One Touch, Two Touch, Red Touch, Blue Touch
Through twelve games of the season, Austin have tallied 12 goals (from extensive statistical analysis we’ve concluded that equals an average of one goal per game). Over the same stretch last season, the Verde & Black had already netted 25. The start to 2023 has looked more like our inaugural season in which Austin scored 10 in the first twelve. We took a look at where on the field a majority of Austin’s possession was focused and went year by year to learn what each season can tell us about weaknesses, Austin’s new shape, and why the current squad may not be that much further away from consistent success.
We first looked at these trends in the heart of our inaugural season, coming to the conclusion that the frenetic pace of matches often resulted in the offense either easily moving the ball forward when given the space or becoming stuck in the defensive end. Even with the 8th highest share of their touches coming in the attacking third, goals were excruciatingly hard to come by — often a factor of a lack of creativity forcing the team to fall into the now popularized Horseshoe of Sadness in which endless movement of the ball around the edge of the box resulted in no quality chance.
For one of the most potent offensive teams in the league, you’d expect them to spend a significant portion of their possession near the opponents goal. That wasn’t the case for the Driussi-led side. There’s likely a few reasons for that. The first is that Austin were able to generate a ton of scoring from outside open play — 33% of goals came from set pieces or quick counters. The second is that the Verde & Black jumped out to so many early leads that the game state naturally changed and possession outside of the final third became almost as valuable as possession close to the opponent’s goal.
Why haven’t the results translated over to 2023? You’d have to say it’s in part due Seba’s recent health issues and overall drop in productivity. Using the goal he scored during the Western Conference Semifinal against FC Dallas as a reference, no one on the squad has shown themselves capable of the same kind of directness and finishing ability that allows Austin to so readily capitalize on turnovers in the midfield.
Austin have already been shut out five times this season. Austin were shut out five times in the entirety of the 2022 season. Injuries haven’t helped, but there was still a significant amount of time to start the season in which the attacking four players were as strong as what this roster can muster. The underlying numbers are telling us that a majority of the possession is taking place near our own net, why is that? We’ve picked up on two major factors:
The first is formation. Austin have steadily moved to a back three with dedicated wingbacks. The availability of more passing partners across the backline inherently facilitates more short passes in the defensive third. It’s also a factor of how the CBs are looking for passing opportunities (both Ring and Vaisanen are in the top 50 in touches). As the wingbacks push forward and the wingers make themselves available, there’s more poking and prodding around the backline waiting for those long diagonal balls.
The other factor is a principle change in how they want to attack once the ball makes it into the final third. A departure from the more possession-centric approach seen from Wolff’s first year in charge, 2022 helped establish that more directness and a willingness to take risks in the final third are recipes for putting the ball in the back of the net. Austin’s most frustrating possessions this season have been the ones in which they’ve moved away from that principle and instead fallen back on a low-chance cross into a congested box as their final ball (Austin have the 5th most crosses/90).
Despite one of the most headline-grabbing front lines led by Insigne and Bernardeschi, the Toronto attack has been anemic. Just 21st in goals scored, their underlying numbers are even worse — 27th in shots and 26th in xG.
We’re in the time of year when injuries are going to play a major role in every matchup. Toronto, on the other hand, are in a whole other category. Their injury list alone could quite literally field a full 11, and they were already enlisting non-CBs to make up their back line.
Between the size of their injury list and their position as the last-place team in the East, this is a golden opportunity for Austin to put together their first winning streak since wins against Montreal and RSL back in March. Listos!