With five matchdays in the books for Austin FC in 2023, the bye week gives us some time to reflect on what’s working for the club, what’s not working, and what stands out in the first stretch of the season.
If I were to tell you, before the season, that one Austin FC player would have half of the club’s goals on the season and be second at his position in goal contributions, it’s unlikely the first name to come to mind would be fullback Jon Gallagher. Gallagher has been arguably the best defender in MLS in the attack and has been Austin’s best player so far by a long shot. While I’m not certain Gallagher can keep up this pace for a full season, his contributions have been one of the few factors keeping Austin going in 2023.
The Short-Term Center Back Solution
When Julio Cascante was injured just nine minutes into the season, and Kipp Keller followed it up with possibly the worst performance by an Austin FC defender ever, it was clear that Austin had a problem at the back. Thankfully, the adjustments that coach Josh Wolff has made have been just enough to keep Austin afloat. Leo Vaisanen has been nothing short of terrific in his four games with Austin, and the other half of the Finnish defensive duo, Alex Ring, has really stepped up at a new position. While some struggles come from Austin’s lack of depth, seeing the successful adaptations to this problem keeps fans optimistic.
One of the surprises of the season for me has been success of the Owen Wolff and Dani Periera duo in Austin’s midfield this season. The talent of the two young midfielders has been evident for a while, but the two have really put it together in the first five games of the year. The pair have combined for a goal and two assists, and their confidence and composure in the midfield appear mature beyond their years. If they can continue to contribute, Austin will have a good duo on their hands for a while.
Zardes and Rigoni
Austin FC splashed the cash on the attack in the past two seasons, and, unfortunately, it just hasn’t paid off quite yet. Striker Gyasi Zardes and winger Emiliano Rigoni in particular just simply haven’t been up to par this season, and while I’m sure the goal contributions will eventually come for the two, it’s discouraging to see the subpar play so far. Attackers like Maxi Urruti and Moussa Djitte were put on the bench or loaned out to make space for them, and the quality in return hasn’t been there so far this season.
While it may be easy to point fingers at certain players, the attack in general just hasn’t been consistent for Austin. Austin FC scored 13 goals in their first five games of 2022, but just scored six in their first five of 2023. While 13 is a high number to shoot for, you would at least like to see a few more goals coming from Austin’s attack, especially when so much money has been spent to get attackers to the club.
The Violette Incident
As of right now, it seems like Austin FC’s failure to beat Haitian side Violette AC in the CONCACAF Champions League will loom over the club forever. It’s a challenging loss to digest, especially when many were confident that Austin could make a run in the tournament. Austin’s failure to beat Violette in leg two also highlights the struggles of the attack this season, maintaining 76% possession and firing 35 shots, but only coming up with two goals. It’s a difficult loss to get over, and certainly a major lowlight of the 2023 season.
While it’s easy to get excited about the highs and get discouraged over the lows, the only way for Austin FC to go in 2023 is forward. The Verde and Black will use the bye week to reflect, and begin to gear up for a treacherous summer, beginning with a match against reigning MLS champs and the team that ended Austin’s 2022 season, LAFC, on Saturday.
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