The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/sports/2021-08-06/the-verde-report-a-well-timed-burst-of-fresh-talent/

The Verde Report: A Well-Timed Burst of Fresh Talent

By Eric Goodman, August 6, 2021, Sports

For the first time and in back-to-back games this week, Austin FC will collide with one of its Texas MLS rivals in a regular season match, initiating what should materialize into a pair of fun and heated in-state rivalries.

The first of those will have occurred Wednesday evening (after this column has already gone to press) as the Verde met the Houston Dynamo in the conclusion of a six-game home stand at Q2 Stadium. Both Austin FC and the Dynamo headed into that match outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, so both were in dire need of a win.

Then, Saturday, the Oaks head to Frisco for another interstate battle against FC Dallas, also on the outside of the playoff picture but featuring one of the best young attacking talents in MLS in Ricardo Pepi. The 18-year-old has eight goals and an assist in 15 appearances this season.

For comparison, Austin FC – as a team – has 10 goals in its 15 games.

Is that liable to change anytime soon? Likely not this week as the Verde is still largely limited to the same roster – albeit a slightly healthier version than it has had to work with in recent weeks – but perhaps soon.

The proverbial cavalry is very much on its way.

Last Thursday, the club announced the completion of its highest-value signing yet, Argentine attacking midfielder Sebastián Driussi from Zenit St. Petersburg in the Russian Premier League. Driussi, who scored 21 goals in 95 league appearances in Russia, rounds out Austin FC's maximum of three designated players – players who can be paid large salaries that will not count toward the club's salary cap.

Acquiring Driussi, according to multiple reports, cost Austin FC $7 million on the transfer market. That's nearly three times as much as the club spent on its other two designated players – Cecilio Domínguez and Tomás Pochettino. Driussi will likely feature on the right wing or through the middle as a No. 10 and, at that price, will be expected to provide an immediate – and welcome – spark.

Driussi was stateside for his Austin FC announcement, something that still has not managed to happen with the club's other top attacking signing, Senegalese striker Moussa Djitté. The club has been vague on the timeline by which they expect to have Djitté through visa and immigration procedure (it's entirely possible that they themselves are wondering exactly when the paperwork will be finalized), though there is optimism that it can happen within the coming days.

Both Driussi, 25, and Djitté, 21, will have to undergo a quarantine period. But after? Head coach Josh Wolff will finally have a three-headed front line that should strike fear – anxiety, at the very least – into the hearts of defenders.

Don't count out McKinze Gaines either. The 23-year-old Round Rock native who came on as a substitute in a July friendly against Tigres UANL while on trial with the club was officially signed as a senior squad player Friday. He is a prototypical striker with German know-how after spending the last four seasons overseas, most recently for Hannover 96's reserve team.

The Oaks need a jumpstart to get the motor running. Some goal-seeking signings and a couple of first cracks at their older Texas brothers could be just the thing.

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