Match Preview: Austin FC in home opener vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Well, here we are. The day Austinites have had circled on their calendars, since the MLS schedule was released in late March, is finally upon us. On Saturday night, more than 20,000 will bear witness to the first Austin FC home match at Q2 Stadium, as they take on San Jose Earthquakes.

Not only is the match of historic significance, but it is also quite a significant one with respect to Austin FC’s current standing in the Western Conference. After grinding out results and playing some turgid soccer in their eight game road stretch, Austin FC finally has the chance to show what they can do with the backing of their home crowd.

Austin hasn’t been on the front foot in most of their matches this season, but they can and should expect to be in their first home match, against San Jose Earthquakes.

As always, here are the keys to an Austin FC victory on Saturday night.

The Fans

Everything Austin FC has achieved this season has been done without a home field advantage. On Saturday, the fans will be the biggest key to Austin FC’s success.

While Austin FC’s fans have traveled spectacularly all season ⁠— amid a pandemic nonetheless ⁠— a sliver of away fans tucked away in the corner in Denver or Los Angeles won’t compare to the crowd that will gather at Q2 on Saturday night. Everyone on hand, including the players, will get goosebumps as an MLS team kicks off in Austin for the first time.

If the whole stadium is rocking ⁠— not just supporters groups Los Verdes, Austin Anthem and La Murga ⁠— going into Austin and getting any sort of a result will be a really tough ask for San Jose.

So far in MLS this season, the home team has won 52% of its matches, while the away team has won just 24%. That’s also with reduced attendance in most stadiums, Q2 will be at 100%. This, and the fact its Austin FC’s first home match, will create an atmosphere unlike maybe any MLS has seen this season.

Austin FC can go toe-to-toe with San Jose

In almost all, if not all of Austin FC’s matches, they have entered as the underdog. Against San Jose, that should not be the case.

Despite having not played a single match at home yet, Austin is just a point behind San Jose. Not to mention, San Jose has lost all of their last four matches, while Austin just picked up two draws against two of the best teams in MLS.

San Jose doesn’t really have any key starters that will have Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff nervous. Wolff’s team will be able to focus on themselves, and play on the front foot, after sitting back and defending in most of their previous matches.

Dominguez and Pochettino up top

Austin’s two designated players, Cecilio Dominguez and Tómas Pochettino, have been starved of service much of the season. On Saturday night, they should be able to show Austin what they can do, especially if Wolff unleashes the two of them up top, as he did in Kansas City last weekend.

Dominguez’s goal last weekend was indicative of what he brings to the table ⁠— composure and sheer class. He also could have had a second when he beat two SKC defenders, megging the latter. Dominguez hasn’t gotten a wealth of chances this season, but when he has, he’s shown that he has the ability to score goals, netting three this season.

Wolff has been deploying Dominguez up top alongside Pochettino lately, with Danny Hoesen being anonymous this season, and Jon Gallagher looking solid on the wing. Pochettino didn’t set the world alight in Kansas City, but he does have the quality Austin FC needs, to play in behind Dominguez.

The two of them playing off of each other, along with Jared Stroud and Gallagher’s work rate and crossing ability on the wing, seems like Wolff’s go-to formula for now.

Also, brief mention for Diego Fagundez who had a phenomenal game in Kansas City, and should have had a couple of assists.

Brad Stuver

If Brad Stuver plays anything like he has been lately, San Jose will really struggle to put the ball in the back of the net.

Stuver is coming off arguably his best performance of the season, in which he held SKC to one goal, despite them having a ridiculous 32 shots, with 11 on target and an xG of 4. If he is that commanding against San Jose, he should be able to keep a clean sheet.

Match Day

Austin FC vs. San Jose Quakes at Q2 Stadium, Saturday (6/19), 8:00 p.m. Televised nationally on UniMas and streaming on Twitter.

Predicted Lineup

4-4-2; GK: Brad Stuver; LB: Zan Kolmanic, LCB: Matt Besler, RCB: Julio Cascante, RB: Nick Lima; LCM: Alex Ring (C), CM: Diego Fagundez; LM: Jon Gallagher, ST: Cecilio Dominguez, ST: Tomás Pochettino, RM: Jared Stroud

Injury Report

OUT: Danny Hoesen (Left Hip), Aaron Schoenfeld (Left Knee), Ulises Segura (Left Knee), Ben Sweat (ACL), Daniel Pereira (Right Knee); QUESTIONABLE: Hector Jimenez (MCL)

Player Quotes (6/17 media event)

Alex Ring on playing at Q2 Stadium for the first time: “Just looking forward to it. This week has been anxious. you just want to go out and play in front of your fans, so the energy has been really good. 

Alex Ring on getting a win in the home opener: “There is no other option. I’d be really disappointed if we don’t. They [the fans] deserve it, we deserve it, and we’re going to give it everything we have.”

Matt Besler comparing Sporting KC’s inaugural season to Austin FC’s debut: “At the end of 10 games we had five points. Comparatively speaking, we are doing much better this time around than my previous experience, so that’s positive.”

Matt Besler on pressure to win the debut match at Q2 Stadium: “Absolutely, I’d be lying if i said there wasn’t pressure, but pressure is a motivator.”