After a two-week hiatus, tenth-place Austin FC (3-4-6, 13 points) is finally back in MLS action, hosting the first-placed Seattle Sounders (8-5-1, 29 points) at 8:30 p.m. (CT) on Thursday night.
The Sounders are fresh off their first defeat, losing 1-0 away to Minnesota United last weekend, and Austin FC is looking to bounce back from defeat themselves, after losing 2-0 at home to LAFC a couple weeks back.
The two teams previously met in May, when they battled it out to a 0-0 stalemate in Seattle. Since then, the Sounders have cooled down slightly, after starting their season red-hot. Austin FC’s struggles in front of goal have continued since then — barring a 4-1 home win against Portland.
Here are the big talking points ahead of Thursday night’s Western Conference matchup:
Despite having a couple of weeks off from MLS action, Austin FC is still nursing quite a few injuries at the moment.
The first man to score at Q2 Stadium, Jon Gallagher, could be out for at least a little while longer with a foot injury. Dani Pereira is still not back in full training, after picking up an abdominal strain.
Nick Lima, Danny Hoesen, Aaron Schoenfeld, Ben Sweat and Ulises Segura all remain out for the foreseeable future, with no real indication that any of them should be back soon.
Cecilio Dominguez and Alex Ring did not feature in the friendly against Tigres, and while the exact status of their fitness is currently unknown, they probably both sat as a precautionary measure.
A note on the opposition
Perhaps one of the reasons Seattle finally lost a game, is that they traveled to Minnesota without the brothers Roldan. Both brothers, Cristian who is with the US and Alex with El Salvador, are still on international duty, as both USMNT and El Salvador reached the knockout stages of the Gold Cup.
The loss of Cristian Roldan is a big one for Seattle, as the midfielder has been a key creative spark in the absence of talisman Nico Lodeiro. This means Seattle will likely play Freddy Montero and Raúl Ruidíaz up top without a recognized creative midfielder in behind.
Alex Roldan will also be greatly missed, as his absence at right wing back means that Kelyn Rowe will have to shift over from center midfield to fill in.
Seattle have looked their best with Rowe and Cristian Roldan playing a part in center midfield, so without the two of them, Seattle may have to rely on 17-year old Dany Leyva to play alongside João Paulo.
In addition, Seattle’s centerback Xavier Arreaga is out due to accumulation of yellow cards. It’s looking likely Nouhou returns from injury to replace Arreaga on Thursday.
Despite being a third of way through the MLS regular season, Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff still does not know his best XI — or his best formation for that matter.
Wolff’s ideal formation is the one he played at the start of the season, a 4-3-3 with Ring sitting deep. However, as Austin has struggled to find the back of the net, he has played around with variations of a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1.
Last time out in MLS, Wolff went with a 4-2-3-1 in a loss to LAFC. He may try that again with Tómas Pochettino back fit, and Diego Fagundez could move back in midfield to fill in for the injured Pereira.
Against Tigres, Wolff opted for a 4-4-2, with Pochettino and Manny Perez leading the line. If Dominguez is 100%, he could play up top alongside Pochettino, an attacking duo Wolff has used in the past.
However, at the moment the 4-2-3-1 seems to be the preferred formation for Wolff.
In defense, Pochettino, who likely be in the number 10 role, can step up and press, so the shape will look like a 4-4-2.
In possession, the shape looks more like a 3-4-3. Ring typically drops in behind Julio Cascante and Matt Besler to be a very deep-lying ball player. Pochettino and Fagundez will be in the center of the midfield, with Hector Jimenez and Zan Kolmanic pushing up into midfield. Then, Dominguez and the other two wingers, either Jared Stroud, Kekuta Manneh, or Rodney Redes will be a narrow front three, with the full backs providing the width.
4-2-3-1; GK: Brad Stuver; LB: Zan Kolmanic, LCB: Matt Besler, RCB: Julio Cascante, RB: Hector Jimenez, CDM: Alex Ring (C), CM: Diego Fagundez; CAM: Tomás Pochettino; LM: Rodney Redes, ST: Cecilio Dominguez, RM: Jared Stroud
Austin FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC at Q2 Stadium, Thursday (7/22), 8:30 p.m.
- TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes (Spanish)
- Radio: Alt 97.5FM, TUDN Radio 104.3 (Spanish)
Going to the game? Check out these transportation options to the stadium. There’s also plenty of watch parties around town, if you didn’t score tickets but want a fun atmosphere with fellow Verde fans.
Player Injury Report (Official)
- OUT: Danny Hoesen (Left Hip)
- OUT: Nick Lima (Left Hamstring)
- OUT: Aaron Schoenfeld (Left Knee)
- OUT: Dani Pereira (Abdominal strain)
- OUT: Ulises Segura (Left Knee)
- OUT: Ben Sweat (ACL)