As a team, it’s critical to have an identity – something you can lean back on while fighting through the inevitable ups and downs of a season. Josh Wolff has made no mistake that possession plays a key role in how he envisions Austin finding success – both in the impact it has on setting up the team going forward but also in tiring out the opponents and not allowing them to find a footing in the game.
As simple and as intuitive as that may sound, it’s not necessarily the be-all, end-all for how MLS teams are finding the back of the net this season. In fact, if we compare the relationship between possession and goals, the MLS pales in comparison to the three top club leagues. With an R-squared value of just .002, the two statistics are barely related.
This week’s matchup is a prime example of that dichotomy. We’re all aware by now of El Tree’s scoring trouble despite boasting an average possession that places them in the top half of the league. The Sounders, on the other hand, are the polar opposite. Despite an average possession of just 48.3%, they’re second in the league goals per game and first in goals given up with just .64 a game. That has to be a worry for Wolff’s squad coming into this game – playing against an opponent that is seemingly unaffected by our greatest weapon.
The Rematch and Beyond
One saving grace here is that Seattle is arguably even more depleted than Austin. They suffered their first defeat of the season last week against Minnesota United – missing 7 starters overall, partially due to injury and partially due to international duty. That likely won’t get much better for them come Thursday with Cristian Roldan moving onto the knockout stage with the USMNT and the likes of Jordan Morris, Stefan Frei, and Will Bruin out with long-term injuries.
On the flip side, by time the Verde & Black take the field on Thursday they will have gone 9 days without a game and a full 15 since their last competitive match. Wolff has indicated that the break allowed perennial starters Ring and Dominguez to get closer to 100%. Ring, in an interview with Mike Craven of the Austin American-Statesman also commented on the benefits the time off has had on the squad’s mentality after enduring a brutal opening third of the season saying, “For the guys, it was nice to get away and calm down a little bit.”
Ring also alluded to the team’s thoughts on the start and how the team’s going to move forward: “The beginning of the season doesn’t mean much here in MLS. We knew there would be growing pains. That is how the league is set up.” He’s certainly right. With under half of the season complete, El Tree are going to have plenty of chances to translate their possession-first philosophy into wins. This week’s rematch with the Sounders – a team that’s seemingly okay with ceding possession – will be a great opportunity to test just how effective that way of play may be.
As always, you can check us out over on Twitter/Instagram at losnerdesverdes as well as the AustinFC subreddit. Stay Verde!