Los Nerdes Verdes: Austin City (Exceeding) Limits

The Transformation

Depending on who you ask, the vibe around Austin’s current position in the standings stretches from ecstatic to disappointing to everything in between. Those who are feeling a bit let down are in that position because of the blazing start to the season. While data can’t do anything to retroactively change those expectations, it can help us put into context just how stellar of a season Austin’s having — even with the recent dip in form.

At the beginning of this season, we took a look at what is reasonable to expect from an expansion team going into year two. By just applying the average bump a team gets in their second year, Austin would have likely missed out on the playoffs. What Austin’s achieving, however — particularly in some of the individual statistics — is exceptional. 

Let’s start with the most important piece of data, points per game. Clocking in at .91 in the 2021 season, hitting 1.71 pts/game fourteen games into the season is an extraordinary jump. In fact, if this pace holds steady for the remainder of the year, that’d be the single largest jump by percentage since the early days of the league when both Chivas and RSL made similar improvements in their second year. That 1.71 number itself would slot Austin in as the third most successful second-year team behind just LAFC and Atlanta — the latter of which won the cup.

We don’t think we have to remind everyone of Austin’s scoring woes last season, but the day and night change is backed up by the data as well. An 87% increase in goals per game is by far and away the largest jump from a first- to second-year team. 

As prolific as the offense has been, the defense deserves some love as well. While last year’s squad made a frustrating amount of mistakes in the defensive third, the number of times Austin actually had to retrieve the ball out of their own net was about average compared to previous expansion teams. The defensive change from year one to year two (-22% GA/90) puts them in the top half of expansion teams in their second year — another strong indicator of just how successful Ruben Gabrielsen’s been in bringing stability and experience to the back line.

The Matchup

Montreal is a tough team to pin down. Both of their xG and xGA stats tell a story that isn’t indicative of where they fall in the table. On the offensive end, their xG would point to a fairly middle of the road team. In reality, they’ve netted the second most goals, nestled between LAFC and Austin. That discrepancy is being driven almost entirely by Djordje Mihailovic who’s MVP caliber season has seen him notch 3.7 goals above his xG, good for third highest among MLS players. The Verde & Black luck out on the timing this weekend with Djordje likely not active after suffering an ankle injury that kept him out of an important USMNT camp. Instead, Austin need only face Kei Kamara, one of MLS’ all-time leading goalscorers. 

On the other side of the ball, analyzing Montreal’s defensive ability comes down to how much credence you put in the xG stat. Having given up the fifth most goals off of the fifth least xGA, the Canadian side must feel profoundly unlucky. How crisp and lethal Austin look on the ball after a long international break will set the tone for this match.