The Battle for Home Field Advantage
We’ve heard it from incoming players, members of the national media, and even opposing fans: the Q2 experience is squarely in the upper echelons of American soccer. It doesn’t take more than one trip to understand why. The food, the quality of the stadium, and the Austin charm are all showstoppers; if we can be allowed some humble bragging, we’d say the supporter section isn’t all that bad either.
There’s no doubt that those are all positives in their own right. Regardless of performance on the pitch, the organization, city of Austin, and MLS as a whole benefits from a top tier fan experience. What we’re interested in here, particularly as the Verde & Black head on the road for the first time this season, is how big of an impact those factors play in the performance of the team. The results, for at least the first season, all tell the same story: ATXFC is a different team at home. A better one, no doubt, but a better one in very specific ways.
While we see bumps across the board statistically, nothing compares to the striking difference in goal volume. On average, the Verde & Black put 1.12 more balls in the back of the net per game at home than on the road. That 237.5% increase in average home goals vs away was the highest in the league by a Mopac mile. This data is all the more relevant now as Austin makes its first road trip of year two. Back-to-back five goal stunners to start the season is ludicrous. It’s quite literally historic for a two game opening stretch. The question becomes whether the team that shows up in Portland looks like the one that struggled to capitalize on chances or whether this is truly the start to a new era in Austin soccer. Statistically speaking, the Timbers’ advantage at home is middling. At a 75% increase in points per game at home, they fall just below average when compared to the league as a whole.
To call last year’s Austin/Portland 3-game series weird would be an understatement. There may be no better demonstration of the difference between home and away form than those games which saw the first two finish with a combined score of 7-2. Austin then closed out the season with a disappointing beat down from a surging Timbers side that would go on to play for the Cup.
On the flip side, the mood around the Verde & Black has taken a full 180 while Portland — who granted have played tougher opponents — haven’t been able to make it into second gear. Regardless of whether they’re home or away, both the 2021 and 2022 Timbers squads have shown their willingness to sit back and yield possession to their opponents. That will almost certainly be the case against an Austin side that tends to dominate possession, even on the road. This is a big test for the year two club. Can ATXFC continue to find the back of the net against tougher competition and away from Fort McKalla?