The end of the week is upon us once again and that means that it’s almost time for another Orlando City game. This week sees the Lions on the road yet again as they head west to Texas to take on Austin FC for the very first time.
That means that I took some time to speak to Ricardo Delgado, one of the contributors over at Capital City Soccer. He was kind enough to give us a bunch of great insight into Austin ahead of the first ever meeting between the two teams.
Austin has been one of the surprise stories of the season so far, and barring an apocalyptic collapse, the team will easily eclipse last year’s points total. What’s been the biggest reason for the good start to 2022?
Ricardo Delgado: Head Coach Josh Wolff seems to have succeeded in implementing his values and vision into the club, and the results have finally shown. Through the struggles of the first season, it was apparent Wolff stressed a possession-based, consistent style of the sport, but lacked the players or the tactical discipline to deliver consistent results. Austin’s dazzling 2022 likely won’t shock those who closely followed the team before; even if the players couldn’t put the pieces together over the span of a season, the foundation built by the front office and Wolff before the first ball was ever kicked meant Austin was more of a fixer-upper than a demolition job.
Undeniably, Sebastián Driussi will be reason number one for most Austin FC fans and pundits for the turnaround. Even as seven goals on the season are joint-second in MLS, a less tangible, yet just as important, reason for the Verde’s success is the increased chemistry between Driussi and his teammates.
Diego Fagúndez and his league-leading seven assists benefit the most from a comfortable Driussi. Maxi Urruti, who arrived from in-state rivals Houston Dynamo can whip out the odd banger and complements Driussi’s flash with a wealth of experience bagging goals in the league. Driussi’s impact even splashes to midfielders Alex Ring and Dani Pereira, who benefit from not being the main chance creators in the side. Pereira deserves a separate nod for his rapid growth from his tepid start at the club as its first SuperDraft pick, despite a horrid showing against Real Salt Lake causing him to miss the LAFC game.
Ruben Gabrielsen is also a huge reason for the success, providing the defensive stability Austin often lacked. His huge frame gives the team a big threat from corners and his deceptive speed combined with a willingness to go to ground already saved one or two goals this season.
In short, an A+ off-season plus some much-needed experience as a unit catapulted Austin FC to the top of the West — for now, at least.
Jhojan Valencia, Maxi Urruti, and Ethan Finlay are some of the new signings that came in during the off-season. How have they adjusted so far?
RD: Valencia has seen less pitch time than Finlay and Urruti, mostly due to the aforementioned form of Pereira. His 64-minute performance against LAFC saw him pick up a yellow card, so Pereira will likely take the field against Orlando. As a rotation option for a midfield that picks up yellows on a decently regular basis, Valencia fills his role.
Urruti, apart from center back Ruben Gabrielsen, is likely the best piece of business Austin did in the off-season. Urruti’s already provided several spectacular goals just a few games in, clearing the low bar our strikers set last season. If Urruti manages to keep up a reasonable pace of goals — or even just enough to make Driussi not do all of the heavy lifting — the transfer will be seen as an overwhelming success.
Finlay, unfortunately, has done little to distinguish himself. His questionable crosses and puzzling decision-making in possession led to him making way for Josh Wolff’s very own 17-year-old son, Owen Wolff (affectionately nicknamed Teen Wolff). Owen’s impressive performances off the bench earned him the starting spot against LAFC and likely another chance against Orlando, even if it is on short rest.
Where do you think the ceiling is for Austin this year? How far can this team go?
RD: After the LAFC game, it’s apparent Austin can win against any side in MLS should they play prime Wolffball and avoid the silly mistakes in possession which cost them dearly in so many games last season. As far as any ambitions of silverware, Verde fans can probably set it as a lofty goal should Austin avoids any injuries to critical players like Driussi, Fagundez, Brad Stuver (even if Andrew Tarbell proved serviceable) or Gabrielsen. Should the regular season take the regular toll it takes on every team, playoffs and a decent run in them should be the goal. Given the volatile nation of a single-elimination tournament and based on their current form, every Austin FC fan should like their chances.
Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
RD: Dani Pereira will get his chance to redeem himself after serving his one-game suspension earned in the RSL game. Brad Stuver returned from an injury suffered against Houston to make some crucial saves against LAFC. Center back Jhohan Romaña is still out with a hamstring injury and will face stiff competition whenever he does return, and Freddy Kleeman is still recovering from a procedure to repair and ACL rupture.
Austin FC will probably stay consistent in their lineup but could be subject to some rotation because of the short rest between games. Fullback and the wing opposite Fagundez are the positions with the most rotation, so expect any variation to stem from there.
Predicted XI: Brad Stuver; Zan Kolmanic, Ruben Gabrielsen, Julio Cascante, Nick Lima; Owen Wolff, Alex Ring, Daniel Pereira; Maxi Urruti, Diego Fagundez, Sebastian Driussi.
Even if Austin will be on tired legs, they should be able to come away with the victory — especially if they score first and remain disciplined. Should they let Orlando strike first or take their foot off the gas after scoring, a draw wouldn’t surprise the more pragmatic Verde fans.
I expect a tight 1-0 Austin win and will make the somewhat safe prediction of a Driussi goal or assist.
Big thank you to Ricardo for the great info on Austin. Vamos Orlando!