As preparations for the upcoming 2021 MLS season continue, Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff is encouraged by the cohesion he’s seeing among his players, both as a team putting his philosophies into action, and as individual players making connections with each other.
“I think we have a good energy about us, a good dynamic about the group,” Wolff noted about the team’s development through the preseason. “We play with tempo, we play with intensity. We’re still working on and defining exactly what our game model looks like, but in the course of two or three weeks now, with the majority of the team here, it's been nice to see the progress.”
“I think it's a really unique situation,” he added, “bringing a team together for the first time.”
As he noted, the players have been invested in getting on the same page, observing that many of them arrived in Austin early in the year so they could get to know each other better.
Wolff noted that even the mid-February winter storm contributed to the team coming together, saying, “These little crises can bring guys together, and not only did they help the community, but they were helping each other. I think that speaks volumes about the group, that the chemistry is good.”
Wolff is eager to see the players in action for the first of two closed-door scrimmages on Friday against USL Championship competition. The training exercises against OKC Energy FC and Louisville City FC will each consist of two 45-minute games, and Wolff aims for each player to get at least 45 minutes of play in as they work toward full-match fitness and the April 17 season opener at LAFC.
“It'll show us where we're doing well and where we need to continue to work,” Wolff assessed, noting that the team has been working on its defensive shape over the last few days.
He emphasized a collective approach to what happens on both sides of the ball.
“From the moment the goalie has it, to when we want the ball in the back of the net, we feel like every player on the field is responsible,” Wolff remarked.
“It's not going to all be perfect in the first two and a half weeks,” he added, “but there are some very clear things that we'll be looking for” out of those training exercises.
Julio Cascante, who joined Austin FC from the Portland Timbers this past December, is impressed with what he’s seen from his new coach so far.
“I think everyone here is happy, and excited each day for practice to start, because everyone wants to learn,” Cascante remarked. “You don't face that many coaches [in MLS] that play the way [Coach Wolff] wants us to play, and we’re really excited for that first game to show what we’ve been working on.” Cascante was excited in particular about the ethos of “making the ball run, not the player” and preaching an intensity that he says he’s developed as a Costa Rican player.
Though Wolff is concentrated on the collective development of the team, he’s happy to report that he’s seeing a lot of individual connections between players developing on the field, pointing to attackers Danny Hoesen and Cecilio Dominguez and the on-field relationship they’re cultivating. He also singled out what Diego Fagundez offers in the attack, hinting that harnessing and enhancing his “clever ideas” could prove integral to Austin FC as the season starts.
While he’s excited to see how Tomás Pochettino, who started training Monday, will add to the team’s cohesion with his quality, he credits one of the team’s highest-profile acquisitions for his contributions to date.
“Alex Ring does a great job connecting everybody on the field, which is exactly what you want from your 6,” Wolff said, referring to the defensive midfield position Ring typically plays, which provides a pivot point between the back four and the attacking players.
“It's an important position that connects the defense and the offense,” Ring observed when he spoke to media after Josh Wolff. “My role is to organize and keep things moving, and for us to score goals and not concede them. It's that simple. Well, it sounds simple, but it's not … it's a puzzle, a lot of moving pieces, and I try to make it easy for the players around me, and for me as well, by organizing well.”
Asked about his thoughts on who the favorite and dark horse might be in MLS this year, Ring noted, “I hope we're the dark horse; that's what we're going for. I think we have a good team, a good staff, there’s a buzz around the Club in the city. You can feel it, and I think everyone's just excited to get out there and play.”