Los Nerdes Verdes: Saggy In The Middle

Covering Up Our Issues

It wasn’t the first time this season it’s happened, but watching USMNT darling Ricardo Pepi rack up a brace along with his striking partner Jesús Ferreira — primarily off of Austin FC mistakes — was brutal. Errant passes from the back line, mishandles from Stuver, and giveaways deep in the midfield plagued an Austin FC squad that was otherwise able to create and capitalize on chances at the other end.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact of giving the ball away in your own third without defenders in place. For a team that wants to dominate possession, the last thing you need is to give the opposition extra bites at the apple. The very apparent mistakes, however, may be overshadowing some deeper, more systemic issues on the defensive end. Previously we dove into the Verde & Black’s end-to-end style of offensive — a way of play that has resulted in a majority of our touches coming in the attacking and defensive thirds.

That trend is also being reflected by these pressure and tackle stats out of the midfield. Our quick transitions can leave gaps and holes that are tough to fill when the ball gets turned over in the attacking third. Despite some fairly competitive numbers elsewhere on the field, the ability for Austin to stop the ball all but disappears in the middle third of the field. Coming in at 24th in midfield pressures and dead last in tackles, there isn’t a ton currently keeping the opposition from turning simple turnovers anywhere on the field into chances on goal.

The Alex Ring Dilemma

Alex Ring has lined up in a number of positions this season — bouncing around from a more defensive role to one with the freedom to roam forward. With El Tree’s trouble in the middle of the field, the million dollar question seems to be, “where does Ring give us the best chance to win?” When this trend came onto our radar, the first thing that came to mind was that Austin needs a true number 6 to control the middle of the field.

In looking at who in the league is setting a good example, we revisited this article from 2019 which, coincidentally, lists Alex Ring as one of the best CDMs in the league. In fact, Ring’s ability to bring stability to that position was one of the reasons the trade that brought him over from NYCFC was so widely praised. 

The call Josh Wolff and staff need to make now is whether they think the team’s attacking capabilities have been bolstered enough by the signing of Driussi that Ring can shift back to the more defensive role currently occupied by Daniel Pereira.

Today’s Matchup

A couple of weeks ago, Vancouver looked like a game that Austin should expect to win. Both teams were hovering around the bottom of the Western Conference and there were trends that suggested AFC were headed in the right direction. Since that date, however, Vancouver hasn’t dropped points and the Verde & Black’s two outings were wildly different showings against Portland and FC Dallas. So how do we match up?

The headline is that the Whitecaps don’t do anything particularly well or outlandishly poorly. What they do have is a dynamic winger duo in Cristian Dajome and Deiber Caicedo who have put up prolific goal and assist numbers since the squad’s lead striker went down with a knee injury 3 weeks ago.

Whether or not Austin can keep the mistakes low and the Whitecaps’ attacking momentum to minimum will determine what kind of game this turns into. Give us a follow over on Instagram and Twitter at losnerdesverdes and catch us talking trends on the Austin FC subreddit. Stay Verde!