It’s quite fair to say that Austin FC’s third season has been off to an underwhelming start. Julio Cascante’s injury, the embarrassing CONCACAF Champions League exit to Violette AC, and patchy form in MLS play have stonewalled the prospect of a strong start to the year.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier, with the Verde and Black travelling to sunny Los Angeles to take on defending MLS champions LAFC on Saturday. The home side are fresh off of a 3-0 smashing of Vancouver in the CCL on Wednesday, and currently sit third in the Western Conference with three victories, two draws, and zero defeats on the MLS season.
One of the biggest questions of the match is how LAFC will deal with the explosive play of Jon Gallagher. The strong play of Alexander Ring in the RCB position has allowed Gallagher to roam up the field more, and the Irishman’s three goals in five matches has paid it dividends for Austin.
A notable issue in Austin’s performance of the year has been at the striker position, where Gyasi Zardes hasn’t fit the bill for what they need at striker. Zardes has zero goal contributions in 337 minutes of play and hasn’t even hit the target once (5 total shots). A better option for this match might be Maxi Urruti, whose dynamic play and poised finishing will be necessary against LAFC.
Another factor in this match is the red-hot play of LAFC’s Denis Bouanga. The 28-year-old Frenchman has torn it up this season, netting 8 goals and providing 3 assists in all comps, and is coming off a brace against Vancouver and an 84th minute winner against FC Dallas.
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Overall, Austin hasn’t done a bad job of replacing Ruben Gabrielsen in the off-season and adjusting to injuries, but Ring and co. have potentially their biggest challenge yet with the presence of Bouanga.
Austin switched to a 3-4-3 last match against Colorado, and I have to say I’d prefer the 4-2-3-1 system that Wolff has developed here. Austin got pounded by the Rapids for the majority of the match, and can’t afford to play in that same manner against LAFC.
All in all, this is a pretty rough matchup for Austin. It’s a big opportunity for a massive win that would change the tide of the season, but both sides are heading in opposite directions, and I don’t expect much to change in the way of form barring a magical performance across the board. Prediction: LAFC wins 2-0.
Cover photo courtesy Austin FC