Whether the salary cap or the draft, Major League Soccer is a league with built-in parity that doesn’t exist in other leagues. Because of that, drastic shifts in performance from one year to the next are much more common.
This year, Austin FC are on the positive side of those swings – sitting in 2nd place in the West as of Matchweek 25, a ten place rise from their inaugural season. That jump is the highest in the league, followed closely by Montreal who’ve enjoyed an eighth position improvement. No coincidence that both sides are being led by MVP-caliber seasons from Driussi and Mihailovic.
As miraculous as Austin’s turnaround has been, it may not even be the most drastic change from last year. At the moment, recent victims of the Verde magic Sporting KC sit on the bottom of the West. After closing out the regular season in 3rd, their eleven place tumble is the worst in the league.
Speaking of parity, however, the stories of this season are not yet written in stone, despite just about a quarter left of the season. On game day, there are just ten points separate Sporting in 14th and the four teams currently tied on points at the playoff line.
Minnesota’s recent form is quite similar to Austin’s. Both teams have, unfortunately, punctuated a long streak of wins with a disappointing stretch of losses and draws against inferior opponents.
Most concerning for both have to be the number of goals conceded. Over the last four games, Austin and Minnesota have given up 10 each. That’s not entirely out of form for the Loons. They sit in the bottom four in both xGA and shots against. Their actual GA would likely look a lot worse without their All-Star keeper, Dayne St. Clair who sports a +6.1 PSxG-G – a stat on par with our own Brad Stuver.
Then it must stand to reason that today’s clash is going to be a shootout? Not so fast. In the four game history between these two sides, both teams have never scored in the same game. What wins out today? Form or history?
Individually, it doesn’t get much better than today’s matchup. Austin’s Sebastian Driussi and Minnesota’s Reynoso are bonafide MVP candidates – it’s no surprise both sides are in the top half of the league in goals/90. Whichever creator balls out more may just end up deciding who walks away with points.