Los Nerdes Verdes: Rookie Hazing

Inaugural v Inaugural

Let the Nerds take you back, for a moment, to August 8th, 2021. Austin FC had just completed their first Copa Tejas matches of their young history — having come off a 3-2 victory against Houston and falling 0-2 to FC Dallas in Frisco. That shutout also made ten scoreless matches in the last thirteen for the Verde & Black. The significance of that time period? That FC Dallas matchup made seventeen on the season, exactly where Charlotte FC finds itself coming into Thursday’s game. 

In many ways, Charlotte’s inaugural season represents a complete departure from what the Verde faithful experienced last year. Whereas Austin pushed through a rather poor season without much change, Charlotte is sitting just outside an Eastern Conference playoff spot while on coach number two. We here at LNV would take a consistent and steady improvement over a dramatic but surprisingly strong start, but others can make the call for themselves. In the meantime, let’s take a look at how the two compare statistically.

To start, it’s interesting to see Charlotte’s possession stats. At 53.4%, the newcomers are dedicated to playing out of the back in a way that should be familiar to Austin supporters. Also similar to Austin’s first season, it hasn’t always translated into putting goals in the back of the net. While they have tallied more than the Verde & Black had through the same opening stretch, their 1.06 G/90 is good for 3rd to last in the league this year.

When looking at the advanced statistics, Charlotte should be a bit buoyed by the fact that their G/90 are similarly in line with their xG. Any relief that would bring, however, would be quickly dashed by the fact that their xGA is far outpacing their actual GA, indicating that they’ve been relatively lucky not to concede more. 

After our matchup with Charlotte, they’ll go on to play a stretch of much weaker Eastern Conference teams. In order to actually make a push for a playoff spot in their first year, that’s where they’ll need a run of good results before the end of their season which is peppered with Western Conference sides and actual contenders.

If we had to guess, most inside the organization and fan base would consider the season a success for metrics outside of on-field results. If next year they’re on pace to match this year’s extraordinary average attendance of 37,000 they can feel like they’re building something special. 

The Matchup

Charlotte’s June has been one of turbulent change, not only with the firing of first year manager Miguel Angel Ramirez but with perennial captain and the Leicester-supporting half of LNV favorite Christian Fuchs sustaining a series of leg injuries that have held him out of consistent playing time. Since the end of last month, their run of results haven’t been terrible, pulling off an impressive win against a difficult Eastern Conference side in the Red Bulls and a tie against a floundering Columbus Crew. 

Preceding this match, Charlotte fell to CF Montreal away 1-2 where a week earlier Austin was able to walk away with three points and a red card. 

Austin defenders will recognize a familiar face as McKinze Gaines has seen consistent playing time for the MLS newcomers. When he has started this season, it’s been in a more traditional RM where he’s able to utilize his speed to stretch defenses. His likely counterpart, Gallagher, has turned himself into a real asset for Austin lately. It’ll be interesting to see whether there’s something either of them know about each other from training that will give them the edge.

Since taking over, Christian Lattanzio has stuck fairly consistently to a 4-1-4-1, deviating only to a slightly more attacking setup against Montreal — possibly under the impression they had less to fear against a side who still hasn’t seen the return of Djordje Mihailovic. Turns out that their optimism was misplaced, and the same Canadian side that had difficulty creating chances against Austin netted two goals off 0.7 xG. We’ll probably see them fall back into that more defensive shape with a CDM who’s only real objective is likely going to be watching Driussi like a hawk. Josh Wolff’s side has excelled this year in playing more direct — something they struggled with last year, which allowed them to be locked down when the tika-taka wasn’t coming off. ATXFC will miss Cascante’s longball ability, but their success in playing the wingers in behind without having to stop through Driussi could play an outsized role in the outcome of this game should Charlotte keep the middle compact and make life miserable for Seba.

The other big unknown going into today’s matchup is who plays up top. Urruti is currently listed as questionable with a back injury, and both backups are coming off strong performances against Dallas with Djitte setting up the first and Hoesen finishing the second. Here’s how they’ve stacked up statistically in 2022:

Djitte vs Hoesen
Min: 176 vs 76
G/90: 0.51 vs 2.37
xG/90: 0.67 vs 1.59
Cmp%: 71.4 vs 70
SCA: 2.05 vs 1.18

Winning this game would be a real momentum booster for ATX going into a stretch of very winnable games. How do y’all see this one playing out?