The Verde Report: A Utility Player No More, Jon Gallagher Has Found His Home for Austin FC

The 26-year-old Irishman is thriving at left back

Jon Gallagher (Courtesy of Austin FC)

Versatile. Utility man. Gadget player.

All positive things. All compliments. But, also, from the file cabinet labeled "backhanded." Professional athletes who've earned those labels know what they really mean: jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Players every team wants to have around, but no team wants to truly prioritize.

Jon Gallagher is one of those players. Or, at least, he used to be.

The list of roles Gallagher has occupied for Austin FC over the past season and a half sounds like a bowl of directionally challenged alphabet soup. Right wing. Left wing. Center forward. Right midfielder. Central midfielder. Left midfielder. Right back.

Then, in April, with then-starter Žan Kolmanič struggling and Austin FC without a natural backup, Gallagher added the latest position to his résumé: left back. Three months later, it's as if the 26-year-old Irishman has played there his entire life.

Gallagher has started eight of the club's last 11 MLS matches at left back and has helped the Verde and Black to a 5-1-2 record in those games, with the club conceding just one goal per contest on average. He's chipped in with three assists in that time as well, including two special ones in the first half of Austin FC's 3-2 comeback win over the Colorado Rapids on July 4, earning him MLS Team of the Week honors.

Not only has Gallagher given head coach Josh Wolff a dependable presence on the left flank, he's made his coach look like something of a genius for experimenting with the former Notre Dame Fighting Irishman at the position in the first place. "I think you have hopes for what it will look like, and to see it fulfilled the way that Jonny has been doing has really been encouraging," Wolff said. "He finds a way. He's really receptive to the role and to the job, and he will take on just about any challenge."

While Gallagher's offensive contributions from his new post aren't shocking – he scored the first MLS goal in Q2 Stadium history, after all – it's his defensive effort that has things really clicking on the back line. Even as an attacker most of his career, Gallagher has built a reputation as a hustle player, and that work rate has made him a nightmare for wingers this season. Of Austin FC players who've logged more than 360 minutes (four full matches), Gallagher is second on the team in interceptions per game, tackles won per game, and percentage of duels won. "The defending, the dueling – he's going up against extremely good wingers every week that are good 1-v-1. Rarely does he get beat," Wolff said.

"I think you can see as the season's gone on, maybe my maturity and understanding of the role has kind of gone upwards," Gallagher said of his recent performances. "With each game I feel more confident, and that's down to the guys around me." Encouragement from teammates and intensive film study with coaches have proven particularly helpful, he said.

Fullback, particularly left back, had looked for much of the season like one of the club's biggest areas of need for the summer transfer window, set to open Thursday, July 7. We'll see if Gallagher's level of play has been high enough to possibly move the club off of plans to add talent in that area of the pitch.

In the immediacy, though, Gallagher seems open to a brief return to his "utility" roots with Austin FC in a bind at center back for Saturday's match against Atlanta United, Gallagher's former club. Kipp Keller is suspended and Julio Cascante and Jhohan Romaña are battling injury, leaving the Verde and Black with just one healthy central defender. "[Gallagher] is ready to go play center back. He's said it a couple times," Wolff said. "I'll have to talk to him this week and see if that's something he's up for."

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