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Three Questions with Verde All Day

Phil West takes us behind Austin FC enemy lines.

Last Updated
6 min read
Jane Gershovich / Sounders FC Communications

Austin FC's crowd wowed everyone in their launch year. Their on-field performance didn't catchup until 2022, then in 2023 the soccer side of things backslid.

Projections for 2024 are that they'll struggle again. That could mean good things for Seattle as they open up the home slate and celebrate legend Ozzie Alonso.

Let's head down to Verde All Day and Phil West for Three Questions.

SaH: Who was the biggest loss during Austin's offseason?

VAL: As Austin's in the middle of a rebuild, and they shed a lot of option-year contracts willingly — plus traded competent fullback Nick Lima to the Revs for needed GAM — the biggest loss might have been giving up SuperDraft pick and Husky center back Nate Jones to Colorado for needed GAM. I did a whole article on the Jones pick and why everyone should be happy about it, and within minutes of getting that up, he was off to the Rapids. It wasn't the shortest tenure for an Austin player — expansion draft pick Kamal Miller was only Verde for a few minutes — but comes pretty close.

I was a little surprised to see Memo Rodriguez as part of the exodus, as he was on a reasonable salary for a backup-level midfield Swiss Army Knife, but it seems a whole lot of players weren't in sporting director Rodolfo Borrell's plans. It does make the trading away of Diego Fagundez even more suspect, except the main aim of that trade was "let's get rid of a player who dropped from All-Star-adjacent to merely pedestrian in a single offseason after getting a salary bump from $450,000 to $1 million."

SaH: Who was the biggest addition to the 2024 hopes?

VAD: So far, it's Diego Rubio, who might solve the striker issue that manifested badly last season. Gyasi Zardes is ostensibly the first-choice striker, but I expect Rubio to supersede him in the next few weeks as he works up to full fitness and as Zardes continues to age rapidly before our eyes. When Austin was at its most successful in 2022, Maxi Urruti was stretching defenses and lucked into nine goals on his own, and life was good and food had flavor. Last year, Zardes, Urruti, and Will Bruin — a $1.7 million Voltron of actively aging strikers — combined for just nine goals, and didn't do the needed defense-stretching to make Sebastian Driussi the goal machine he was in what's perhaps soon to be known as Austin's Good Season. (Driussi scored 22 in '22 and half that total last year.)

In his limited minutes so far, Rubio looks purposefully energetic and goal-dangerous, two qualities that this offense desperately needs. Jader Obrian, who Austin got in the Re-Entry Draft, brings speed on the wing and if he repeats his 11 goal contributions from last year in Dallas, that would certainly help, (Austin actually used the Kipp Keller rights it retained following last year's travails to move up to No. 1 in the Re-Entry Draft order. Clearly, Borrell was locked in on Obrian.

SaH: Former Sounder and Austin forward Will Bruin suggested that Los Verdes aren't mentally strong. Who can fix the mentality?

VAD: No idea what got into Will Bruin when he took to Twitter on Saturday night to lament Verde's performance. An increasing number of Austin fans are convinced that a new head coach is the only person who can fix the mentality. Verde flopped badly in '23, and no one would have been surprised if Josh Wolff joined the double-digit count of dismissed coaches. It's perhaps maybe more surprising that Borrell expressed confidence in Wolff toward the end of last season, in the same Sunday afternoon press release where the head of scouting was announced to be departing. (That person's now with the rival Dynamo, a team that certainly managed a solid rebuild last year but is also, with their rash of injuries, in need of some more scouting.)

Wolff did talk after Saturday night's loss at home to the Loons — including a first half that goes down as one of the worst-played halves in team history — about wanting to let the players on the field work it out rather than making an early sub. (Thanks to a Leo Vaisanen injury, he had to make a first-half sub, rolling the dice on Julio Cascante, himself just back from a preseason injury. The 2023 nightmare started with Cascante's injury seven minutes into that season's opener, the 3-2 loss where the legend of Kipp Keller and Jared Stroud began.)

