I typed my way into a corner at the beginning of last week:
I was quite worried about how I’d have to respond if the Verde boys didn’t deliver the goods in our two home rivalry matches last week.
When the final whistle concluded the 3-0 beat down of Houston on Saturday night, I was filled with joy and relief.
1. Crossing A Lot Isn’t So Bad… When the Crosses Connect!
The week started with 3 goals off the feet of Finlay, Fagundez, and Zardes; slotted past the world class efforts of Dallas’s Maarten Paes. Then three days later, the noggins of Finlay, Zardes, and Cascante were put to good use in a dominating performance versus Houston.
Four of those six goals (cough… Texas is Verde… cough, cough), were generated off of crosses. This had to really piss off Ben Olsen and Nico Estévez, because Austin’s excessive use of crosses this season had to be on their scouting report.
The success of our crossing tactics was of course pointed out in the post-game presser by a jubilant Coach Wolff, who seemed to be feeling quite vindicated, as evidenced by this comment:
Wolff didn’t have this arrow in his quiver, but upon further digging, this is the stat that I really feel vindicates the tactics he’s been employing this year: 9 headed goals on the year, which is the most in the league. The counterpoint to that stat is that Austin FC seems to both live and die by whether or not our crosses find their targets this year.
2. The Centerback Crisis Could Be Our Undoing
You can’t have a conversation about the Verde’s headed goals without bringing up one name this year: Julio Cascante! Of all the offseason’s raises and extensions, JC has only needed 10 games to prove that his pay raise was money well spent. If his stats and stellar performances haven’t done the trick for you, his 8-game absence due to injury at the start of the season – and the team’s struggles during that time – should make the case.
During those first 11 games that he missed, Austin’s record was 3 wins, 5 losses, and 3 ties (including elimination from the CCL at the hands of Haiti’s Violette AC). Since he’s come back into the starting rotation things have turned around thanks to his stalwart defending and his offensive contributions (2 goals and 4 assists). Austin’s record with JC back is 6 wins, 5 losses, and 1 tie. Four of those wins would have been impossible without his goal contributions.
As awesome as Cascante’s contributions have been (they could even be described as heroic based on how he played versus Houston after the racist attack he had to deal with on social media), all of this could be undermined going forward if he doesn’t have a CB partner who is up to his level.
With Ring sidelined for an undetermined amount of time, Radovanović going back to Belgium, and Väisänen rehabbing until September, JC’s partners are limited to an MIA Tarek and a still-shaky Kipp Keller. Neither of these options has yet to inspire total confidence.
So where will Austin FC’s centerback help come from? We’re told that the plates are spinning, so hopefully one of them doesn’t crash to the floor and actually lands in our lap before the transfer window opens on July 5th. If not, this will be further evidence that our team desperately needs a true replacement for our ex-Sporting Director Claudio Reyna.
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3. This Team’s Ceiling is as High as the Driussi/Fagundez/Pereira Partnership
Actions speak louder than words, but in the case of Austin FC’s attacking midfield trio, both the actions and words of Coach Wolff after the Houston game seem to indicate that Emiliano Rigoni is now out of favor, and Ethan Finlay has the starting spot as long as he remains productive. See the clip below:
Ethan Finlay is a workhorse, and he has a knack for showing up in dangerous places in and around the box, but when it comes to the elite-level technical skill that it takes to unlock a defense, it all rises and falls on Fagundez, Driussi, and Dani Pereria. And for large stretches of the first half of the season, only one member of that trio was able to show up consistently.
But what we saw this past week, with all three men rising to the occasion, was an inspiring vision of what life can feel like at Q2 Stadium going forward: the same awesome party that it was in 2022.
The man himself, our MVP Driussi was asked about how he sees the offensive partnership shaping up, and he had this to say about Fagundez and Finlay: “They’ve leveled up like many others. So we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
If Fagundez and Driussi can stay healthy and arrive at the peak physical condition they were in last year, and then recover the stellar chemistry they had in 2022, the goals will flow for themselves, and the rest of the offense. The ”Venezuelan Vanquisher” is close to unlocking his full potential, so they are sure to see a lot of the ball in dangerous areas as Pereira snuffs out the danger and flips it into fast break attacks.
We may even see Zardes become the first double-digit striker in Austin FC’s history (he’s already halfway there).
Last week has left all the Verde faithful dreaming big things for 2023 once again.
6 goals and 6 points will do that!
I’m listo for more this Saturday in Miami!