Los Nerdes Verdes: Austin FC Passing in the Fast Lane

Overtaking on the Shoulder

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen first hand the impact that our wing play has had in providing early defensive pressure — both how effective it can be and, unfortunately, the dropoff that occurs when tactics are changed. More broadly, however, width has played a massive role for Austin FC’s success, and nowhere has that shined through more than on the offensive side of the ball. Afterall, the Verde & Black are the MLS’ second leading scorers. 

Last game against Minnesota Utd was a perfect example of how valuable our wide play is in the attack. We saw in the first half, as Jimenez and Finlay were still trying to get on the same page, that Austin just couldn’t build anything that really put pressure on Minnesota’s back line. They did get more comfortable with each other as the night went on, and our one and only goal came from that side after a heads up play from Jimenez found Maxi Urruti who only moments prior was playing possum in the 18.

The reliance on width is backed up by the data as well. Austin FC is 2nd in the MLS this season in completed crosses into the 18 in addition to being 4th in switches per game (a stat defined by fbref as passes that go more than 40 yards width wise). Our wing players have also been vital in the added bit of creativity we’ve seen in the final third. In addition to crosses, Austin is also 4th in the amount of passes into the 18. A 6th sense has been built up between the wingers and both Driussi and Urruti that allow them to play the precise passes needed to unlock defenders. The consistency of Fagundez and emergence of Kolmanic have been a blessing for the Verde & Black, and if Josh Wolff can get the makeup of the right side down, expect these trends to continue. 

Last year, we saw relatively similar passing numbers, but the final ball consistently let us down. The elite performance of Driussi this year along with a pair of wonder goals from Urruti have painted the team’s passing capabilities in an entirely new light. Austin leads the league in assists per game by a healthy margin this season, and quality passes into the box and lethality from the forwards is a big reason why. Whether the rest of the season looks more like the first or second halves of last week’s slugfest against Minnesota will be an indicator of the staying power of this squad.

The Matchup

D.C. United’s only points this season came against MLS newcomers Charlotte FC and MLS bottom feeder FC Cincinnati. But, at the end of the day, the Verde & Black haven’t taken three points on the road in 350 days. Before we can really be confident in this squad, they have to break that mold. 

United like to pressure the opposition back line, so look for Ring, Pereira, and Driussi to show in the middle of the pitch, release pressure, and find our wingers making runs in behind. Dani has shown himself to be a remarkable field general in the midfield, and if he can keep that up, the forwards for Austin FC may find themselves in more than a few advantageous positions. If the final balls are quality and Urruti and Driussi are on their game, we like our chances.