Same, Same, But Different
There are tons of differences between Austin’s first and third year, but through the first six games, the results look much more similar to that inaugural season than last year’s historic run.
Injuries have plagued the Verde & Black, and that got worse over the week as the club announced Zan Kolmanic would miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL.
The way Josh Wolff is looking to build out of possession this season is different than last year — pushing a chosen fullback significantly higher up the pitch while allowing the wingers to pinch inside to create passing options. Players have mentioned throughout the year that they’re still working to adapt to the new way of playing — something Dani Pereira chose to highlight in post game interviews following the loss to LAFC.
Regression to xG was a huge storyline over the offseason. It’s natural, then, to look at whether that’s what’s causing the drop in results. The data seems to suggest, at least so far, that it’s not the case. While Austin’s 2022 overperformance of their expected goals isn’t being replicated this year, they’re also just not creating consistent high-quality chances — falling short of even year one’s xG stat.
What we want to hear from you: what are your theories as to what’s leading to the slow start? Are these valid reasons that Austin can overcome as the season moves forwards or excuses that may be covering up deeper issues?
Vancouver are on a run of good form (outside of being dispatched by LAFC in the CCL). Over the last four games, they’ve averaged 2.35 xG, a number that would put them top of the league by about 20% to spare if they sustained it over the course of the season. Some of that is due to playing a man up for ~70 minutes against Montreal but to still put five past their Canadian counterparts is noteworthy.
The Whitecaps have consistently run the same formation this season, both home and away. The 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-1-2 that Vancouver typically employs allows them to stay incredibly compact in defense while still overloading key areas on offense. Where they’ve been successful so far going forward this season is by creating overloads and passing triangles in the middle of the field for long enough to suck in the opposing defenses — particularly the fullbacks. The moment they’re out of position, late runners into the channels are finding themselves free in dangerous areas.
The name on the top of everyone’s mind going into today’s matchup should be Julian Gressel. Earning a callup from the USMNT at the unusually late age of 29, Gressel is possibly the league’s best crosser of the ball. According to fbref, he has the 3rd highest assists and xA/90 for players with over 200 minutes. It’ll likely be up to Nick Lima on that side of the field to stay switched on at all times.
Vancouver’s defensive shape should give Austin space on the wings to whip balls in — an opportunity that would have fit Kolmanic’s skillset to a tee. The Verde & Black don’t have the best history with matches in which the game plan becomes “cross as many balls as possible and hope for the best” (see Orlando 2022, RSL 2022 playoffs, and 2023 Violette). If Austin ends up with a positive result, it might be because they’re finally able to replicate the success Fagundez had in finding players in the box.