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https://www.austinchronicle.com/sports/2021-07-23/the-verde-report-where-should-the-verde-add-help/

The Verde Report: Where Should the Verde Add Help?

By Eric Goodman, July 23, 2021, Sports

Austin FC returns to the pitch Thursday night following a two-week break from MLS action, taking on the until-very-recently undefeated Seattle Sounders at Q2 Stadium. The Oaks should be well-rested (if not yet fully healthy) heading into their most crowded stretch of the season with five matches in the 16 coming days.

The final day of that stretch, August 7, also marks the end of the midseason transfer window during which MLS teams can make trades and signings to improve their rosters as the league enters the second half of the season. Austin FC has already completed one deal, signing Senegalese striker Moussa Djitté from France (though standard hangups in the visa and immigration process have so far kept him from traveling to Austin).

The club continues to shop around for players who can give them a boost, which they can certainly use, sitting with just three wins and four draws through 13 games. Here's where Austin FC could benefit the most from outside help.

Positions on Lock

• GoalkeeperBrad Stuver should be the starting goalkeeper in next month's MLS All-Star Game. This writer's media ballot reflected that, and hopefully enough fans agreed (voting ended Wednes­day at midnight). Whether or not he gets the nod, he's been Austin FC's best player and has the keeper position on lockdown. Andrew Tarbell gives the club a capable backup option in case of emergency.

• Defensive MidfieldAlex Ring has this area covered, with Sebastian Berhalter filling in when necessary.

In Decent Shape

• Center Back – Center defense has been a strength this season. 34-year-old Matt Besler has silenced those who suggested he could no longer keep pace at the MLS level. Julio Cascante has claimed full ownership of the second starting position. Young players Jhohan Romaña and Freddy Kleemann offer solid depth.

• Right Back – Starter Nick Lima has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury. Utility man Hector Jiménez has filled in admirably since but is doing so without backup. Lima should be nearing his return, and when that happens, the right side of defense will be fine. Until then? Dicey.

• Left WingCecilio Domínguez has had to abandon his most natural position recently to plug other holes, but in theory, he gives ATXFC a great option here.

Could Use Support

• Left Back – Week one starter Ben Sweat was the first Oak to fall with injury, tearing his ACL in ATXFC's second game. 21-year-old Slovenian Žan Kolmaniç has been a more than adequate replacement and has an exciting future with the club if his loan deal from NK Maribor turns permanent. Depth behind Kolmaniç is the concern here. Rookie SuperDraft pick Aedan Stanley has not appeared ready for meaningful minutes yet.

• Attacking MidfieldDiego Fagundez and Daniel Pereira have been pleasant surprises with their play so far this season. Yet neither is a natural "No. 10" chance creator, and neither is designated player Tomás Pochettino despite the club's previous attempts to use him as such.

Desperate for Help

• Right Wing – Neither Rodney Redes nor Jared Stroud have proven they can be dangerous enough in attack to start for a successful MLS club. Both have time on their side to become such a player, but in the meantime, an exciting, experienced winger to play opposite Domínguez would do wonders.

• Striker – Hope when Djitté finally arrives, he brings his scoring boots with him.

Editor's note: The Chronicle is taking a short hiatus from online-only recaps immediately following Austin FC games while Eric Goodman is on assignment covering the Olympics for NBC Sports. Goodman's "The Verde Report" columns will continue uninterrupted.

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