The Austin Chronicle

The Verde Report: Austin FC Should Worry Less About What It Deserves

Time is running out to make the playoffs

By Eric Goodman, September 8, 2023, Sports

It's become an inside joke between those of us on the Austin FC press beat and the fine folks in the club's Communications & Media department. Every match we're canvassed for players we'd like to visit with, and every match the first name thrown out is the same. Alex Ring. Win, lose, or draw, whether he played well, played poorly, or didn't play at all, Alex Ring.

It's tongue in cheek. Ring hasn't made himself available to the press a single time in 2023, and we know better than to seriously expect the Finnish former captain to change his antisocial stance on a whim. But Saturday night provided legitimate hope. In the final minute of stoppage time, with the Verde and Black trailing the New England Revolution 2-1, Ring produced a stunning, goal-of-the-week-worthy volley from absolutely nowhere to snap Austin FC's five-game losing streak and rescue a point on the Gillette Stadium turf. If ever there was a time for Ring to make his long-awaited return to the mic, this was surely it.

No dice.

Instead, Emiliano Rigoni, scorer of ATXFC's first goal, got the nod for the postgame Zoom press conference. He spoke for a handful of minutes, in Spanish with an interpreter, echoing sentiments shared by head coach Josh Wolff about Austin FC deserving more from the game than what they got.

"I think the players probably deserved more than just a point," Wolff said, suggesting that the match followed "a week or a couple of weeks where we probably haven't gotten as much as we've deserved out of some of these games." In total, Wolff used some variation of the word "deserve" 11 times during an eight-minute presser.

At risk of sounding too much like Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, there's no "deserve" in soccer. If there was, Lionel Messi would have won a World Cup long before the age of 35. You deserve to win when you score more goals than your opponent over 90 minutes ... and that's pretty much it. To set the barometer of success at anything less than that is a recipe for mediocrity.

Both postgame storylines – Wolff's "woe is us" frame of mind and Ring's vow of silence – indicate exactly the kind of sub-optimal in-house culture that appears to have plagued the club's locker room throughout an onerous 2023 season.

It's a starkly different tone than the consistent intensity, desire, and determination heard throughout the 2022 campaign, in which the club finished the regular season second in the Western Conference standings. Certainly, there's a chicken-and-egg factor at play, where the winning ways of last year fueled much of the positive messaging.

But the messengers are also notably different. Ruben Gabrielsen's blunt but stirring personality simply hasn't been replaced in the squad since the center back unexpectedly returned home to Norway during the offseason. You wonder what he would have made of the idea that the club "deserves" more than it's gone out and earned on the pitch. Diego Fagúndez's infectious positivity was shipped out of Austin last month, and even veteran role-players like Felipe Martins – for all his cliches and corniness – feel missed.

Then there's Ring, who – when fully engaged – has proven to be an effective leader inside a locker room. But that certainly doesn't feel like the case anymore. Perhaps his goal in New England is the spark to change that. With seven games remaining – beginning a week from Sunday against the Portland Timbers – and ATX currently just outside the playoff places, better late than never. Austin FC might feel they deserve to be a playoff team. They're running out of time to prove they've earned it.

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