Austin FC, through Week 2 of the 2022 MLS season, sit comfortably atop the Supporters’ Shield table with a maximum six points and a record 10 goals scored through their opening two matches.
This perch comes in strong contrast to their expansion-year form, when they finished second-from-bottom in the Western Conference standings and scored the fewest goals (35) in the league.
The answer there is clear, Extratime host Andrew Wiebe posited on Monday’s show, saying head coach Josh Wolff’s team was blessed by the MLS schedule-makers.
“To have the first two games of your season at home against those teams, one team that’s won three straight [Wooden] Spoons in a row and didn’t really make any key signings in the offseason other than a new head coach, and another team that did the biggest teardown in MLS history, those are gifts,” Wiebe said. “If you don’t rip those gifts open like it’s Christmas morning and celebrate, like Austin did, rightfully so, you’re screwing up.”
The question contains another twist when considering how two Cascadia foes await before the March World Cup Qualifying window arrives. First they’ll visit the Portland Timbers on Saturday (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada), then they’ll host Seattle Sounders FC the following weekend. Both clubs made finals in 2021, with Portland hosting MLS Cup (lost to NYCFC in penalty kicks) and Seattle nearly winning Leagues Cup (3-2 loss to Liga MX’s Club Leon).
The difficulty meter should ratchet up a level or two, in other words. Better conclusions can be reached after those matches, David Gass said.
“I think there’s a reason, as an Austin fan, to take the confidence that they’re getting in the attack as a good sign for the way this season will play out,” Gass said. “But I need to see the next two weeks to see how those center backs hold up against actual opponents who are going to attack you."
The defensive angle was further raised by Matt Doyle, wondering if defensive midfielder Daniel Pereira, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, can handle the responsibilities of a deep-lying role when Alex Ring and Sebastian Driussi drift forward. In turn, an offseason addition from Colombia could need to answer the call.
“They need Jhojan Valencia to be really good and they need those center backs to be really good,” Doyle said. “I like what I’ve seen of Kipp Keller thus far, I thought that [Julio] Cascante looks a lot better through two games than he ever has before in MLS. Neither of those guys can really run. They still have a flagrant lack of speed in central defense. So I think it’s more likely than not they will be in the playoff race, but I think you’re rushing things if you’re guaranteeing that.”
The postseason part frames the original question, Calen Carr noted, with the West’s top seven teams reaching the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs. He’s confident that the Verde and Black will challenge for those high-profile games.
“This team, the way that they look is much more dynamic. Driussi is sort of the centerpiece of it, but then when you have Ring and Pereira behind him, that’s a really nice midfield three,” Carr said.
“Cecilio Dominguez, I think we’re seeing a big boost in confidence from him. I think even from a managerial perspective, having time with the team and preaching patience and now having a [few] more weapons and guys settled in, then they went out and got some reinforcements to help out. I think this team, you ride that confidence and that wave.”
For more from Extratime, check out Monday's whole episode here.