Just when the #WolffOUT haters were starting to gain some traction, we find ourselves with a two game win streak, AND progression to the next round in a knockout tournament.
There are things that still mystify me about his coaching philosophy that I’d love to pick his brain about when MLS’s scheduling geniuses don’t hammer our team with 8 games in a month, but I want to take this moment to give Wolff his flowers for the parts of this recent success that only he can take credit for.
So let’s start with that scheduling glitch I just mentioned. At the end of April we had just come off of back to back losses in LA, and we would soon learn that $7M of our $19M salary cap would be sidelined for most of the most congested month of the year.
My heart was filled with dread.
I was wondering how deep of a hole we’d find ourselves in after May was done and dusted.
But… before the crazy month of May even started, Wolff benched his only healthy natural left back at halftime of that game versus San Jose at the end of April (and rightly so, because my tocayo was playing like crap).
The man rarely makes halftime substitutions. And the team fought back admirably in Lundkvist’s absence that night. But Wolff’s choice must have flipped a switch in Lundy’s brain during that second half spent riding the pine, because he’s been on a tear ever since!
Adam Lundkvist’s confidence getting forward into the attack has been especially noticeable in all 3 of Austin’s wins in the last two weeks. Each game he’s been launching some rockets at the top of the box (one’s gonna find the back of the net sooner or later); and he played key passes in both game-winning goals this week.
Now the tacticians out there will point out that it’s really the 3 center back setup that has freed up our outside backs to get forward to create dangerous plays with the wingers, but that too is something that Wolff should get credit for. I was one of those who publicly questioned whether Coach was flexible enough or creative enough to modify his preferred strategy in favor of something more practical/effective.
To his credit, Wolff has gone with a solution that was truly outside the box, a five man backline?! I didn’t know he had that tool in his box! But it has worked wonders. Seattle’s coach looked flabbergasted in his post-game presser, because he he knew it was coming and he thought he prepped his squads to deal with it, but Austin FC still prevailed!
(BTW, it’s really satisfying to watch an opposing coach look really pissed off after the Verde boys gave him a beating! Or maybe I’m just petty.)
The last two things I’ll mention have me wondering about my own early-season critiques, and the calls for his head by my fellow Verde brethren (I’m quietly wondering if we’ll be calling him a coaching genius when ’23 is in the books).
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Thirdly, the amount of minutes management, and squad rotation, going on during this month has been unprecedented! But to juggle all that while getting wins, and meaningful contributions from previously benched players, is truly impressive!
It’s no small feat, and it has stopped the bleeding. What felt like a free fall, has now seemingly flattened/bottomed out, and it feels like it’s on an upward trajectory now!
But for that upward trajectory to start happening before we even get our “Six Million Dollar Man” back from injury? Well, well let’s just say a lot are people are surprised, even if they won’t admit they’re impressed.
Lastly, two weeks ago, I basically asked Wolff to his face if it was time to bench his three aging, unproductive strikers in favor of one of the young studs on ATXFCII. The man did not stutter or equivocate; he looked me right in the eye and told me “these three men have over 200 goals between them, and I expect them to start scoring goals.”
Whether you call it insight or vision, or just a downright stubborn belief in the guys he picked… Wolff stood by them and they’ve been repaying him for the confidence (and PATIENCE) he’s shown them!
Wolff, it’s a name that – whether it’s Owen’s assist for the USA in Argentina, or Tyler’s first pro goal for Atlanta United, or even the younger Gavin’s leadership in the academy’s MLSNext Cup U-15 Championship – is slowly becoming synonymous with our favorite ‘W’ word…winner!
All Photos used courtesy of Austin FC