Thoughts and takeaways from Austin FC’s 2-1 win over Sporting KC

Austin FC tasted victory on Saturday for the fourth time in the last six attempts, avenging their 4-1 defeat in June to Sporting KC. It was certainly an odd match, with the weather conditions clearly playing a heavy factor in the second half intensity (or the lack of it).

The Verde and Black started off on the back foot, allowing pressure from Sporting KC on a multitude of occasions, and gave up multiple chances. However, against the run of play, much like the 4-1 win over Minnesota last week, the first two Austin chances turned into two goals for the Verde and Black to take control of the match.

The first was a brilliant cross from Jon Gallagher which led to a Zardes header that would end up deflecting right back to him for a simple finish, and then an outside of the foot ball from Diego Fagundez found Ethan Finlay unmarked at the back side, who coolly slotted it home at the near post.

ATX continued to soak in the pressure, culminating in a 33rd minute goal from a corner for Kansas City. It was poor defense from Austin as Daniel Rosero snuck around to the back post where he was left unmarked, and directed a well taken corner right through Brad Stuver. The momentum in the match seemed to have finally shifted in Kansas City’s favor, before suddenly a switch flipped.

Temperatures in the mid 90s or so had suddenly taken over the game, and an intense first 35-40 minutes turned into a snooze fest second half in which both sides, who have both played 3 matches in the past week, seemed completely and utterly spent. This worked in Austin’s favor as Kansas City generally lacked any sort of attacking threat even after substituting star players Johnny Russell and Alan Pulido on.

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Player outlook heading into Leagues Cup

The main concern with me is the current condition of the Austin side heading into the Leagues Cup.

Dani Pereira was forced out of the match early with a shoulder injury and looked to be in a lot of pain, and Sebastian Driussi exited the match before halftime after potentially reaggravating the groin injury that sidelined him for a month earlier this season.

Now, depending on how you view the Leagues Cup’s importance to our season, this could be the most convenient time for our star players to be unfit. Considering that there won’t be another league match for over a month, the chances of either of these injuries sidelining them for league play is slim.

However, on the downside, if Driussi and Pereira aren’t ready by Friday or next Saturday, ATXFC could be in for an early dismissal from the Leagues Cup, as it’s been clear that our best football is played when those two are on the field.

On a more positive note, Owen Wolff was fantastic tonight and helped cover much of the ground that Pereira would normally occupy. He registered the most miles ran of all players on the pitch by a comfortable margin, and consistently threatened Sporting KC with his pressing and build up play.

Jon Gallagher and Nick Lima both had great matches, locking down the flanks while providing support for the attack. Gyasi Zardes getting back into goalscoring form was also nice to see. Kipp Keller had his best shift yet for Austin, which isn’t saying much whatsoever, but if Austin do choose to sign another centerback (or when Vaisanen and Ring return), I believe Keller should be kept around as a fourth or fifth option CB for the future.

Ethan Finlay scored once more, bringing his tally on the year to 8 goal contributions in 1136 minutes of play (G/A per 142 minutes) while Emiliano Rigoni, who hasn’t started a match since the aforementioned 4-1 embarrassment against Sporting KC in early June, has logged 5 goal contributions in 1,356 minutes of play (G/A per 271 minutes).

I feel like one of the first moves Rodolfo Borrell should be making this winter is to let go of Rigoni’s inflated wages, freeing up a DP spot. Not to say that I believe that Finlay is the long-term solution, but Rigoni has produced too little so far for what Austin have invested in him.

Austin FC in top 5 at the All-Star break

All in all, this was a much-needed win for Austin FC. Despite falling as low as 12th only a few weeks ago, they now head into the MLS All-Star/Leagues Cup break sitting in 5th (!!!) place in the logjam that is the Western Conference playoff race.

It’s been a very promising month for a club that so desperately needed a little bit of magic for a playoff push, with the last few performances recapturing the spirit of the 2022 squad.

Cover image courtesy Apple TV.

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