The Verde Report: Austin FC in Danger of Stalling Out in Final Stretch of Season

Head coach Josh Wolff: “We’ve lost momentum”

Austin FC center back Julio Cascante rises for a header against FC Dallas (Courtesy of Austin FC)

If you've ever attempted to un-parallel park a manual transmission car on a downhill slope, you know exactly how it feels to be an Austin FC player at the moment. When gravity is pulling you down, it becomes very difficult to reverse course and climb back up the hill.

In place of Newton's laws of physics, the Verde and Black are battling just about everything that's happened surrounding the club since Major League Soccer went on its midseason hiatus in mid-July. At that stage, the club had taken 13 out of a possible 18 points in its previous six matches and had settled comfortably into a top-five position in the Western Conference playoff race. But after a pair of sobering Leagues Cup defeats, an ensuing three-week layoff that included the contentious trade of Diego Fagúndez, and back-to-back losses in the return to MLS action, El Tree is now dangerously close to stalling out entirely.

"We've lost momentum," head coach Josh Wolff lamented following Austin FC's latest gut punch of a loss to FC Dallas over the weekend, in which the Metroplexers broke a 0-0 tie with a winning goal in the 97th minute.

"That's what this game is, man. It's euphoric and heart-wrenching at the same time. I'm sure there's some moments last year where we snatched victory in some difficult moments. … [The players] are going to hurt from this because they know they deserved more," Wolff said.

On top of missing out on three points (or even one) in Frisco, the loss cost Austin FC a golden opportunity to retain the Copa Tejas rivalry trophy – something that, while not an official MLS prize, could have been the exact sort of vibes jump start the club desperately needs as it targets a successful finish to the 2023 regular season.

"I mean, the team's together still. We need to start picking up points," veteran center back and ATXFC newcomer Matt Hedges said. "Results are all that matter at this point."

With Austin FC clinging to the ninth and final playoff spot in the West with nine matches remaining (including a home clash against the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday that will be underway as this column goes to press*), there's still every opportunity for Austin FC to get its act together by season's end. The problem, though, is that this particular version of Austin FC has yet to show that it can beat anyone.

Since the arrival of Hedges to (theoretically) plug a gaping hole at center back, the departure of Fagúndez and corresponding arrival of Memo Rodriguez in the trade with the LA Galaxy, El Tree has lacked cohesion in just about every area of the pitch. It's as if the pieces simply don't fit together. The defensive back line, which got shelled for six goals against St. Louis CITY SC, has been shaky all season. The midfield continues to be in a state of flux as Designated Player Alex Ring's role remains a mystery. The attacking unit, now leaning more heavily than ever on bust DP Emiliano Rigoni, has seemingly no chemistry at all. Sebastián Driussi still flashes magic in moments, but those moments are resulting in actual goals much less frequently than a year ago.

Generally, when teams struggle, they can at least point to a version of themselves at their best and aim to get back to that level. At the moment, it's very murky what the best version of this Austin FC even looks like, let alone if we'll see it before it's too late.

That downhill is only getting steeper and steeper by the day.

*Editor's Note: Austin FC fell to Seattle Sounders 2-1 on Wednesday night. Read Eric Goodman's game recap.

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