After a two-week break in early October, matches are once again coming in bunches for Austin FC. With only three days rest between last Saturday’s defeat to Minnesota United FC and Wednesday’s away trip to the San Jose Earthquakes, and yet another important fixture against Houston Dynamo FC on Sunday, the Verde & Black are set for a busy finale to their inaugural season.
ATXFC and San Jose have played twice already this season, in two very different matches which both took place at Q2 Stadium. On June 19, the sides struggled to a scoreless draw in Austin FC’s first-ever home match. The more recent meeting on Sept. 18 produced seven total goals though, with the Earthquakes claiming a narrow 4-3 win. A chance to even the season series is at stake on Wednesday night for Austin, while San Jose is in desperate need of points to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Austin FC Outlook
Austin FC came up on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline against Minnesota on Saturday night, snapping a run of two consecutive wins at home - but the result belies what was overall a strong performance from the Verde & Black.
In Saturday’s match, ATXFC accrued 66 percent possession, outshot Minnesota 19 to 12 (including eight on target to the visitors’ three), and completed 481 passes to the Loons’ 205. The only thing missing for Austin was a goal, and despite 15 chances created, the ball just wouldn’t quite go in. Head Coach Josh Wolff still found plenty of positives to take away from the match.
“From an attacking style of play that we wanted, what we thought we’d get access to, what we worked on all week was really clear,” said Wolff. “We did a really nice job of that, and we attacked the edges really well.”
The offensive quartet of Moussa Djitté, Sebastián Driussi, Cecilio Domínguez and Diego Fagundez all started against Minnesota, as in the home wins over both the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake in recent weeks. The playoffs might now be mathematically out of reach for Austin, but the final five games of the season still present valuable opportunities for those four to continue building on-field chemistry not only with each other, but with the deeper-lying midfielders and defenders as well.
The team’s 1.28 goals-per-match average in its last 18 fixtures is a stark improvement from the 0.55 per match it averaged in its opening 11 contests - in part thanks to the midseason arrivals of Djitté and Driussi, but also likely due to players becoming more used to each other’s tendencies as their first season playing together has gone on.
San Jose Earthquakes Outlook
San Jose is still alive in the Western Conference playoff race, but it finds itself on the fringes of that race at the moment. In 10th place on 33 points, the Earthquakes trail eighth-place Minnesota by eight points with five matches remaining. The team’s quest to climb above the playoff line has not been helped by a string of three consecutive defeats, at the hands of Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Los Angeles FC.
Wednesday’s matchup with Austin is a chance for San Jose to get back to winning ways, and to do so, they’ll need star attacker Javier “Chofis” López to be at his best. Chofis’ 11 goals on the season are more than twice as many as the Earthquakes’ next highest-scoring player.
As the focal point of the San Jose offense, he scored six goals in three games in September, two of which the Quakes won. He has not scored in any of the team’s three games since though, all of which have been losses.
Chofis is always a threat, and San Jose has a variety of other players who can hurt opposing teams as well. But ATXFC fans can take heart from two key weaknesses of their next opponents. First, the Earthquakes have the worst home record in the Western Conference, having compiled 15 points from 14 matches at PayPal Park this season. Second, San Jose has one of the league’s most generous defenses, with its 47 goals conceded the joint-most in the Western Conference.
For the Verde & Black, the plan should involve containing Chofis and continuing to create chances as they have done in recent weeks.
Probable San Jose Earthquakes Lineup
(4-2-3-1, R-L): GK: JT Marcinkowski; Tommy Thompson, Nathan, Tanner Beason, Marcos López; Eric Remedi, Jackson Yueill; Cristian Espinoza, Javier López, Carlos Fierro; Benjamin Kikanovic