Sports

The Verde Report: Slumping Austin FC Searches for Answers in Front of Goal

The Verde and Black have scored just one goal in the last four games


Austin FC has scored just one goal in the last four games (courtesy of Austin FC)

Austin FC's players don't need reminding. They're well aware. They know, after Saturday night's 0-0 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Q2 Stadium, that they've scored just one goal in their last four games. They know that it's been over 260 minutes of action since anyone's found the back of the net. And they know that's not good enough. Not by a long shot.

"It sucks," winger Ethan Finlay candidly assessed. "We've got a lot of good goalscorers in that locker room, and no one can knock one on the board right now. So it's definitely frustrating."

In soccer, as in all sports, slumps are a part of the business. No player is immune to a spell of bad form, bad luck, or a combination of the two. When a team has one or two passengers on the struggle bus, often it can just power through. But when a club's entire attacking unit – including its superstar playmaker – is in the doldrums, things can go south in a hurry.

So it goes for the Verde and Black, who have been plagued by a collective dip in confidence in front of goal for the better part of a month. It was painfully evident against Vancouver, as ATX squandered multiple scoring chances with errant or apprehensive finishing.

"If you win two or three in a row [coming in], you probably take two or three of those chances and you run off with it," head coach Josh Wolff said. "But when it's elusive, it's elusive."

Slumps in soccer can prove especially annoying because, unlike in other sports, you can't really "shoot your way out" of them. Basketball and baseball players, who compete multiple times a week and get several opportunities per game, don't have this problem. But soccer players are usually limited to one game per week and one or two or maybe three scoring opportunities within each game. As a result, slump-busting is mainly addressed on the practice field, where Austin FC has put nose to grindstone in recent weeks.

"I wish you guys could see a week of training. I mean, that ball goes in the back of the net. We've had some great weeks of training and this was one of them," Finlay told local media after the Vancouver match. "Josh and the coaching staff were honest and they were pushing the tempo ... creating those moments when training feels like it's the bright lights and you're under pressure. You're in a situation where you must score.

"Just seeing the ball hit the back of the net," Finlay said. "It sounds so silly and so stupid, but that's what it is."

Here's the silver lining about slumps, though: Eventually, they end. Austin FC boasts several proven goalscorers among its ranks, from Sebastián Driussi to Maxi Urruti to Gyasi Zardes to Finlay to – allegedly – Emiliano Rigoni. Count Diego Fagúndez among that group, too, if the Uruguayan is able to avoid missing significant time due to a groin injury sustained at the weekend.

If the scoring chances keep coming, some combination of those players will inevitably catch fire, and the goals will follow. The size of that "if," though, depends largely on Wolff's ability to press the right tactical buttons. Time is still on El Tree's side, but it won't be for long.

"You don't want to keep saying there's a lot of season [left]. There's urgency," Wolff said. "Once the seal breaks for one or two of these guys, hopefully it lifts the group's confidence."

Read more Austin FC coverage at austinchronicle.com/austin-fc.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin FC, The Verde Report, Ethan Finlay

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