The Verde Report: Rodolfo Borrell Delivers Sobering Assessment of Austin FC's Future

Sporting director braces fans for a roster remodel

Austin FC Sporting Director Rodolfo Borrell (Photo by Eric Goodman)

Ten months ago, Austin FC's stock was soaring. The Verde and Black had come within one game of the MLS Cup Final, only falling on the road to eventual league champs LAFC, the only team to finish above them in the Western Conference. Despite that loss, ATXFC entered the offseason with loads of momentum and excitement, looking like the fastest-rising club in Major League Soccer.

It was fool's gold.

At least, that's how Rodolfo Borrell, the club's new sporting director, sees it.

"In my opinion, guys, the team overachieved last year," Borrell asserted bluntly in a press conference last week following the surprise trade of fan favorite winger Diego Fagúndez to the LA Galaxy. "[They] played well, had some key results in some moments where the good luck also sometimes goes your way ... And sometimes because of the – my opinion – overachieving last season, we were setting ourselves into a position where, I'm not saying we cannot achieve, we will fight to achieve ... but you have to understand that it takes time."

For starters, kudos to "Rodo" for the honesty. It takes guts to tell a fan base that their team is not as good as they thought, even if a sizable portion of supporters had already clued into that fact through the first half of the 2023 season. And his point is well taken. Austin FC set an MLS record last year with four comeback wins from two goals behind, and Sebastián Driussi's 25-goal, seven-assist campaign papered over whatever cracks had started to form in the Verde Wall.

Then again, even in what has clearly been a season of regression for the club, Austin FC still finds itself solidly entrenched in the Western Conference playoff picture in fifth place, just 5 points out of second. Barring a collapse in the final third of the season, El Tree will once again have a chance to make a run through the playoffs and compete for MLS Cup. However, by offloading Fagúndez to free up salary cap space, Borrell and the Austin FC brass have made the conscious decision to sacrifice the club's chances this season in favor of a longer-term vision.

In other words, trust the process. And it likely won't be a short one.

"We will improve the team toward the transfer window, but there are two windows every year. So the idea is to make an improvement in that window and then a little one in the next one, and a little one in the next one ... Unfortunately, it may mean players in and out, in and out," Borrell explained.

The roster remodel that Borrell likely has in mind won't be easy. Of the club's roughly $19 million wage bill, nearly a third of it is tied up in players that currently look like bad investments: Emiliano Rigoni, Rodney Redes, Alex Ring, Jhohan Romaña, and Moussa Djitte. Other clubs aren't peppering Austin FC's inbox with offers for those players the way the Galaxy pressed for Fagúndez. It may necessitate waiting for some or all of those players' contracts to expire before Borrell can really dig his claws in and overhaul the club.

But there's danger in that, too. First and foremost, it risks wasting multiple years of Driussi's prime (or worse, giving him added reason to pursue a return to Europe or Argentina). Second, there's no guarantee that a rebuild – at least in its first iteration – leads Austin to a better spot than it's in now. And finally, it risks straining the endurance of a fan base that has remained fiercely loyal since the club's 2021 genesis, but has yet to really have its patience tested.

The way things are headed, that's about to change.

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