Ever since the Save The Crew movement ended and fans began to return to their normal way of supporter life, the focus shifted towards the first matchup with expansion side Austin FC. The wait is almost over as the Columbus Crew head deep in the heart of Texas to battle the Austin FC and the man they once called their owner Anthony Precourt on national television Sunday evening.
This game will make for an interesting atmosphere as Austin plays just its second game at its new Q2 Stadium and the Black & Gold look to prove a point for their fanbase back in Columbus. Let’s take a look at the match up on the field.
Austin FC at a glance:
Record: 2-5-3, 9 points
League Form: L-D-D-D-L
Leading Scorer: Cecilio Domínguez (3)
Assist Leader: Zan Kolmanic, Jared Stroud (2)
It hasn’t been a great run of form for El Tree in their last several contests. The first-year club has collected a record of 2-3-5 and nine points in its first 10 games and has struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. Austin has the fifth-worst goal differential in the Western Conference (-5) and is tied for the fourth-worst in Major League Soccer.
Despite the grim start to their life in MLS, a win for Austin against Columbus would no doubt set the tone moving forward into July and the rest of the league campaign.
How Austin FC plays:
Noting the poor results so far this season, Austin FC possesses a dynamic attack that looks poised to strike at any moment. Led by former New England Revolution forward Diego Fagundez, Austin looks to pump the ball long down the right-hand side in the direction of attacker Jared Stroud where he can utilize his pace to get behind the defense.
Should he get behind the opposing defense, Stroud isn’t afraid to have a shot. But if the defense stands firm, he begins a quick passing sequence to unlock space in front of goal. Austin looks to find its playmaker, Cecilio Dominguez, who leads the team in scoring, with three goals and collected the most recent tally on June 12.
Fagundez isn’t bashful about hitting long diagonal balls to the wings. Many of his passes find ways to get behind the opposing defenses and force uncomfortable foot races for opposing fullbacks. This aggressive play leads to many free kicks and restarts in dangerous parts of the park.
With MLS veterans such as Nick Lima, Matt Besler and Brad Stuver anchoring the defense, Austin has all the pieces in place to keep the ball out of the goal. However, El Tree shows their growing pains and lack of chemistry at times as three or four players occasionally wander out of defensive shape and leave men unmarked in the penalty box. This causes bedlam within the penalty area and the opposition has often capitalized.
Austin also has the tendency of switching off from time to time, usually off restarts and that allows pacey players to get quality opportunities for their teams. It’s not all bad, as the expansion side does get it right and loves to hit the opposition on the counter and against the run of play.
With Besler questionable for this match, the defense will have an even tougher task against the Crew.
How the Crew win:
It’s going to sound ridiculous but the Black & Gold need to keep their emotions in check. Some members of the squad were around for the relocation saga and it can be easy to let pent-up frustration get the best of players. There is no doubt it will be a hostile crowd inside of Q2 Stadium on Sunday evening but controlling the mental game will go a long way to determining if the Crew emerges from Texas with points.
Columbus also needs to look at making dynamic runs off the ball. As stated earlier, Austin struggles when the opposition gets into a threatening part of the park. It’s easy to imagine that head coach Caleb Porter will instruct his wingers to attack wide and create space for players like Gyasi Zardes and Lucas Zelarayan to create goal-scoring opportunities.