The Verde Report: Tough Decisions After Latest Damning Loss
The fans show up even when the team doesn't
They say the most important thing in life is showing up. Nobody understands that better than Austin FC supporters. Come hell or high water, the presence of cheering, singing fans at matches both home and away has been the one constant of Austin FC's turbulent inaugural season.
They show up. Even when the club they support does not.
Such was the case Saturday night in Houston. Roughly 1,000 Austin FC fans made the six-hour round trip to BBVA Stadium for Austin FC's first road clash against the Houston Dynamo. They were rewarded for that effort with instant disappointment and embarrassment, as Austin FC conceded a goal inside the first minute thanks to defending which simply failed to ... show up.
Facing a last-place Houston squad on the verge of an MLS record winless streak, Austin FC lost by a score of 3-0. If you were to sum it up in a meme, it would be that guy holding the sign that says, "Our expectations for you were low but HOLY FUCK."
"We don't deserve [our fans] at the moment," club captain Alex Ring said after the loss.
So where does Austin FC go from here?
In a literal sense, they returned home to kick off the final third of their expansion season Wednesday night against LAFC. (Find a full recap and analysis of that match at austinchronicle.com/austin-fc.) At a crossroads, the club can approach the remaining 10 matches in one of two ways: Keep fighting tooth and nail for the playoffs until mathematically eliminated, or shift focus toward giving young players maximum experience, with an eye toward the 2022 season.
In two media availabilities since the Houston game, head coach Josh Wolff has offered conflicting thoughts about which approach the club will take. Saturday night, he seemed to suggest that player evaluation and development would be the focus. "We're definitely assessing what we have game by game ... Playoffs, I don't really worry about that. We've got to get these guys ready to compete to win a game."
Then, Tuesday, Wolff offered a different perspective: "There's still a lot of games left ... The opportunity is right now, and we're focusing on that more than anything."
One important thing to note as it pertains to Wolff: He can feel reasonably assured of keeping his job for next season, no matter what. That's a luxury most coaches overseeing a similar losing season don't enjoy, but the fact of the matter is that you just don't fire a rookie manager (let alone one shepherding a deeply flawed expansion roster) after one season based on results alone.
So, which route should he take? Austin FC should obviously continue to aim for victories, but it should do so while young players Moussa Djitté, Rodney Redes, Daniel Pereira, McKinzie Gaines, and Freddy Kleemann all see extended minutes. Not only will the extra game time accelerate their development, it will give the club a chance to decide how much it can trust these players going forward. Even Wolff's 16-year-old son Owen Wolff, announced last week as Austin FC's first-ever homegrown player, should see some MLS action after impressing in a July friendly against Tigres UANL.
The club is likely to struggle with so much youth on the field, but it's done plenty of struggling already with its veterans on the pitch. And if nothing else, the Verde faithful will continue to show up.