So, you could argue the shift from what Bruin called a "soft mentality" relies on the players having some pride and figuring out how to string passes together. But there's also a growing school of thought that Wolff's direction is causing players to overthink and second-guess themselves. I did an article Tuesday asking when Verde's first win of 2024 might come, and it's a rough early schedule, y'all. It might take a while, which could make for a very interesting summer, if you know what I mean.

But there's also the school of thought that Claudio Reyna was not a very good sporting director, and Wolff's doing the best he can with the plane Borrell's building while he flies it. Someone did suggest to Bruin that Wolff is driving a Ferrari like a Fiat, and Bruin tweeted "no Ferraris," which is a pretty harsh assessment of the roster.

It's a constant plague of locusts here in Austin, if painful soccer realizations were locusts.


VAD: Trying to sort out the Sounders’ striker situation … my understanding is that Raúl Ruidíaz is fading, Danny Musovski will see some minutes but isn’t the long-term Ruidiaz replacement, and Jordan Morris will rotate there are well. What’s the story with the No. 9? 

SaH: If they're running a single striker, that striker will be Jordan Morris, for now. Last year he had 9 goals in 13 starts at forward and his rookie of the year winning season was also at forward. His numbers in 2023 were also strong compared to other forwards, still the missed opportunities can be frustrating for fans that have never had a 20 goal scorer in Sounders MLS play. Raúl Ruidíaz may have had a minor injury when he came out in the opening loss at LAFC, which further diminishes the chances of a two-forward set against Austin. The health of de la Vega will also reduce those chances, as they'll want to get him on the field for as much time as possible.

Seattle probably has the best forward group when it comes to depth. Not many teams running a single striker have three forwards that could hit 10+ goals in a season. But that group's peak performer won't be someone challenging for the league lead in goals (if that benchmark is 20). Now, there's a chance that Jordan pops and hits 17 or so, which would be top 10 for a center forward from 2021 to the present.

VAD: We’re more familiar with the Sounders’ goalkeeping corps now that Stefan Cleveland made the move to Austin. With Stefan Frei out, seems like they could have used him … who exactly is Andrew Thomas? And was he really born in Moscow? 

SaH: Andrew Thomas was once called "the best athlete in the Sounders organization" by then Defiance head coach Wade Webber. He's a great shot stopper with strong reflexes and his arm looks appropriate for American football as a quarterback. Not to blame for either of the goals against him last weekend, Thomas should be fine long term as a backup. His GAA in the USL Championship and MLS Next Pro was quite strong, Facing off against a childhood hero and the potent LAFC attack Thomas didn't seem overwhelmed. And yes, his personal history is a heck of a story – born in Moscow, raised in London, was part of the Watford academy, went to Stanford on scholarship and then joined Seattle through the waiver process.

VAD: I’m sure everyone’s excited about Pedro de la Vega getting in and scoring his first goal and getting his first minutes. What’s his ceiling, and how does he slot into what Brian Schmetzer wants to do? Is he a fancy Leo Chu, or something different? 

SaH: His ceiling is pretty darn big. Pedro was once on the radar of euro giants, but then did an ACL. Now healthy Seattle fans should expect him to get back on that radar by being a downhill force that uses his dribbling skills to open space for himself to shoot or assist. He should be a significant dual-threat who could challenge for 10 and 10 this season. Unlike many attacking mids that come to MLS, he seems to enjoy defense – think more a Nico Lodiero type, rather than a Diego Valeri. De la Vega is also not positionally locked down like Chu. PdlV was mostly a left wing, but he also played on the right and the 10. With Seattle his ability to move around will come in handy since Albert Rusnàk is injured. I wouldn't be surprised if Pedro is the 10 on Saturday night.

Seattle hosts Austin FC at 7:30 pm PST on Saturday night. The match is on MLS Season Pass. Check out Verde All Day for their pre and post match coverage.