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Sounders v. Austin FC: Three Questions

Austin isn’t good this year. Why is that?

MLS: Austin FC at Portland Timbers
Will the Bear be dancing for Austin Wednesday night?
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

When Austin FC joined MLS they earned 0.91 points per match. In their sophomore season the Verde burst out to fourth in the league at 1.65 ppm. Now, in 2023, they’ve dropped back to 0.91 ppm. There’s a roller coaster in the Silicon Hills and not everything is about injuries.

Josh Wolff’s side be attempting to get their third win on Wednesday night (7:39 pm PT, MLS Season Pass - not free) at Lumen Field. How will he pull that off against a Seattle Sounders side that’s taken advantage of poor performers so far this year? With a very defensive five-back set.

For The Striker, Phil answers Three Questions.

SaH: Last year Austin was strong. This early season the Verde are struggling. Is there something besides injuries holding them back?

tSN: Injuries have certainly done Austin in a bit this year, but I think some of their troubles have had to do with integrating some new offensive innovations – essentially a 3-2-2-3 where a fullback in a back four rotates up to help create more space for Sebastian Driussi and Striker X to operate. Early on, Austin seemed to lack full comfort with (or even understanding of) this new wrinkle, but lately, they appear more at ease with it by shifting to a back five, going with three center backs and two wingbacks. Since making that change, they have two draws in MLS play, won an Open Cup match against New Mexico United, and almost held on for a draw against Dallas playing down a man for nearly a half. They’re not nearly at ‘22 levels yet, but they seem like they’re going to win again in league play soon. (Just maybe not Wednesday.)

Oh, also, they’re not getting anything out of their strikers. Though 11 matches, Maxi Urriti and Will Bruin each have a single goal, and Gyasi Zardes — ostensibly the first-choice No. 9 — has zero. The leading scorer on the team is Jon Gallagher, a winger turned fullback, with four.

SaH: Every team is injured at this point. Which one or two injuries have slowed Austin the most?

tSN: Julio Cascante went out seven minutes into the opener against St. Louis and Kipp Keller subbed in — I’m guessing y’all remember how that went. While Alex Ring subbed in admirably as a center back (also solving the issue of starting Ring even though Josh Wolff didn’t really want to start him in the midfield), Cascante’s oddly a catalyst on offense from his center back position, and they look a lot better with him in. Then, of course, Sebastian Driussi in the midst of a month out with a spate of groin injuries that have struck the team. (One fan’s dubbed this the fault of the Groin Demon.) Diego Fagundez also got a visit from the Groin Demon but may return to play Wednesday night, which is good, because Rodney Redes (Verde’s first signing, a U-22 Initiative player who finally looks okay after two years of being Austin’s Kevin Cabral) is out with a red card. Good times!

SaH: In the era of Play the Kids, Austin is older. Their only teen is off with the US U-20s. How will Josh Wolff rotate players to keep them fresh during double-game weeks like this one?

tSN: Though Austin doesn’t have a ton of younger players in the starting roster — though I feel like Dani Pereira still qualifies and has made a leap each of his three seasons — they do have an excellent MLS Next Pro team which only just lost its first match a few months into its first season. Look for Valentin Noel and David Rodriguez to get a short-term call-up sometime this season — maybe soon depending on how far Owen Wolff (who we like to call Teen Wolff) rides with the U.S. U-20s. CJ Fodrey is this year’s top SuperDraft pick and he’s on the first-team roster as a Generation Adidas player, but to hear Josh Wolff tell it, he’s just not ready for prime time yet. It’s a quandary to be sure: At wing right now, it’s basically Emiliano Rigoni (a DP finally beginning to figure it out but logging a lot of minutes lately), the just-back-from-injury Fagundez, and Ethan Finlay. Gallagher could spell at wing if he really needed to. But, yeah, I’m gonna go lie down now.

Check out The Striker for the Reverse where I sing the praises of Paul Rothrock, who it turns out will be in concussion protocol.

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