Coming off of its final bye week of the 2021 Major League Soccer regular season, Austin FC is set to begin its stretch of six remaining matches this Saturday when the Club hosts Minnesota United FC at Q2 Stadium.
The sides previously met twice this year, on both occasions at Minnesota’s Allianz Field. ATXFC earned a 1-0 victory thanks to a 17th-minute strike from Diego Fagundez on May 1, but the Loons flipped the script with a 2-0 win of their own on June 23. This Saturday’s meeting will decide the season series between the clubs, and could prove pivotal in Minnesota’s quest to reach the playoffs.
Austin FC Outlook
It’s all gone swimmingly at home for Austin FC in recent weeks, as the Club enters Saturday having won back-to-back matches at Q2 Stadium for the first time in its last two outings. Triumphs over the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake showed a level of consistency at home which Head Coach Josh Wolff is hoping will continue not only for the remainder of the 2021 campaign, but once the calendar turns to 2022 as well.
“We have a very competitive group,” said Wolff after the team’s October 2 victory over RSL. “There aren’t many games that we haven’t shown up and competed and had our moments where we could dominate or take the game to the opponent, whether it’s home or away.”
The Verde & Black’s inaugural season has been marked by three-match weeks and unfortunate strings of injuries requiring squad rotation, so it’s a positive sign that Wolff was able to start 9 of the same 11 players in both the Galaxy and RSL matches. Moussa Djitté looks to be the central forward presence which the team needed all season, and the trio of Fagundez, Sebastián Driussi and Cecilio Domínguez have found more creative freedom playing between and behind opposition lines when Djitté is on the pitch with them.
That quartet appears to be Wolff’s first-choice attacking set-up at the moment. The six-game homestretch, with three games at home and three away, as well as three against teams currently in playoff positions and three against teams on the outside looking in, should give Wolff’s staff and ATXFC fans a preview of how the team could look to play next season against multiple types of opponents.
Minnesota United FC Outlook
Minnesota sit in seventh place as it begins its own stretch run - still above the playoff line for now, but only just so following a three-match winless streak. Last Sunday’s home loss to the Colorado Rapids was particularly damaging for the Loons, as the team squandered a one-goal lead while up a man in the final 17 minutes to lose 3-1.
With eighth-placed Vancouver only one point behind, Head Coach Adrian Heath’s side will be feeling the kind of pressure which can only be relieved by picking up points. Minnesota matches tend to be low-scoring: the team’s 35 goals allowed are fourth-fewest in the Western Conference, and its 31 scored are second-fewest, as well as the fewest of any team in MLS currently in a playoff position.
That doesn’t mean the squad is without its share of dangerous attackers though. Chief among those are forward Robin Lod (seven goals, five assists) and midfielder Emanuel Reynoso (four goals, eight assists). Shutting down that prolific pair is key for any team looking to beat the Loons.
A loss on Saturday could prove devastating for Minnesota’s playoff hopes, with the Galaxy and RSL one point above and Vancouver one point below in the crowded battle around the Western Conference playoff line. It’s a similarly important match for Austin though, which could be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to the Loons as well as victories by both the Galaxy against Portland and RSL against Colorado.
Probable Minnesota United FC Lineup
(4-2-3-1, R-L) GK: Tyler Miller; Romain Métanire, Michael Boxall, Bakaye Dibassy, Chase Gasper; Wil Trapp, Osvaldo Alonso; Ethan Finlay, Emanuel Reynoso, Franco Fragapane; Robin Lod