Los Nerdes Verdes: It’s Been a Year Now Since We’ve Been Here Now

Movers & Shakers

Ahead of the 2023 season, Austin FC had the 4th-best odds to win MLS cup according to PointsBet — behind only LAFC, Philly, and NYCFC. That can absolutely still happen. One of the joys of MLS is that all you need is a run of good form at the right time and you can walk away with the league’s biggest prize. What is likely off the table is a run at the Supporters’ Shield. A couple weeks ago, we looked at how many points per game would be necessary to hit a point total that would make us contenders. The math wasn’t on our side then, and it hasn’t gotten much better since. 

Despite a strong climb from Austin FC up to 5th place in the West, it’s fair to say the team hasn’t had as strong of a season as many fans and pundits had predicted. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but for new supporters of an MLS club, parity and uncertainty should be something to get used to.

From last season to the current, MLS teams have moved an average of 9.6 places. Compare that with the changes within the top 5 leagues from around the world, and MLS’ parity is off the chart. On the other extreme, the average change for a Bundesliga team going from the 21-22 season to 22-23 was just 1.7 places. The disparity of the two systems is almost entirely down to the forced parity mechanics within MLS. While teams in Europe are generally monetarily rewarded for good results (bonuses for Champions’ League qualification, pay scales depending on finishing position, avoiding relegation), there’s a general cap on MLS pay regardless of the previous season’s performance. Both formats have their proponents and detractors, but with calls from Premier League supporters to reign in spending (looking at Manchester City) and moves from MLS to loosen cap restrictions, the answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle.

So with the parity in MLS, who are this year’s biggest winners and losers? In the West, the biggest losers aren’t a huge surprise. Headline-making front-office changes, devastating injuries, and an inability to translate chances into results have completely kneecapped the LA Galaxy’s season. Finishing 4th and hosting a playoff game last season, they’ve tumbled down to 13th. As bad as the Galaxy have been, Seattle has improved in equal measure. Injury troubles compounding a heavy schedule always gave the 2022 season the feeling of an aberration. That being said, nothing in MLS is a sure thing, and you have to give them credit for lifting themselves up from 11th to 2nd.

After a strong start to the season, NYCFC are 1-8-5 since April 29th. The bottom seems to have fallen out from under the offense — averaging just 0.86 goals per game over that stretch which would be good for 3rd-worst in the league. On the flipside, the New England Revolution have started clicking. The Carles Gil/Bobby Wood combination has worked out brilliantly — putting up ten and eleven goal contributions respectively. Their 8-place improvement from last season is the best in the East and has put them in a prime spot to host a playoff game.

The Matchup

This midweek matchup is Austin’s second against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The first was a rather lackluster 0-0 affair with neither team surpassing 1 xG. That matchup was also right in the middle of an eight-game winless streak for Austin. 

Over the last three games, Vancouver have given up 2.2, 2.3, and 2.6 xGA and have been scored on 8 times. Determining how Austin will approach the game tactically is trickier given the uncertainty of Ring’s injury and a yellow card accumulation suspension for Dani Pereira, but the goals are theoretically there for the taking. 

Defensive errors leading to opponent shots have been an issue for Austin FC since their inception: worst in the league in 2021, 2nd-worst in 2022, and 4th-worst so far this season. Vancouver can, and do, press opponents. A point of focus must be avoiding turning the ball over in our own third and beating ourselves — especially with a depleted and young back line. 

There are two remaining games before the League’s Cup break, away at Vancouver and at home against Sporting KC. Four points over those two matchups likely keep Austin in the driver’s seat for the sprint to the playoffs. Listos!