Form vs Standing
Outside of the Philadelphia Union extending their juggernaut-like march towards the Supporter Shield, the last couple of weeks have been more about the stumble of season-long frontrunners and playoff hopefuls missing opportunities to make a definitive claim to punch their ticket into the postseason.
In the East, Columbus holds the final playoff spot with Inter Miami right on their heels. On the other side of the country, recent Austin FC victims RSL sit in 6th and are being hounded by the Galaxy. All four of those teams are trending in the wrong direction – begging the question of whether anyone actually wants to make the playoffs.
The outstanding question for the top of the league is how much momentum going into the playoffs actually matters. Last year, both MLS Cup teams, NYCFC and Portland, won three of their final four matches. However, like most statistics, context matters. If you’re a team like LAFC who’s still desperately trying to incorporate their prestigious signings, you may be okay with a few bumpy games as long as everything syncs when it matters.
On the dreary side of the league, the last few games have largely been a series of gut punches to close out the season. D.C. United, current frontrunners for the league’s lowest point total, have somehow had an even worse run of form lately than the rest of their season. For their supporters looking for a silver lining, much of that can be attributed to a new manager testing their youth and attempting to find his favored lineup going forward.
For those out of the playoff race, an eye towards future success at the expense of 2022 results may be the route to go. As we concluded towards the end of last season, momentum from one season to the next means very little.
For the Verde & Black faithful, Wednesday’s win against RSL was a huge sigh of relief. Momentum aside, finally cementing their long-assumed playoff spot has to feel like a giant weight being lifted. With the point cushion built over the season, Austin need just one point over the final three matches to have a home playoff game. In fact, 538’s playoff model put the Verde’s chances of finishing 2nd in the West at 95%. The question for Wolff and his staff now is whether they prioritize a good run of form heading into those matches or whether concerns over health and fitness will push them to rotate heavily.
Austin’s first matchup with Nashville was just two weeks ago, so stylistically there aren’t many changes. Momentum-wise, there aren’t many more in form than the Tennessee side, however – ripping off four wins and a draw in their last five. That has put them squarely in a playoff position and currently set to host their first opponent.
The truly impactful development for today’s match is that Nashville will be without their defensive talisman Walker Zimmerman who sits after receiving two yellows last game out. Apart from his strong game individually, one that saw him near the top of the team in tackles, pressures, and interceptions in addition to netting a goal himself, the bigger loss could come in the intangibles. Zimmerman is responsible for the in-game setup of their defense which is heavily reliant on the organization strength of their low block.
That opens this game up to being a prime opportunity for Sebastian Driussi to reassert his dominance in the MVP race and set himself apart from Hany Mukhtar.