It was a frustrating night at Q2 Stadium for the boys in Verde, but I’m going to sum up this game with three bright spots and three areas where we need to improve.
Before I get to that, let me explain the headline. Both Austin FC and Vancouver Whitecaps were coming off of 3-0 defeats to LAFC, and both teams had just been bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL).
There is a long sad history of MLS teams experiencing a hangover after trying to compete in the continental competition. Even Seattle — the first MLS team to ever win it — couldn’t bounce back from their CCL campaign, and ended up missing the playoffs.
So let’s start with the weaknesses from tonight’s performance, and then close with the positives.
When is Austin FC going to start scoring?
Last night’s match provided plenty of theatrics, but in the end the finishing just wasn’t precise enough for either squad. So the story going into the match — Austin’s lack of goal production — continues to be the story coming out of the match.
The bigger problem is that the rest of the Western Conference teams aren’t sitting around waiting for the Verde to get it together, so Austin is now below the playoff line in the standings (even though it was expanded to 9 teams this season).
Tonight we saw some improvement in the number of chances generated (15 shots forcing 3 saves, versus 9 shots and 0 forced saves versus LAFC last week), but it still wasn’t good enough to earn the W.
Both Josh Wolff and Ethan Finlay, who spoke to the media post-game, were questioned by the media about the confidence of Austin’s attackers. Roll the tape to see what Ethan had to say:
Scary Building Out of the Back
First, some credit should go to Vancouver’s forwards who applied some dangerous pressure along our backline, trying to force a turnover in our own third of the field. It did create some scary tight squeezes and even a few turnovers, though none of them resulted in a goal because Brad Stuver came to our rescue.
I asked Stuver about this, and he thought some of this could be due to a tactical change that was put in place for this game, which left Dani Pereira by himself — because Wolffito was being pushed higher up the field in the attack. Hear what Stuver had to say about it in the clip below.
This leads to my last critique of Austin FC’s draw, and it will also set up the first of my three positives.
Owen Wolff’s Passing Decisions
On the one hand, Teen Wolff completed 91% of his passes last night, which is pretty good. But when he got the ball in dangerous spots on the field, those passes continued a trend that I’ve been noticing for a few games now: a lot of his passes are safe passes that go backward or laterally. See below for his passing chart from last night’s game.
It’s good that he’s careful with the ball, but when he’s being pushed up to generate more chances, that’s a problem. Because these choices stifle the tempo of the offensive movement, which ultimately allowed Vancouver to regain their defensive structure.
We need the guy playing in Wolff’s position to make the passes that breaks defensive lines to send runners in behind, which creates chaos as the defenders are forced to run toward their own goal.
And though he hasn’t seen much of the field thus far in 2023, Coach Wolff should know by now that we do have someone capable to provide this kind of service that Owen hasn’t generated much of so far.
This leads me to my next point…
It’s Time for Sofiane Djeffal to get a Start
The Frenchman from Nantes has only seen 125 minutes of action this season. Now I know what you’re thinking… 90 of those minutes came during the “Debacle in the Dominican,” but the whole team was a mess that night.
Why am I optimistic about him? I’ve seen two things out of him thus far that make me want to see more. First, he doesn’t get bogged down in possession with the ball at his feet. He’s really efficient with his touches. Second, he’s willing to pass some incisive through-balls that have broken lines and found their intended target.
His passing acumen was what really caught my attention in the few touches he got in the attacking third tonight.
With Diego Fagúndez likely out this week, I’d like to see Djeffal get the start, and let Owen move to the wing if Coach insists on playing him. But if he asked me (which he won’t) anything is better than letting Rodney Redes see the pitch. My first choice for the wingers for next week are CJ Fodrey and Finlay (Fodrey is a SoCal guy after all, and I think he’d be really amped to put in an awesome shift in Carson).
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The Dani Pereira Experiment this Week Wasn’t a Failure
Running Dani as a solo defensive midfielder this week wasn’t without its sketchy moments, but it wasn’t a disaster either. Add to that that we generated more chances this week, and it could be said that Coach Wolff might be onto something.
Stuver did say that they made the shift because they saw something in Vancouver’s setup that they were trying to exploit, so time will tell if this tactic will be a recurring one.
Regardless of how we play him, I would regret it if I didn’t take this moment to point out that Pereira was a bring spot for the Verde and Black, once again! As the FO keeps doling out raises, I hope Dani’s name is at the top of the list for the next one, because it would be well-deserved.
Speaking of raises… Austin’s favorite goalkeeper signed a new contract this offseason, and that continues to look like a stroke of genius! Brad Stuver is celebrating a birthday today by serving at the Laundry Project, because that’s how he rolls.
His stellar saves kept the Verde faithful believing until the very end, even if they didn’t even impress him all that much (see the clip below). His nonplussed analysis of his job-well-done last night is just another reason why the fanbase loves him so much!
If only we could have gotten just one goal to make Stuver’s work count for three points!
Bonus Take #1:
This is the second match of the year where the Texas flag didn’t get to fly proudly over Q2 Stadium. Caption: Tell me your team is owned by a Californian without telling me.
Bonus Take #2
If you like juicy drama/gossip, and you missed last night’s postgame Twitter Space hosted by WeAreAustinTV, you’re gonna want to tune in around the 39th minute!
Bonus Take #3:
All photos and videos courtesy of Adam Ribbeck and MLSSoccer.com