Los Nerdes Verdes: High and Dry in the Back

Josh Wolff’s Double-Edged Sword

A beautiful seven-pass team goal and a mental lapse that leads directly to a goal off of 0.52 xG — two possible outcomes of Josh Wolff’s dedication to building out of the back. In a game of such fine margins, a mistake on the back line can be the difference between stealing points on the road and a disappointing flight back to Austin. Unfortunately, even after a first year that was rife with costly mistakes in the back, the number of errors that have led to a shot has actually increased from last season: 0.44 → 0.46 per 90. 

Last year, Stuver and Cascante were two of the highest contributors to that statistic, and both of them are on the usual suspects list this year as well. Perhaps a bit surprising this season is that Nick Lima out of the RB position has committed the same number of errors that have led to a shot as Stuver.

2022 Austin FC Errors → Shot
Cascante – 3
Stuver – 2
Lima – 2
Keller – 2

As frustrating as they are, it’s hard to call them unnecessary or unforced with the way the team’s set up to play forward, and the stats back that up. Cascante is in the top 80th percentile of CBs in passes attempted, progressive passes, and progressive carries. It’s even more drastic for Stuver who’s asked to do a lot more than most MLS keepers — highlighted by the fact that he’s in the 97th percentile among keepers in touches. All of those extra touches and passes in the back are an inviting opportunity for the opposition. Austin’s 6th in the league in the amount of opposition tackles in their own third and 4th in the number of pressures. 

The big philosophical question is whether it’s worth it. Does a focus on building out of the back provide enough benefit going forward to counteract the risk of an occasional giveaway in the back?

The Matchup

You don’t get more statistically dominant than LAFC this season. The only area where they don’t wildly excel is their possession average. That being said, some may point to that as a strength rather than a weakness – being able to pull results when not dictating the game. In games this season when they have less than 50% possession, LAFC is taking 2.5 points/game.

Last matchup, LAFC took the xG advantage 1.9 to 0.7 although it’s worth highlighting that .79 of the opponent’s xG came from a 86th minute Vela PK. One of LA’s biggest advantages in that May game was how they came on stronger as the game went on. When you think about the depth changes they’ve made since then (bringing in Bale and Chiellini) that’s an advantage they’ll look to press. This season, Austin’s starting wingers in Fagundez and Finlay have the team’s highest G-GA while they’re on the pitch — +25 and +22 respectively. The dropoff from those two have been an issue with both Redes and Wolff in the negative (-2 and -1). Corozo and Rigoni being game/tactically fit for tonight’s matchup would represent a huge improvement.

In all five of LAFC’s losses this year they’ve been scored on first. If Austin avoids digging themselves an early hole (something they’ve had an issue with at Q2), a first-half punch in the mouth may give LA some flashbacks to their earlier-season loss and help set the tone. A win tonight would put Austin within just six points of the Supporter Shield in their second season. Listos!