The Austin FC Academy teams made a strong start as the Spring 2021 MLS NEXT season commenced this past week. The U15 and U14 teams were in action, going on the road to play San Antonio FC, with the U15s winning 5-0 and the U14s winning 3-1.
Both Austin FC teams contended with active, energetic, pressing approaches from their SAFC opponents. Tyson Wahl, Austin FC Academy GM, that he’s seen teams employ this tactic against Austin FC’s possession-based approach, though both the U15s and U14s were able to contend with the pressure SAFC brought.
Wahl observed that, despite the final scoreline, the U15 match was competitive and intense, especially in the early going.
“There was a competitive dynamic to the match,” he noted. “It was very physical and somewhat chippy, so it was a fun environment for the kids to play in. They put us under a lot of pressure, they high-pressed our build out, and they were pretty effective and pretty intense. But we weathered some of that initial storm and some of that energy at the start. And I would say, once we increased our focus on the execution of our passes, we were able to break them down and I don't think they were able to kind of maintain the energy and the pressing that they started with, and we were able to settle into our game.”
Part of that had to do with Austin FC making good defensive stops when SAFC forced turnovers. “They did turn us over in dangerous areas in our own defensive third, and we were able to recover from those losses of possession and they didn't score on those chances. Scoring then would have helped them out and increased their energy, and instead, actually, in that first half, we got them on the counter and scored two goals”, match-changing moments that Wahl said were “quite deflating” for SAFC.
Then, at halftime, the message was “play with calmness, but also speed, and you have to make quicker decisions, but not rush decisions, when you're getting high pressed.”
The U14s experienced the same approach from their opponents, but Wahl noted that there’s a difference in pace and physicality between the two age groups.
“At the younger ages, the players aren't as powerful yet, so that they can't press quite as intensely,” he clarified. “So there's a drop off with the intensity level, which allows you to play a little bit more possession just naturally.” And while the Austin U14s were able to weather SAFC’s pressure, building a 3-0 lead before losing the clean sheet on a late penalty kick, SAFC’s approach did provide some challenges that he believes will help the squad’s development.
“If we're able to build and we're able to break their pressure, then it's kind of a double-edged sword, because now they've put more numbers in our half,” Wahl said of lessons underscored from both the U15 and U14 matches. “And if we can break it, it's kind of what we want, because then we have more numbers, overloading in the areas that we're trying to dominate, because they've sent more players forward to press the ball.”
“We train these things in practice, but when you play against real opponents in a league game, against a team who wants to beat you, it's a little bit more intense. So it's good for the kids to learn how to do that.”
The U13s didn’t play a league match this past weekend, but did get in a friendly against a U14 San Antonio-area team. “We rotated our players quite a bit,” Wahl noted. “A lot of players got playing time and it was a good opportunity for them to play against physically more built players.”
The teams will look to build on the season’s positive start, hosting matches this coming Saturday against Rise FC, one of the Houston-area academies they’ve become familiar with during the past six months. They’ll then prepare to head to Houston for upcoming road matches against Houston Dynamos Unidos and Houston Dynamos Academy, taking the teams through February and into early March.