One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Last week, we talked about Austin’s difficulty in turning possession into results (and more specifically goals). That ended up being more prescient than any of us had actually hoped. El Tree maintained a 74% to 26% possession advantage, but the extremely young Sounders side did exactly what was needed to scrape out a result – they sat back, absorbed pressure, and took their opportunities (albeit off of a spectacular finish).
We’ve put together some numbers this week that may help explain why the Verde & Black haven’t been able to capitalize on their possession. The squad boasts some of the best passing statistics in the league – 2nd in pass completions per game and 1st in completion percentage. However, only 30.5% of the distance covered by Austin passing is towards the opponent’s goal. That’s almost 4% under the MLS average and good for 24th comparatively.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t an inherently bad strategy or something that needs to change before we can start to see goals. In fact, if we take a look at a team like Sporting KC, a significant distance covered by their passes are backwards – even more so than Austin. However, they don’t suffer the same scoring droughts as the Verde and Black. Despite that less direct style of play, they sit atop the league in goals per game.
Relief on the Horizon
This is one of the reasons Los Nerdes Verdes have been so high on the recent signings of Driussi and Djitte. The build-up play is there. As mentioned earlier, passing is not Austin’s problem. What seems to be the barrier to success is a true striker or attacking midfielder that can receive the ball in an advanced position where the defense is tighter and make a play – whether that’s getting off a high-quality shot or finding the open man.
At the moment, it looks like we’re going to see Driussi take the pitch before Djitte, despite the Senegalese signing coming over a month ago. Slated by Austin FC as an attacking midfielder, the Argentinian has been a prolific goal-scorer and playmaker during his stint at the St. Petersburg club. Maybe even more important than his individual accolades, he brings with him a history of winning. Zenit has dominated the Russian Premier League during his tenure. Led by Driussi’s 11 goals, they ran away with the league in ‘18-’19, parlayed that result into another championship the next year, and carried the momentum into the most recent season where they made it a three-peat.
Due to current MLS protocols for players entering the country, Austin FC’s newest weapon won’t be eligible to take the field this Saturday against Colorado which begs the question: does El Tree reestablish some of the forward progress or are the folks at Q2 in store for another tough outing?