FRISCO, TX. – Josh Wolff is clearly keen to see exactly what kind of depth he really has on his roster.
In Austin FC’s second game of La Copita against FC Dallas, Wolff started a completely different Starting XI to the previous match against Houston Dynamo FC. Most notably, starts were handed to SuperDraft pick-up Freddy Kleeman, and trialists Aedan Stanley and Luis Argudo, none of whom featured in the previous match. Wolff cited the rigors of practice and the training regime of the past couple of months. But more than that, ‘these guys have four games in ten days, so there has to be squad rotation’, the coach explained.
La Copita: Austin FC Go Toe to Toe with FC Dallas
Just as versus Houston, Austin started brightly. The Verde played some crisp, intricate soccer high in Dallas’s half, stretching the hosts without really penetrating. FC Dallas, unlike Houston, appeared content to sit and wait, allowing Austin to play the majority of their football in front of them.
Kekuta Manneh and Jared Stroud on the flanks were able to create enough space to deliver several tempting crosses. Jon Gallagher worked hard to get on the end of one of them, but everything dropped fractionally beyond his reach or agonizingly behind him.
It only took 10 minutes for Dallas’s patience to be rewarded. A nervy Sebastian Berhalter lost possession in midfield, the ball was fed quickly to Freddy Vargas, and the powerful Dallas forward did the rest with an explosive turn of pace and confident finish. Austin continued to boss possession and Dallas continued to counter dangerously, particularly troubling Austin on the resultant corners and set pieces. And on the 35th minute, Dallas skipper Matt Hedges reacted quickest to a rebound off the bar, his assured header doubling the host’s lead at the break.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Austin’s locker room! Because whatever Josh Wolff said it had the desired effect. Austin came out swinging second half and within 5 minutes had notched their opener. Three minutes later, they were level.
Austin’s opening goal came from the impressive Jared Stroud who’s hustle and directness had distinguished him in the latter stages of the Houston match. Stroud, twisting and turning in the box, created enough space to spin and shoot, guiding the ball into the far bottom corner. Continued Verde pressure resulted in a Dallas handball in the box minutes later. Diego Fagundez, who had been a steadying influence in midfield all match, confidently drilled the penalty down the middle of the goal.
At this point, Dallas, understandably a little punch-drunk, began to fight back – and we had a real game on our hands! It was Austin’s first sub of the evening that was to turn the tide, though. Cecilio Dominguez, on for the industrious Kekuta Manneh, collected the ball in the 73rd minute and immediately bee-lined it for the Dallas goal. Drawing the foul and earning another Austin penalty, Dominguez dusted himself off and dispatched the kick himself.
Perhaps in an effort to close out the game, Wolff initiated a line-change in the final 15 minutes. Rather than closing out the match, the introduction of 9 subs all at once rather disrupted Austin’s rhythm. Dallas began to commit extra men forward, and with 6 minutes to go found their equalizer through Jesús Ferreira. The game ended 3-3. Due to the tournament nature of La Copita, penalty kicks followed, and Dallas won out.
Austin can hold their heads high after this evening’s contest, though, for a number of reasons. Tonight represented progress from their opening La Copita game. The defense looked far more solid, and the team as a whole looked for more assured in possession. Three different players scored goals. And Wolff has now been able to blood every available outfielder on the roster, including several impressive trialists. Most satisfyingly, his team showed an abundance of spirit.
Wolff was quick to acknowledge that Dallas were ‘a very good team’, and recognized that set-plays, in particular, were always going to be a challenge. He also noted that Austin needed to be more clinical in the final third, especially in and around the penalty box.
Despite being two goals down, Wolff was clearly very happy with the opening 45 minutes. ‘I thought I saw a very good performance in the first half. They (Austin) were playing the game the way we wanted to play. So, I came in at halftime and said “guys, you’re doing fantastic, you’re doing exactly what we need you to do”’. His words undoubtedly spurred his team on, with his ‘second string’ delivering an energetic and entertaining 75 minutes all told.
Rather than taking the plaudits for his coaching, Wolff instead gave the kudos to his players. ‘They powered through the first half even though they were down, and second half they came out and played even better (than they did in the first half) and deserved everything they got’.
Josh Wolff will want to see a continuation of that progress as Austin seeks to close out La Copita with a victory on Saturday versus San Antonio FC.