Months of anticipation for Austin FC’s 2023 season seemed to fall lifeless Saturday night at Q2 Stadium, as the Verde and Black suffered a heartbreaking and somewhat shocking loss at the hands of expansion club St. Louis City.
While it may seem hard to take away any positives from the season-opening loss, there were still some performances around the pitch for Austin that deserve the spotlight.
Leo Väisänen’s debut
Despite the costly performance of his center back partner, Leo Väisänen was terrific in his first match as a member of Austin FC. Väisänen assisted Sebastián Driussi with a long ball at the end of the first half, completed 63 passes, and had two blocks, four clearances, and four interceptions to lead a shaky Austin defense.
One of Austin’s biggest issues last season was their lack of quality in the center back position, and, after the departure of Ruben Gabrielsen and Kipp Keller’s disastrous season debut, it looks like it may be an issue again.
Väisänen will be key in Austin’s back line if they want to be consistent, and his performance on opening night may be an indicator of good things to come for a fragmented Austin defense.
The Left Backs
Zan Kolmanic and Jon Gallagher showed promising signs from the left-back position, especially in a more attacking role.
Kolmanic served as more of a wing-back, getting down the left as Diego Fagundez played more of a midfield role. I would’ve liked to see a bit more efficiency on crosses and attacking passes from Kolmanic, but his performance was certainly something to build off of.
Gallagher also found himself in a wing-back position, and was absolutely terrific in the attack, though he wasn’t needed much on the defensive end. Gallagher’s goal showed off both his pace and his ability to finish off chances in the box, things Austin fans would like to see more of this season.
The entire defense will need to brush up before facing Montreal next weekend, but the quality of attacking play from Austin’s left backs was somewhat unexpected and very important in salvaging any offense against St. Louis.
Same old Sebastián
At the end of the day, all Austin fans can thank their lucky stars that Sebastián Driussi plays for their club. Where would we be without him?
Austin’s MVP candidate picked up right where he left off with a world-class goal at the end of the first half, and nearly scored a second when his header glanced off the crossbar in the dying moments of the match. Driussi also completed 27 passes and won eight duels in his full 90 minutes of play.
No matter the result of each game, Driussi gives Austin fans hope for the next one. If his performance Saturday is any indication, there may be reason to believe that El Crack will again find his name amongst the MVP finalists in 2023.
The midfield trio of Owen Wolff, Dani Periera, and Alex Ring were a bright spot amidst the chaos on the attacking and defensive fronts for Austin.
It came as a surprise to many that Owen Wolff earned the start over former captain Alex Ring, but the 18-year-old had a solid season debut. Wolff put in some quality work in his 75 minutes of action, completing 28 passes, four long balls, and drawing three fouls.
Dani Periera showed signs of stardom Saturday, being efficient in the midfield and making an impact on every phase of the game. Pereira completed the most passes of any player in the match with 66, created two chances, took one shot, and drew three fouls.
Despite being forced to come off the bench in the season opener, former captain Alex Ring was all over the pitch in his 15 minutes. Ring provided a key chance that nearly found an equalizer for Austin, and may have earned his starting job back for the foreseeable future.
In general, it was good to see this group blend together nicely, and create some hope out of little to nothing in the attack. Seeing Wolff develop will be exciting for Austin fans, and the combination of Pereira and Ring should be a quality pairing to hold down the middle of the pitch.
Overall, Austin’s season opener against St. Louis City is not one that fans will look back on fondly, but the Verde and Black have 33 games to right their wrongs from opening night. Backed by a few positive performances, all Los Verdes can do is put this one in the rearview and prepare for a bounce-back battle at Q2 next weekend against Montreal.
Cover Photo Courtesy Austin FC
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