Minnesota travels to Austin on Sunday evening, closing out the MLS week with a nationally-televised game (it’s on FS1, and it’s at 6:30).
It’ll be warm for once, at a Loons game, their first warm-weather game this season. It’s a good time for a trip to Texas, in that won’t be punishingly warm; usually when the Loons play in Texas it’s 97 degrees with a dew point of (somehow) 115. Honestly, the Texas teams should play at home until about May 1, and then be forced to go on the road until October. This also goes for Florida.
This is such a weird soccer country, in that some part of the nation has beautiful weather at every time during the season, except due to fairness and home advantage, the league can’t just follow the sun all year. Although, when it’s snowing every day here in Minnesota, it seems like a great idea to just have the whole league play in California until May 1.
Minnesota comes into Sunday’s game, for the first time this season, without points in their previous game. Eight points in four games seemed like a solid record. Adding a home loss really takes some of the shine off it.
And with the loss, the Loons need to confront their biggest weakness so far this season: the team can’t score much. Minnesota has a solitary goal in every game they’ve played this season – one from a penalty, two from corners, and just two from open play. Theories abound for why this is – maybe the fields have been poor, maybe the team’s really missing having fullbacks Chase Gasper and Romain Métanire, maybe they’re still getting used to having Luis Amarilla up front, maybe Emanuel Reynoso has been possessed by aliens – but after five games, the maybes no longer matter. The Loons must get better in attack.
Los Arboles Verdes?
Austin FC’s logo is a tree and their primary color is green. I think we should start calling them Los Arboles Verdes because that seems like a very cool nickname, but I’m not in charge of these things. (I’m still reeling from people calling Nashville SC “the Coyotes.”) (Although I also saw someone on the internet that called Austin “El Tree,” which is also quite acceptable.)
Austin joined MLS last year, after very nearly stealing the Crew from Columbus. Seeing this expensive, embarrassing, league-destabilizing move, MLS punished owner Anthony Precourt by awarding him an expansion franchise. Whether this is better than the alternatives, I leave to the reader.
Last season, Austin followed the non-Atlanta, non-LAFC expansion pattern, and built a pretty bad team. Los Arboles Verdes (repeat it until it sticks) scored only 35 goals last year, worst in MLS, and allowed 56, tied for worst in the Western Conference.
Give them credit, though, in that they switched gears quickly. They eased out their first marquee signing, Tomas Pochettino, when it became clear he wasn’t settling in; they brought in better scoring option, Sebastián Druissi, when it became clear that nobody on their team knew where the net was. Druissi scored five times in the second half of last season, and has four goals already this year.
Austin’s managed to have two different seasons already, in the first five games. Their first season was their opening two games against FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami, in which Los Verdes put both teams right in the garbage bin where they belong, winning 5-0 and 5-1. Since beginning the non-garbage portion of their schedule, Austin has two points in three games, following a road loss to Portland with a home draw against Seattle and a road draw against San Jose.
Based on common opponents, Austin seems evenly matched with Minnesota.
What do the numbers say?
Druissi and Amarilla are their respective teams’ leading scorers. Going by the Goals Added numbers at the invaluable American Soccer Analysis, the two most ineffective players so far in this game are… Druissi and Amarilla, for different reasons. For Druissi, his passing has been ineffective, so far; for Amarilla, he keeps losing the ball.
According to FBRef.com, Amarilla leads MLS in mis-controlled balls, whereas Reynoso leads the league in being dispossessed (not including failed dribbles).
Thanks mostly to his otherworldly performance against New York, Dayne St. Clair leads the league in post-shot expected goal difference, saving 4.1 more goals than expected (again, this is from FBRef.com). Austin keeper Brad Stuver is seventh.
Austin has a +7 goal difference this year. According to American Soccer Analysis, their expected goal differential is -0.74. They are, by some margin, leading the league in outperforming their goal differential.
What happened last time?
The Loons won their only game in Austin last season, beating Los Arboles Verdes 1-0 in October. Franco Fragapane scored early in the first half, and Tyler Miller made eight saves to preserve an important victory for Minnesota.
Honestly I think we as a group have predicted a 1-1 draw in every single game this year, so while this feels like an evenly-matched game that will probably end 1-1, I cannot in good conscience predict another 1-1 draw.
I think somebody’s going to win this game 3-1. I fear it’s going to be Austin, but the people reading this will be Loons fans, and I want to be positive for them. So 3-1 Minnesota.