Addressing the state of Austin FC after humiliating return to league play

When Austin FC was eliminated early in the Leagues Cup, the fanbase found comfort in that Austin would have a month-long break, allowing them to assess problems, regain health and fitness, and prepare to make a push in the final few matches in the season.

Then, they walked into St. Louis on Sunday night and got absolutely flattened.

Austin added to a spectacularly expansive list of embarrassing losses from this season, conceding a whopping six goals against a St. Louis side which was at their creative best. The lack of points in this match isn’t surprising, but the way the result unfolded was simply unacceptable.

The squad seemed completely flat, and lacked any fight until the match was essentially concluded. It didn’t look like a team that has an outside chance to host a playoff match come October, in both the quality of play and body language, but rather a team sulking at the bottom of the table, waiting for the season to mercifully end. It felt as if there was no belief remaining in what this team can accomplish, and that’s a major red flag for the foundation of the club.

As alarming as this lack of belief is, it’s warranted. In 2023, Austin FC has 3 points from the 15 matches they’ve conceded first (record of 0-3-12). By comparison, in 2022, Austin FC went 4-2-6 in matches they went 2-0 down in. The Verde and Black have gone from being the “comeback kids” of the MLS to a side that completely deflates when faced with adversity.

This is a major stressor on the fanbase. 2022 Austin might’ve overachieved, but the feeling that they were never out of the match until the ref blew the final whistle was an extremely good feeling to have as a fan. Now, if they don’t dominate from start to finish, there is no confidence that they can get the three points.

Sunday’s match is a frighteningly good example of that new reality.

Austin came out and started well, but then fell under pressure, conceding a well-placed header from a free kick in the 22nd minute. By then, it felt like the gas in the tank emptied. St. Louis doubled the lead right before half, and while Austin played much better in the second half, St. Louis made the lead three, and withstood a barrage of Austin chances to get back into the game.

Ultimately, the second half was a deliriously funny half of football, with both sides committing pathetic defensive mistakes and allowing painfully simple goals. I had stopped watching when St. Louis made it 4-1, and I checked my phone later to see that there had somehow been four more goals in the final ten minutes.

Firstly, I’ll glom onto the few positives from this chaos. Memo Rodriguez impressed me in his debut, playing fervently and hungrily, as if he was oblivious to the depleted mood of the squad. I know this fanbase is hurting from the departure of Diego Fagundez which might make the perception of Memo worse, but he has potential to be a valuable piece in the future if he keeps up with performances like that. He deserved a goal when his hard-hit shot was saved beautifully by Roman Burki in the second half.

Speaking of saves, Austin was objectively unlucky to not have more goals from this match, Burki was at his absolute best, something you wouldn’t normally say after a keeper conceded three goals, but he made some wonderful saves to halt any Austin momentum. It might not have made a difference ultimately, but the attack did look lively after a putrid first half.

On the other hand, there’s less positives to talk about. Stuver and Cascante arguably had their worst matches as Austin FC players. Owen Wolff was completely uninspiring, continuing the questions as to why he’s being selected over Alex Ring. The coordination of the attack was poor, and Maxi Urruti was completely locked out of the game.

All in all, this feels like a backbreaker for Austin. I defended Josh Wolff for a while, but showing up completely flat after the time they had to prepare is completely unacceptable. Also, it’s time to recognize that many players might need a move, something that’s obviously hard to accept.

There are only a small handful of players that have exceeded or even met expectations this season, and with the arrival of Burrell I’m advocating for an extremely aggressive rebuild in the offseason where just about everyone bar Dani Pereira is made available, because who knows how bad we’d be without him.

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Yes, the list of untouchables doesn’t include Driussi. I don’t think he was ever fit to be forced into the captain role, which is another grievance I have against Wolff. However, I think Austin can make plenty of money selling him to Europe while also opening up a DP spot.

Speaking of DPs, it’s really not hard to imagine a world in which Austin holds 3 open slots this offseason. Ring clearly wants a move and rightfully so, Rigoni has two goals in a season and a half, both of which were entirely meaningless, and Driussi might favor a move to a bigger club if a full teardown happens.

All in all, it feels like the tank has been emptied this season, the departure of Fagundez and the body language of this match confirms that to me. I’m excited for an active offseason, and hopefully to welcome a new manager to Austin.

Cover image courtesy Austin FC

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