Austin FC dropped another game at home on Saturday, and heading into a pivotal part of the season, it’s safe to say the performances have been nothing short of underwhelming of late. Twice in a row now home fans have been disappointed as an increasingly-healthier El Tree roster has dropped games to under-staffed rosters.
Seattle could almost be excused or explained based on how well their youngsters played, and how well-ingrained the Sounders system is into players from top to bottom. But the situation with Colorado, short of it’s national-team caliber players? It was rough.
There’s a lot to discuss about this weekend’s match before Austin looks to rebound on Wednesday against Houston, so let’s get to it.
So many passes—but ultimately, they go nowhere
Being one of the top teams in the league in terms of passing totals and completion percentage usually sounds like a great thing, and to be fair, it usually is. However, as Los Nerdes Verdes pointed out, when only 30.5% of the distance covered by El Tree’s passing is towards the opponent’s goal, it can certainly lead to issues.
Though not a strategy that inherently needs complete changing if goals are to come, the need for an impactful midfielder or forward is never made more evident than when Austin’s offense puts together some wonderful passing sequences, garnering control of possession, and of the game, but ultimately fails to puncture defenses.
We have seen it in games recently, like the bout with the severely-understaffed Seattle Sounders, as they calmly sat in defense and absorbed offensive pressure, but failed to allow any goals.
Though the title of this section of our recap today certainly seems bleak—this type of successful, accurate passing and possession control is generally a sign of good chemistry in the squad, and competent players from the back to the front. Pair that with having one of the league’s best-passing goaltenders in Brad Stuver, and you’re looking swell to build going forward.
It can sometimes make watching games feel long and maybe even boring, but it may just happen that one day, perhaps soon, we’ll be thankful for the capable passing we see in this squad.
Reinforcements need to get in playing shape fast
Josh Wolff recently expressed his hope that Austin’s newest, and final, Designated Player Sebastian Driussi will be available to play soon—and I truly can’t imagine a scenario where that isn’t the case. As soon as he’s available, chemistry be darned, he’ll be on the field.
I also can’t imagine a scenario where we don’t see an appearance from fellow new signing McKinze Gaines, even if it’s only due to the need for depth heading into a packed run of matches.
How fast these two signings acclimate to their new digs likely will have a big impact on this team, obviously this is specifically the case for Driussi’s arrival. He’s already made himself at home with his new club, and was at the last game. No doubt he recognized just how much he is needed in this lineup, and just how big of an impact he can have.
Though pivotal, Austin’s success heading down the stretch won’t solely be based on his impact, or Gaines’ impact, or even if (when), Moussa Djitte arrives to the squad.
This team is still far from complete, and it’s easy to see that a couple players currently on-roster need to step up if Austin is to climb out of the hole they’re in and compete for a playoff spot by the end of the season. Players like Alex Ring, Cecilio Dominguez, and Tomás Pochettino will have to improve their performances.
It’s time for Josh Wolff to switch it up tactically
Sometimes tactics work—and sometimes they fail. Part of the game of soccer is having a head coach who will adjust when things go wrong, and alter slightly when things are going right.
Things have been going wrong for Austin FC.
It’s easy to see that the lack of an impact midfielder and/or striker have hurt Wolff’s side—and truthfully, I don’t believe that Wolff can do that much to change the outcomes of a lot of these games.
For instance, against Colorado, Wolff couldn’t have coached a better header out of Alex Ring, or stopped the turf monster from eating Rodney Redes’ shot in the box, or even sent an incisive pass into the final third.
But there are definitely some things that can be altered. When your luck won’t change, and your change in personnel isn’t quite ready, you have to try to alter your tactics. No need for a full-blown reboot, but definitely a need for alteration.
Teams simply have figured out the appropriate ways to crack Wolff’s system, a possession-based system a la Gregg Berhalter, which we expected this team to have from the jump. We’ve seen it again and again. Teams simply sit back on defense, and expose Austin on the break, especially if Austin fails to score first– which, unfortunately, happens more often than not.
Wolff has recently been hitting the mantra “run behind the lines” hard, encouraging his team to create decisive runs behind opposing defenses—simple, right?
Well, unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, and the willingness, and sometimes eagerness, to pass the ball backwards or to switch the field in the final third only hurts the implementation of this mantra more.
Driussi, Gaines and eventually Djitte all add more options for Wolff to experiment with, but El Tree’s head coach is running out of time, and games, to change the course of this inaugural season.
Brad Stuver should be an MLS All-Star
On a more positive note, it would be an absolute travesty if I left you without our weekly Brad Stuver praise, right?
Stuver again had a good evening in goal for the Verde, and here’s a great example. Even in his down moment, wherein he almost let a ball squeak through his superman-like grasp and into the net, he took it with humility and grace, stating on Sunday that the supporter’s section “helped keep it out of the goal. Maybe they threw some beer at it!”
Without Brad Stuver, there is no telling where this Austin FC team would be at in the MLS standings. Yes, I realize that we are now bottom of the Western Conference, and one point away from the basement in general, but without Stuver this team may just be winless due to the lack of offensive production.
That brings me to my actual point—Brad Stuver should be an All-Star.
I know it, and if you’ve watched any Austin FC game this season, you know it, too.
Not only has Stuver ingrained himself into the Austin culture with a love for the team and city, an important feat in and of itself, but in addition the Ohio-born goalkeeper has more than played his way into this year’s game against the Liga MX All-Stars.
It will be a travesty if it doesn’t happen—that’s all I’m saying.
Hopefully MLS selection committee agrees.