Los Nerdes Verdes: Stairway to Playoffs, or an Early Vacation?

Down but not Out

Spend even a few minutes on Austin FC Twitter lately and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a raging debate between #WolffIn and #WolffOut. We’re not going to wade into those waters today, but we can put into perspective Austin’s 2023 start, how concerned fans should be about where we can finish in the table, and what the remainder of the season needs to look like in order to match our finishing position with the standards set by last year.

The expanded playoff format is certainly doing Austin favors this season. Despite a start that, at best, can be described as lackluster, Austin’s current trajectory would see them fall just 2 points short of what 9th-place teams have averaged over the last five years.

Set your expectations, and take a look at the points per game Austin will need from the remainder of the season to reach those goals. We’ll also include a recent comp to give an idea of what kind of team the Verde & Black will have to turn into to make it happen. 

Wild Card (9th): 1.25 (2022 expansion Charlotte FC)
Automatic playoff berth (7th): 1.56 (2022 FC Dallas)
First-round home game (4th): 1.95 (just below 2022 LAFC and Philadelphia Union)
Supporters’ Shield: 2.86 (basically win out, no team in MLS history comes close)

It’s understandable if Austin FC fans want more than to just squeak into MLS’ Wild Card game, but the playoff format does mean anything can happen once you make it in. Survive and advance!

The Matchup

Just a month ago, we’d be able to tell you that Sporting KC have yet to win a game this season. Unfortunately for Austin, a once almost-guaranteed source of three points is having a resurgence. Since ending their winless streak against Seattle a month ago, Sporting have taken 14 out of a possible 21 points. They’ve also secured 7 of the last 9, including two impressive wins over Portland and Dallas.

On the offensive side of the ball, the story of Sporting’s season has been high volume, low quality. They have the league’s worst npxG per shot at 0.067. Even with the 9th-highest number of shots per game, they’re averaging under 1 xG per 90 — one of only four teams with that dubious honor.  

Defensively, Sporting KC are a middle-of-the-road squad. Over the season, they’re giving up an average of 1.36 expected goals a game. Coincidentally, that’s right about at Austin’s rate (1.35).

Today’s match is officially the halfway point of the season, and Austin are running out of chances to get on the right track. Sporting KC represents a great place to start, but the games aren’t played on paper.