Off the back of two straight road wins — the first two wins in club history — Austin FC was flying high up 1-0 in Kansas City late in the match, looking to earn nine points from a possible twelve. As ATXFC faithful will remember, Alex Ring foolishly picked up a second yellow, and the rest is history.
Austin has floundered in the past month since they so nearly upset a Sporting Kansas City team that now sits second in the Western Conference. This Saturday, Austin FC will travel back to Kansas City for what is — strangely enough — the only MLS match of the weekend.
Here’s how they can get revenge:
A lack of offensive production has been a constant issue for Austin FC, and while I feel like I have written some variation of “score goals” as one of the keys for every match preview, the issue has yet to be remedied.
Head coach Josh Wolff’s side has only scored a meager five goals in seven games, the lowest return in the Western Conference. Three of those came against Colorado, and Austin hasn’t scored since its last trip to Kansas City, over a month ago. Let that sink in.
One of Austin FC’s highest paid players, Danny Hoesen, hasn’t looked like scoring at all this season, and wasn’t even included in the squad that traveled to Seattle, last time out. Designated Players Tómas Pochettino and Cecilio Dominguez haven’t completely lived up to the hype either.
While Sporting Director Claudio Reyna is keen on investing in the summer window, for now, Josh Wolff is stuck with some pretty dull options. Wolff, who as a coach is far from a pragmatist, has been trying everything to jumpstart this lackluster front three.
Last time out in Seattle, Wolff went with Dominguez up top, and put Jon Gallagher on the wing. It seems as if he will try that again. Although, Wolff may try to switch up the formation, as his team was spotted rehearsing a variation of a 4-4-2 in training, with the Paraguayan, Dominguez, up top.
Avoid defensive lapses
Overall, the Verde y Negro has done a decent job of defending this season, having shipped the third least amount of goals in the Western Conference. However, the defense owes a lot of its credit to Brad Stuver, who has kept Austin in almost every game.
With Jhohan Romaña sidelined due to the injury he sustained in Nashville, Julio Cascante has had to step up, and did so in Austin FC’s shutout of Seattle.
The Costa Rican will likely be called upon once more to partner Matt Besler, as Besler heads back to his old stomping ground for the second time this season.
Austin’s fullbacks have been positionally poor most of the season, and they’ve been caught out in each of their last three defeats in Nashville, LA and Kansas City. Zan Kolmanic and Nick Lima really need to have a good game, likely going up against tricky wingers in Daniel Salloi and Khiry Shelton.
Last time out against Kansas City, Austin leaked a number of chances, even before Ring was sent off. In fact, they only stayed in the game due to Stuver’s heroics and SKC failing to capitalize.
They really need to be resolute if they are to get a result away to one of the most potent attacks in MLS, but they just proved that can be done, earning a clean sheet in Seattle a couple of weeks ago.
A note on the opposition
Sporting Kansas City is having a great season, sitting two points behind Seattle atop the Western Conference table, and having won their last three matches. They’ve scored 15 goals, the most in MLS this season, with nine of them coming in their last three matches.
SKC’s leading scorer, Alan Pulido has been prolific this season, scoring at a rate near one goal per 90 minutes. Pulido is tied for third top scorer in MLS, with five goals. He’ll miss this game though as he continues to represent El Tri in a friendly against Honduras on Saturday. But SKC has had a variety of goal scorers.
Salloi and former Austin Aztex man, Shelton, have been doing the business for SKC on the wing. While Salloi failed to score against Austin in May, he’s tallied three goals and two assists so far.
SKC also poses a huge threat in midfield. Their No. 10, 18-year old Gianluca Busio, looks to be one of the next up and coming USMNT phenoms, and is already being linked with a move to Europe. He’s found the net a couple of times, including a screamer of a free kick, and has chipped in an assist as well.
In more of a holding role, SKC has had strong performances from Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza and Gadi Kinda. Sanchez and Kinda were the goal scorers for SKC against Austin FC in May, and Kinda has three goals to his name from central midfield.
Sanchez has been starting at centerback for SKC lately, alongside fellow Spaniard Andreus Fontas, and fullbacks Graham Zusi and Luis Martins. If SKC has a weakness, it is its backline, as Jon Gallagher found out in May.
Austin FC vs. Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park, Saturday (6/12), 2:00 p.m. Televised regionally on The CW Austin or streaming on the Austin FC App.
4-3-3; GK: Brad Stuver; LB: Zan Kolmanic, LCB: Matt Besler, RCB: Julio Cascante, RB: Nick Lima, CDM: Alex Ring (C), CM: Tomás Pochettino, CM: Diego Fagundez; LW: Jon Gallagher, ST: Cecilio Dominguez, RW: Jared Stroud
OUT: Daniel Pereira (Right Knee), Danny Hoesen (Left Hip), Aaron Schoenfeld (Left Knee), Ulises Segura (Left Knee), Ben Sweat (ACL), Hector Jimenez (MCL)