The Verde Report: Fantastic Goals and Where to Find Them
Three steps for more scoring opportunities
Josh Wolff laid out the assignment in simple English at his very first press conference as Austin FC head coach in 2019: "I want our team to be about scoring goals. I think our game model, our style of play, will reflect that."
So far, it hasn't. Austin FC has bagged just five goals through the first six games of its inaugural season, tied for DFL in the Western Conference. Wolff's squad is currently riding a 263-minute goal drought over its last three matches, all losses. Sunday's 1-0 defeat against Nashville SC was the ugliest offensive display yet, with just one shot on target and 0.4 expected goals created. No other MLS club over the weekend produced less going forward.
"It was a difficult game for us. Nashville is a physical team and they took away what we wanted to do," forward Kekuta Manneh said postgame.
So what's not clicking, and what can Austin FC do to unclog the pipes in attack?
Step 1: Be Less Predictable
Over the past five halves of soccer, the majority of Austin FC's scoring chances have come via two scenarios: either a midfielder (or, sometimes, winger Cecilio Domínguez) collects the ball outside the 18-yard box, dribbles, then shoots from distance, or the ball gets pushed out wide to a winger or fullback who then sends a hopeful cross into the box. These two plays are simple for opposition to defend, especially considering ATXFC lacks a true aerial threat to get on the end of crosses.
Austin must add a new wrinkle to open things up. They've so far largely abandoned one of the sport's most tried-and-true offensive actions, where a forward makes a run toward the goal between two opposing defenders and receives the ball in a dangerous area from a teammate's pass. Yes, that's right out of the easier-said-than-done cabinet, but even flashing the willingness to attempt it could help free things up elsewhere.
Step 2: Get No. 9 Involved
Danny Hoesen's nightmare start to the season got even worse Sunday. Goalless and without an assist in five appearances, the Dutchman missed an early chance and gave away possession on what led to Nashville's only goal. Other than that, he was largely a nonfactor.
Hoesen has started the past two matches for ATXFC and has touched the ball a combined 16 times. While it certainly falls to Hoesen to get into positions where he can receive passes with more frequency, his teammates have failed him in that respect. Hoesen is a capable goal-scorer and playmaker, but he needs the ball at his feet to be effective. There must be a focus on getting him involved.
Step 3: Show Life on Set Pieces
The Verde earned an eye-popping 10 corner kicks against Nashville, along with multiple free kick opportunities in dangerous areas, but was unable to create a true scoring chance off any of them. Service is not the issue. The right-footed Tomás Pochettino and left-footed Zan Kolmani have consistently delivered the goods in terms of dangerous crosses. But in the box, there just isn't enough activity. Wolff understands his team has to create more havoc for defenders in these spots.
"We've got to be a little more clever, maybe a little more thoughtful with what we're trying to achieve on set pieces," Wolff said midweek. "We're not the biggest group, but we do have very good service."
Set piece opportunities will be critical for Austin FC in its next match, Sunday, May 30, at 8:30pm on FS1. Their opponents, league-leaders Seattle Sounders, have yet to concede a goal from open play this year.
Two starters, defender Jhohan Romaña and midfielder Daniel Pereira, exited last weekend's match with apparent injuries. Wolff said both are "certainly injured" but would not elaborate on specifics, nor reveal if he expects them to be available against Seattle.