Austin FC’s Anemic Offense Leads to Broadway Blues In Nashville

RECAP: Tyro team now tied for last in Western Conference

Austin FC defender Matt Besler had his hands full dealing with the physicality of Nashville SC's attackers, including C.J. Sapong. (photo courtesy of Major League Soccer)

In an inaugural season to remember, Austin FC is starting to pile up some performances to forget.

Add Sunday night’s 1-0 defeat to Nashville SC to the list, as the Verde got thoroughly outplayed for 90 minutes in Music City. Randall Leal scored the lone goal for the home side but it felt like plenty as Austin FC, despite possessing the ball for nearly 60 percent of the match, only mustered two or three half-chances on attack.

Nashville’s compact defensive structure was as advertised. The 2020 expansion team, which made the playoffs in its debut season largely by conceding the third-fewest goals in MLS, held its 2021 expansion counterpart to just one shot on target. Austin FC struggled to find any space in the attacking third of the field and was held goalless for a second straight game. The “Oaks” have not scored since the seventh minute of matchday four against Sporting Kansas City, the first of now three consecutive losses on the road.

“I think we lack a little bit of confidence right now,” head coach Josh Wolff said after Sunday’s defeat. “For whatever reason, if something’s not working or it doesn’t go our way, it does affect us. And we have to be stronger than that. We have to have a bit of calm, but also a bit of intensity.”

“If we can score goals and even create better chances, it’ll help take away some of the difficulties in the game,” Wolff said.

Wolff opened the game with a possession-minded starting XI which featured Danny Hoesen at striker, Rodney Redes on the right wing, and Daniel Pereira in midfield next to captain Alex Ring, who returned from a one-game suspension. The group looked out of sync from the early stages and gave the ball away too often in the first half, including on the action leading to Nashville’s goal.

In the 35th minute with his back to goal, Hoesen had the ball swiped from his feet, which sprung Nashville on a counter attack. DP striker Jhonder Cádiz found fellow DP Leal with a cross from the right side, which Leal sent bouncing into the net on the volley.

The goal was a reminder of the importance of designated players in MLS. Apart from one first-half scoring opportunity that Cecilio Domínguez put wide of the net, Austin FC did not get the attacking creativity that it should expect from its two DPs, Domínguez and Tomás Pochettino.

Austin did bulge the back of the net in the 73rd minute off the foot of substitute Jared Stroud, but replay showed he was in an offside position when Pereira found him with a headed pass, so the goal was disallowed.

Attacking substitutes Stroud, Jon Gallagher, and Kekuta Manneh injected some much-needed energy into Austin’s attack in the second half and won several corner kick opportunities in the final half hour. But, in what has become a discouraging pattern through six games, the Verde lacked any real threat in the box to capitalize on the set pieces.

With the loss, Austin FC fell into a tie for last place in the Western Conference with just six points through six matches.

“I think we should be frustrated. We should be angry. We should feel this loss hurt us,” Manneh said postgame. “We’re having a difficult moment right now where we can’t buy a win, but I think for us [the key] is just to stick together and keep going, believe in the process, and things will turn around soon.”

Another daunting task awaits Sunday (May 30) as Austin FC travels to the Pacific Northwest to face the league-leading Seattle Sounders at Lumen Field. The Sounders have been brilliant to start the season, scoring a league-best 14 goals and conceding just three en route to an undefeated record, five wins and two draws. The match will be nationally televised, kicking off at 8:30pm. on FS1.


Read more Austin FC coverage – including Eric Goodman’s weekly column, The Verde Report – at austinchronicle.com/austin-fc.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Austin FC, Nashville SC, Josh Wolff, Major League Soccer

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