Moussa Djitte is back: What does the future hold for the striker in Austin?

Austin FC have regained some good fortune over the past few weeks, as their summer of struggle has turned into a couple of high scoring performances to turn the tables around. Despite this, Austin still sits middle table in MLS’ Western Conference and is ranked 15th in goals scored per match and 20th in expected goals. Austin is beginning to turn the tides, but it still may be wise to try something new in the attack to elevate the Verde and Black’s status in the 2023 season. 

They may have a step towards their answer in July, as a familiar face returns to Q2 Stadium in hopes of reviving a rather poor season both for Austin FC and for himself. 

On January 31, Austin FC announced a loan deal that sent Senegalese striker Moussa Djitte to French side AC Ajaccio until the end of the Ligue 1 season in June. Ajaccio would get Djitte for six months on loan, with an option to ink a permanent deal afterward if the club desired to keep him around. 

Djitte was an important piece of Austin’s lineup last season, especially toward the end of the year. Many ATXFC fans will remember his hat-trick against Real Salt Lake last fall, the first and only performance of its kind in Austin FC history thus far. Djitte also bagged a goal against FC Dallas in the second round of the playoffs, contributing to a massive 2-1 victory. In his final month of the season, Djitte tallied four goals and assisted another to cap off a solid 2022 campaign. 

While Djitte’s impressive run indicated a potential breakout year in 2023, Austin tested their luck on the transfer market. The deal with Ajaccio looked to be a good one for Austin, as their young striker would get minutes in one of the world’s best and most competitive leagues to continue to develop his skill set.

It also meant that Djitte would also be able to speak his native language of French and be closer and more accessible to his family and newborn child. 

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Despite the move’s benefits, Djitte’s season and Ajaccio’s season went downhill quickly. The club won just two of their 17 games while Djitte was with the club, and their disastrous year ended in relegation to the French Ligue 2.

However, it wasn’t just a poor season for Ajaccio, it was also an underwhelming one for Djitte. He consistently appeared in a few games right after making the move, including starting a game against Montpellier, in which he created a chance and won three duels. The following week against Monaco, Djitte got 19 minutes off the bench, yet this mid-March match would be his last appearance of the 2023 Ligue 1 season. 

Djitte remained on the bench for a few more weeks, but was dropped completely from the lineup toward the end of the season. His season concluded with six appearances, zero goals, and zero assists.

Ajaccio declined to make his loan permanent in early June, and Djitte is set to return to Austin on June 30.

So where does his career go from here? Since departing, Austin FC has signed two new strikers, and Djitte’s return would mean that the club now has at least three on the roster that could compete for a first-team position. 

While depth is never a bad thing, there simply aren’t enough minutes to go around for four solid strikers to receive their fair share. Despite recent success from Gyasi Zardes and a few decent performances from Maxi Urruti and Will Bruin, no striker has indefinitely secured the starting spot for the Verde and Black. If Djitte can pick up his form from the end of last season, he could legitimately contend for a starting role, but it’s difficult to tell how much a half-season of barely touching the pitch for Ajaccio will affect him. 

It seems as if the most logical option as of right now may be to loan him out again or permanently transfer him elsewhere, as there is not much of a spot cut out for him on the team. However, an important topic to take into account is the future of the striker position in Austin.

All three of the strikers on Austin FC’s roster are over the age of 30, which typically means they may only have five to seven years left in their careers, and even fewer years of legitimate quality. In addition, Urruti and Bruin are only on contract with Austin until the end of the season, in which it may be wise to let one or both of them go if the striker position is as crowded as it is currently. Djitte is only 23, meaning he could be entering his prime in the near future, and is on contract through 2024, with an option for 2025. 

With this being the case, I think it is important for Austin to keep a young striker like Djitte around through this season, even if it means he will not play as often as he previously had. 

It’s likely that Djitte will just sit on the bench and get a few appearances at the end of the season, but if Austin wants to get him minutes, sending him to play with Austin FC II over the summer is not out of the question. 

Playing with the second squad could help Djitte become match fit against lower competition, allowing him to slowly adapt back to Austin’s formations and techniques after six months, as well as get consistent games in after not playing since March 19. Should Austin choose to play him with the second squad, Djitte will then be eligible and prepared to come up the senior squad and contribute to Austin in MLS play at the end of the season. 

This may be an odd move, however, as it’s quite a drop-off from a top five league to an MLS Next Pro side. While he hasn’t been playing since March, Djitte has still been training and growing as a player. 

In the end, it’s unclear what the future holds for Moussa Djitte in Austin. He could be sent elsewhere before the end of the year, but could also be back in the Austin FC lineup and scoring goals come playoff time. 

Either way, I believe that holding on to Djitte and building up his confidence, whether it’s on reduced minutes or not, should be a high priority for Austin FC mid-season. His quality at a young age is not very common in Austin’s striker group, and he’s an asset that would be missed in the future if they were to let him go. 

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