Los Nerdes Verdes: (Not) Great Expectations

A Gutsy But Predictable Performance

How many near heart attacks did y’all have last weekend watching Stuver make point-blank save after point-blank save? In many ways it felt like a flashback to the USMNT games of the early 2000s with Secretary of Defense Tim Howard single-handedly keeping us in games against superior opponents.

Fortunately (or maybe not so much), the feeling that we’re escaping by the skin of our teeth isn’t entirely in our heads — it’s actually backed up by the data. At 2.16 expected goals against per game, Austin FC’s defense sits second to last – trailing only the floundering FC Cincinnati. The silver lining, however, is that teams are converting those chances against us at an extraordinarily low rate. With just 1.13 goals scored against the Verde on average, Austin FC actually sit all the way up at 10th place in that statistic – the largest gap between xGA and actual GA in the MLS. 

What can we attribute that to? Is it luck? Is our scramble defense that good? Or, is Brad Stuver actually just a beardless second coming of Tim Howard with a full set of hair? To say it’s just one of these factors likely doesn’t tell the whole story. As we pointed out last week, Stuver’s goalkeeping statistics put him in the top tier of MLS netminders and the team’s defense consistently posts a high number of blocked shots. But, we’d defy anyone to say for sure we aren’t getting a bit lucky. A couple of less-kind bounces or more clinical finishing from Sporting, and we could have easily given up a handful of goals. 

An Unwelcome Surprise or Calculated Risk?

Whether this is a specific area of concern for Josh Wolff and his staff is something we haven’t heard, but we do have some insight into the Austin head coach’s mindset on defensive tactics. In an interview with The Athletic near the end of May, Wolff said:

“Not to be cliché, but the best defense is if you can have the ball more than the opponent. I’m not saying we’re doing that every game, but that’s part of what we’re doing: trying to break down the opponent, make the opponent work so that when they do have the ball, there is a level of fatigue and a little bit of stress that they’ve been facing.” 

Keep in mind, Wolff’s attempt to adapt the Positional Play tactical model to MLS is a brand new venture, but sitting at 50.5% possession for the season, you can see the club’s identity begin to take shape. Whether the higher than average xGA is a surprise or a predicted and calculated risk is tough to say. Regardless, much of the team’s success going forward may hinge on our ability to bring our xGAs more in line with the rest of the league.

The Earthquakes in Austin

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “there’s no rest for the weary.” Stuver and the Austin FC backline face a San Jose team that puts in just over 2 goals a game – enough to lead the league in that category. On the flipside, they fall below average in both xGA and actual GA. Be prepared for an open-ended game, and with some heroics from one of the breakout goalies in MLS, Austin FC may be able to deliver the 20,000+ home fans a victory.

As always, you can catch us over on the Austin FC subreddit and on Instagram/Twitter at losnerdesverdes. See y’all at the Q2, and stay Verde!

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