Los Nerdes Verdes: Setting Down Roots or Pulling Up Weeds?

Growing the Roots

Whether you prefer FC-ito, Ver-Dos, or the more formal Austin FC II, the Verde & Black’s developmental team is off to a quick start.

We’ll be checking in on MLS Next Pro as the season goes on, but here are some high-level insights from the first few games of the season:

Austin FC II are tied for first with 10 total goals so far, led by Valentin Noël whose 4 goals also have him tied for first among players. David Rodriguez, who has been a danger in front of net in his own right, is tied for second in the league with 10 key passes. The team’s positive interplay in the final third has resulted in 100% of Austin’s goals coming within the 18. That’s in stark contrast to the first team where the slightly reworked front four haven’t replicated 2022’s success in generating high-quality chances from open play. In the wake of Diego’s injury, both Noël and Rodriguez were pulled up to the first team. While there would have to be significant issues to force one of them to start, making the gameday roster is not out of the question. 

The other standout for Austin FC II has been goalkeeper Damian Las. The former Chicago Fire and Fulham academy player, Las has the 2nd-most saves in Next Pro including some professional-level acrobatics. Even among former first-teamers like Kipp Keller, Las has worked his way near the top of the list of Austin FC II players that could see first-team minutes should he be required. 

Some notable trends from around the league:

The largest discrepancy across both conferences is Charlotte whose Next Pro team is 2nd while only Montreal sits lower than their first team in Eastern Conference. In the West, LAFC and St. Louis both have an 11-spot difference between their first and second teams. While LAFC is likely looking for ways to translate their successful talent recruitment into second-team depth, you have to give St. Louis a break while they’re working to build out both teams simultaneously.

The Matchup

The Galaxy lead the league in shots per game. While only 28.4% of them have been on target (24th), Brad Stuver is still going to see his fair share of action. Austin are lucky that he continues to be in excellent form. His Post-Shot Expected Goals minus Goals per game is a +0.44 which is the 3rd-best in the league behind just John McCarthy of LAFC and Joe Willis of Nashville. So far, that exceeds his own mark from 2022 and 2021. In fact, if he sustains a +0.44 over the course of the season, it would be the highest since 2019 save for Djordje Petrovic whose talents have earned him call ups to the Serbian national team as well as transfer rumors to top European clubs.

The way the Galaxy create their chances is through high possession and precise passing. LA prefer to dominate possession, leading the league with 58.6% of the ball. They are also by far the league’s most volumetric passers. Their 525.3 passes per 90 are 16% more than 2nd place Miami. A bulk of those passes are short (5-15 yds) or medium (15-30 yds), and the Galaxy lead the league in both categories. That’s also their primary way of getting the ball into dangerous positions with the Galaxy sitting at just 22nd in the number of crosses while still racking up the 2nd most passes into the box per game.

Turning all of those passes into quality chances has been a struggle so far. The LA side’s xG has improved over the last few games, but all year they’ve been largely unable to put the ball in the back of the net. 

The Galaxy have been one of the worst defensive teams this season. If there was ever an opportunity for Austin to shake their scoring woes, even away from home, this is it. Listos!