Austin FC is at a crossroads. With just under half the season left in their debut MLS campaign, the struggling Verde and Black sit dead last in the Western Conference. However, there remains some reason for optimism ... depending on your perspective. This week, TVR columnist Eric Goodman splits his personality into two contradicting personas – the homer and the hater – to debate how bleak (or bright) the Verde picture currently looks.
This column went to press ahead of Austin FC's Wednesday night clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Here's our recap and analysis from that match.
Hater: Austin FC stinks. Plain and simple. They can't score, can't hardly get a shot on target after the first 15 minutes of a match, and now can't even keep 11 players on the pitch for a full 90 minutes. Their 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday was just the latest display of toothless attacking and aimless possession. You can't even blame the lineup choices anymore because all three Designated Players – including new signing Sebastián Driussi – started the match. Julio Cascante's red card didn't help anything either.
Homer: First of all, that red card was a terrible call and you know it. Second, let's be reasonable and give Driussi and the squad more than a game and a half to get acclimated with each other, shall we? Look. The last two matches have been frustrating, even for me. But this team was always going to be a work in progress the first half of the year and let's not pretend that nothing has gone right up to now. Just two weeks ago Austin FC scored three goals in a win against the Houston Dynamo at the always electric Q2 Stadium. And guess what? Ten out of their last 16 matches are at home.
Hater: Big deal. ATX has won just two of its seven home matches so far and gone scoreless in the other five. It's the same story every time. Come out early with energy, miss a few early chances, then settle into a predictable pattern of slow-paced possession of the ball without any kind of cutting edge. Whatever Josh Wolff is selling to these players, they either aren't buying it or they're incapable of executing it properly. I've seen more harmless crosses from out wide get cleared away by defenders than I can stomach. And if you think Moussa Djitté is going to fix that by himself, I have a soccer stadium at a racetrack to sell you.
Homer: Bold of you to assume Djitté won't add the physical dimension this club needs to score goals. Wolff has had to play somebody out of position at striker every match since the end of May. If nothing else, Djitté's presence alone will give those crossers a target man to aim for and give defenders something extra to worry about. Regardless, Wolff isn't just trying to establish a style of play. He's attempting to give the entire club a clear identity. That takes time to develop, but the upside can be worth it in the end. Don't count them out of the playoffs just yet.
Hater: You're going to make me go all Jim Mora over here. What makes you think the playoffs are anywhere within the realm of possibility?
Homer: You must not have been watching MLS for very long. Teams go on second-half surges from the doldrums to the playoffs routinely. Nashville SC did it in their debut season just last year. It won't be easy, but it's possible.
Austin FC next takes on the Portland Timbers at home Saturday, 8pm, airing on the CW Austin and UniMás.
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