Just Getting Beat
Since opening day, the Austin FC defense has been in a precarious place. We talked previously about the discrepancy between the Expected Goals Against versus what was actually being converted by the opposition. Those statistics, at the time, illuminated some positive trends — including the emergence of Brad Stuver as a top tier netminder in the league. However, relying primarily on blocked shots from the back line and saves from the keeper seems to have caught up to this team. In fact, in the first nine weeks of the season, Austin FC never gave up more goals than StatBomb’s xGA predicted. Since then, that trend has reversed. In 9 out of the last 14 games, the opposition has netted more goals than even our xGA stat would imply.
As these defensive issues have arisen, we’ve done some deep dives into what may be the cause. The data seems to point to the middle of the field being the biggest lapse in defense for the team. When we first pointed to a lack of tackles and pressures in the middle third of the field, the question jumped out to us: in what facet of the game are we actually falling short?
Well, the data’s out, and it looks like Austin FC is stuck in the spin cycle. The success at which the opposition is dribbling our players is by far and away the highest in the league. At 66%, that stat is such an outlier from the rest of the league that it almost looks like a mistake. There are a bunch of factors that could be coming into play here: Are we just flat out getting beat for speed? Is our one-on-one defending poor? Or, is our spacing/positioning leaving backtracking players on an island? More likely than not, it’s a combination of all three, but this is yet another unfortunate result of the squad’s positional-play style.
Can’t Fix Speed
This week, the guys over on the Moontower Soccer podcast explored some of these factors. They brought up Matt Doyle’s weekly recap which highlighted that Austin FC is a demonstrably slow team. In fact, the only player to crack the top 100 in Second Spectrum’s speed measurement is Nick Lima who comes in at a whopping 95th.
That may be manifesting itself in an interesting way in the data as well. AFC sits dead last in the league in fouls per game. While none of us are going to argue that more fouls is an inherently good stat, when you pair that with our overall lack of pressures, tackles, and inability to stop dribbles, it paints a grim picture: we aren’t even getting close.
The guys at Moontower also sat down with Dave Tenney, the High Performance Director for Austin FC. For our fellow data nerds out there, it’s about as unmissable an interview as exists — particularly for AFC supporters. Dave mentions within that interview the vitally necessary piece of information when discussing sports analytics – nothing is a sure thing, and everything is contextual. What we do know, is that some of these stats are going to have to start trending in the positive direction for Austin to end the season on a high.
Austin FC comes into our midweek matchup with LAFC desperate for a result. With only 3 points gained out of the last 21 available, the narrative has quickly blasted past “first-year, expansion-team bumps” to “there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we’re playing soccer.” That sentiment is being felt inside the club as well with Alex Ring going so far as to say, “we don’t deserve (our fans) at the moment.”
Unfortunately, our opponent today is an LAFC squad that’s in the midst of a good run of form despite having a below-average season. The silver lining? The Verde & Black won’t have to worry about two of LAFC’s most effective scorers – Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela – with Rossi out on loan with Turkey’s Fenerbahce after a strong start to the season and Vela picking up a knock against the Whitecaps. Does LAFC keep their march towards the final playoff spot in the West going or does Austin FC stop the skid?
Catch us over on Instagram and Twitter at losnerdesverdes. Stay Verde!