The Verde Report: Austin FC’s Attacking Blueprint Hits Early Season Snag
On paper, Austin FC’s attack is perfectly balanced. So how come it’s only delivered one goal all season?
By Eric Goodman, Fri., March 24, 2023
On paper, it looks gorgeous. Sebastián Driussi, perhaps the most skilled and lethal goalscorer in Major League Soccer, penned in as the central figure in Austin FC's attack. To his left, Austin's adopted favorite son, Diego Fagúndez. To his right, Driussi's countryman, fellow Designated Player and theoretical creative equal Emiliano Rigoni. And front and center, a proven goal-sniffing striker in Gyasi Zardes. In the words of legendary Greek manager Thanos, "Perfectly balanced, as all things should be."
There's just one problem: Through the first month of the MLS season, that perfectly balanced quartet has delivered exactly one (1) stinkin' goal – an individual moment of brilliance from Driussi in the season opener. As for the other three? Bubkes.
"Sebastián Driussi can't be the only guy that scores for us," Josh Wolff said plainly following a discouraging 0-2 loss to the Houston Dynamo at Shell Energy Stadium over the weekend that only further magnified El Tree's struggles in front of goal.
Once again, Rigoni failed to capitalize on multiple scoring opportunities in dangerous areas. Zardes had the majority of the night off, only clocking eight minutes as a late substitute for Maxi Urruti, who is clearly Wolff's preferred No. 9 at the moment.
And then there's Fagúndez, who hasn't done much of anything of note since assisting on a Jon Gallagher goal in the February 25 opener. His subpar performance Saturday in Houston earned him an early hook just 10 minutes into the second half, as his minutes have continued to decline in recent weeks. Wolff did not mince words post-match when asked for clarity as to why.
"It was a poor performance," Wolff said. "For Diego, the standard that he has had here in Austin for two years, the ability to do what he's done – and he certainly got rewarded with a good contract – in the first part of the season so far, he's not [up] to his standard."
Fagúndez signed a three-year contract extension with Austin prior to the start of the season after two consistently productive years in the Verde and Black. He is the club's all-time leader in assists with 22, to go along with 13 goals. However, questions about fitness intruded upon the early season for one of the club's most valuable players. "We need Diego. We need him to be operating in better form," Wolff said.
The same can be said for Rigoni, who is now going on 16 straight appearances without a goal since arriving in Austin last August for a $4 million transfer fee. It certainly hasn't been for lack of opportunities, and Wolff is convinced Rigoni simply needs to see the ball hit the back of the net one time to open the floodgates. "I'd say he's our most consistent guy at getting in great spots ... I think the sooner he breaks the seal, it'll be good for all of us," Wolff said. "He needs that validation for himself right now, more than anything."
In the case of Zardes, the hope is that the 31-year-old can be more than just a poacher of rebounds and tap-ins, the sort of goals he's become synonymous with in recent seasons. On that front, the pickings have been slim so far this campaign, and Zardes has managed just four shots (zero on target) in 249 minutes despite a steady diet of crosses and deliveries into the box.
Zardes, along with his line mates, will look to break several seals as Austin FC welcomes Zardes' former club, the Colorado Rapids, to Q2 Stadium Saturday night. The Rapids sit dead last in the league with just one draw and three losses on the young season, having conceded seven combined goals in the process.