Finding the Net, But Not in Crunch Time
A big component of Josh Wolff’s possession-minded philosophy is the idea that more time on the ball inevitably leads to more running for your opponent which inevitably leads to fatigue and greater results towards the end of the game. Compounding this is the notion that the hot Texas sun should multiply those effects — ideally wearing down visiting teams that don’t have the experience and conditioning of the Verde & Black.
What we see in the data, however, hasn’t yet validated that hypothesis. It’s Austin’s performance that seems to take a dip over the course of the game. In fact, regardless of whether the game was home or away, Austin was outscored in the final 15 minutes of the game. Even in games we won, the last section of matches belonged to our opponents — having been outscored 4-3 over the course of the season.
In any kind of analysis about a team’s fitness and results over the course of a game, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the depth issues. Over the course of last season, players were asked to line up out of position and the depth of some of our most running-required and forward-pressing positions included steep drop offs in quality from starter to bench.
Those depth issues have a waterfall effect. Not only does it make it more difficult to capitalize on possession, but it lessens the quality of possession. 60% possession primarily made up of passes around the back is not the same as 60% possession filled with dynamic movement and asks of the opposition fullbacks to track runs in behind.
Austin FC’s offseason signings should help greatly here. Maxi Urruti bringing veteran finishing to the squad is certainly a plus, but he may have an even greater impact in freeing up players like Cecilio to maximize their skillset in stretching out the opponent. Then, you bring in a winger in Ethan Finley who will be coming off the bench looking to work hard in both the attack and defense and you can start to utilize your possession advantage to turn the screws.
Open Day Matchup
If Austin’s looking for a bit of momentum to kick off their second season, it’s hard to imagine a better situation than at home against FC Cincinnati. Coming in is a Ohio-based side that, quite frankly, hasn’t done much to warrant their admission into the American top flight or to reward their solid home crowd which — despite falling off 23% from the ‘19 season — still averaged the 4th highest in the league. Outside of bringing in a new manager, there hasn’t been much in offseason movement to suggest there will be a quick, significant turnaround. In fact, after an opening set of three campaigns that resulted in last place, last place, last place, MLSSoccer.com’s projected 2022 power rankings have them finishing a blazing 27th, just in front of MLS newcomers Charlotte FC whose own manager offered up this projection for their first season: “We are screwed.”
A golden opportunity doesn’t necessarily equal a lack of pressure. With such a beatable opponent on the card for night one, a loss or draw would immediately ignite the section of supporters who aren’t wild about Josh Wolff and don’t feel like Reyna and his team did enough going into year two. That being said (and to stop exclusively dunking on Cincinnati), let’s take a look at the data behind the matchup.
To begin, these were two of the three worst scoring defenses throughout the 2021 MLS, with Cincinnati and Austin giving up the most and 3rd most goals respectively. The logical next thought is that this is going to be a shootout. It could. With ATXFC bringing in some experience up top and a backline that’s still witnessing a bit of uncertainty with Kipp’s recent high-ankle tweak and Gabrielsen having only landed in Austin ten days before the start of the season, one could easily see this game turning into a high scoring affair. If it does, that’d be a bit of an aberration for both teams. Likely not a huge surprise for the Verde faithful who suffered through the teams long scoring droughts, but Austin finished last in goals in ‘21. FC Cincinnati weren’t exactly tearing holes in the opposition nets either, ending the season in a middling 15th place.
Should trends hold from last season, the storyline will be similar to many that preceded 2021 matches: will Austin FC’s possession produce results? By now, we’re all well versed in the Verde & Black’s dedication to controlling the ball, and Cinci — with a 49% possession rate last season — are fine with letting that happen. Are a season’s worth of chemistry built, additional veteran leadership and depth, and a revamped midfield that allows Alex Ring to roam forward enough to find some additional lethality and ruthlessness? Game 1 won’t answer all of our questions, but we can’t wait to get started. We’d love to hear from you over on Instagram and Twitter @losnerdesverdes. Until then, see you at the Q2!