Photo courtesy FC Dallas/Major League Soccer. The Nashville market is v. spoiled with the photography provided by the team – this is basically the only Austin photo provided to media (and it’s not provided by Austin).
Austin FC is not only a Western Conference team, but also an expansion side. It’s reasonable for Nashville SC fans to know less about the Verde than perhaps any other Major League Soccer team. Let’s fill that knowledge gap by checking in with Chris Bils, who covers the team for The Striker Texas.
Tim Sullivan: We’re only a few games into the inaugural season, but how has Austin FC played in comparison to expectations thus far? Is two wins in five possibly even a slight overachievement to expectations before the team has had a chance to build chemistry?
Chris Bils: I think that’s probably fair. At the same time, Josh Wolff and the players will tell you they feel they should have more than those two wins. They’ve certainly been in every match, which isn’t something I think a lot of people expected. But overall, I think six points is probably about right for how they’ve started.
TS: Some comparisons have been made between Nashville’s inaugural season last year – build with established MLS vets where you know what you’re going to get, be concerned more with a strong locker room and a high floor, if not the highest ceiling – does that seem fair?
CB: Yeah, roster-wise I think the builds have been remarkably similar. Last week’s MLSPA salary numbers reinforce that. You’ve got Walker Zimmerman/Alex Ring; Dax McCarty/Matt Besler. It’s still early, but you could say that Danny Hoesen is trending similar to David Accam as a player who’s underperformed for the role he was expected to have. The question for Austin, I think, is how quickly and with how much gusto are they going to add another designated player or TAM-level player — particularly at center forward.
TS: How have the high-profile international signings (few though there may be) performed thus far?
CB: It’s still early, but I think it’s fair to expect more from Cecilio Domínguez and Tomás Pochettino than what they’ve given. Domínguez had somewhat of a breakout in the second half against Colorado, and Pochettino has had a few flashy moments that haven’t resulted in any goals. Wolff is right to point out that international players often take time to adjust to MLS, but fans might start getting antsy if they don’t see more from the DPs when Q2 Stadium opens.
TS: Obviously, this is a team that won’t play at home until after the international break. How has the squad handled the strain of being road warriors?
CB: The weary legs have finally shown the last two weeks against Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy. I think fatigue contributed to Alex Ring red card in KC, and the team just looked flat in Los Angeles. Not only have they been on the road for five-straight weeks, but three of those have been day trips — fly in, play, fly out.
TS: Who is going to have to step up and be the key performer if Austin is to upset Nashville?
CB: Other than Alex Ring, I’ll say it’s Domínguez. I don’t think Austin can rely on the crosses from Jared Stroud that created the opening goals in Colorado, Minnesota and Kansas City. So they need to find a way through the middle, and that’s where Cecilio is at his best.
TS: What do you expect to happen in this one (including a final score if you’re comfortable giving one)?
CB: I’ll say it finishes 1-1. Nashville fans won’t be happy to see another draw, but it’s crucial that Austin squeezes at least a point here before heading to face Seattle next week.