Los Nerdes Verdes: Running Point

Bumps in the Road

Regardless of what happens the rest of the year, it’s fair to say the 2023 regular season didn’t play out as envisioned by most Austin FC supporters. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a wide spectrum of answers about where we fell short. Is it the players underperforming last year’s standards, is it the coaching, or have a series of unfortunate injuries hampered this team’s ability to get into a rhythm?

It’s almost certainly a combination of all these factors to at least some extent, but we took a look back on some of the notable changes among the squad this season to add some context to a rocky year.

Austin have had two major slump stretches this season. From weeks 4-11, the Verde & Black averaged just 0.5 points per game and didn’t record a single win. If that sounds familiar it’s because we’re currently living through the same nightmare — averaging a miniscule 0.33 pts per game over the last six with another goose egg in the win column. Here are some other notable stretches that align with major movement within the squad:

Julio Cascante (abductor injury: Wks 2-8): 1.14 pts/g
Sebastian Driussi (groin injury: Wks 11-14): 1.5 pts/g
Owen Wolff (U-20 WC: Wks 11-16): 1.5 pts/g
Leo Väisänen (LCL tear: Wks 15-24): 1.46 pts/g
Alex Ring (groin injury: Wks 17-23*): 1.57 pts/g
*Ring did play briefly within this stretch before re-aggravating

The results show that Austin were often able to handle long-term injuries with only the stretch that Cascante was absent falling underneath the season-long pts/g average of 1.17. The constant shuffling of lineups likely made it difficult to get momentum going, but the fact that the worst stretch of the season is now coming when the team is closest to full strength points to there being much deeper issues at play. 

The Matchup

The Galaxy are technically a spot behind Austin in the Western Conference standings, but they do have a game in hand. There’s no doubt this team is beatable, but so were the Revs, the Timbers, and NYRB. To that effect, so were Mazatlan and FC Juárez, but that hasn’t stopped the Verde & Black from going winless since July, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how this one plays out.

The Galaxy are extremely vulnerable defensively — even more so than Austin. They’re giving up 1.71 goals per game (29th) on 1.49 xGA per game (26th). The Galaxy do possess the ball, on average, for 55.7% of their games. That points to their weaknesses being in transition. That doesn’t bode particularly well for Austin. A general lack of speed (both physically and in pace of play) have resulted in Austin FC netting just a single (1!) counter-attacking goal according to WhoScored. 

The big storyline ahead of today’s game is, of course, the return to Q2 of Diego Fagundez who Austin traded away in the beginning of August for Memo Rodriguez and a bundle of cash. Austin have averaged an abysmal 0.33 points per game since the trade, and Diego has certainly contributed since his move. The stat going around that he’s tallied 1 goal and 3 assists is a bit misleading. That uses MLS’ classification of assists which includes “hockey assists” (the pass leading to the pass leading to the goal). More accurately, he has one goal and one assist or two goal contributions in 276 minutes of play — one every 188 mins. While not as game changing as some have suggested, it’s still miles better than his 2023 average of one contribution every 340 minutes while at Austin. 

Back in June, ahead of our matchup against Sporting KC, we did an analysis of playoff targets. That showed that, on average, somewhere between 42 and 43 points were good enough for 9th place. That would essentially mean Austin need 9 points from their final five matches. Three points today in what will be an emotionally charged outing at Q2 would be a damn good place to start.