any other league mentioned thus far, so not nearly as much leg work on the negotiation.
Overall, the third DP spot highly relies on whether Hoesen, or even Cecilio Dominguez will find form in the coming months. Not having a glaring need takes the pressure off the scouts, but it also prevents two DP spots from being tied up in one position on the pitch.
Wisely, Austin FC waits to fill the last spot. Rushing to fill said spot could lead to the unfortunate situation of all three DPs underperforming, meaning roster building gets much, much harder.