Austin coach Josh Wolff: CCL flop vs. Haiti's Violette is "on me"


Austin FC winger Ethan Finlay, speaking with the FS1 broadcast crew after Tuesday’s 3-0 loss against Haitian side Violette AC, called the match “an embarrassing performance from our group” that “wasn’t good enough individually and collectively.”

The MLS side, fourth in the 2022 Supporters’ Shield race and a Western Conference finalist a year ago, had just made their Concacaf Champions League debut. And they were heavy favorites, at least on paper, for the Round of 16 first-leg clash that was held in the Dominican Republic due to conditions that have made Ligue Haïtienne a stop-and-start division for several years. 

Budgets, resources and supposed talent advantages mattered little as the prestigious continental competition began its 2023 iteration – a CCL debut the Verde & Black will remember for all the wrong reasons.

Head coach Josh Wolff said the lackluster showing falls squarely on his shoulders. 

“I take responsibility for not having these guys mentally in the right space,” said Wolff. “Concacaf is a different animal. We talked about it, we tried to emphasize it. We have some of that experience inside the group, but I have to create more tension in their minds in understanding what this game's gonna look like. 

“It's going to be dramatic, it's going to be difficult, it's going to have ebbs and flows. And we talked about that at length, but I didn't do a good enough job getting them ready. That's on me.”

Violette repeatedly found success when attacking the right-hand side of Austin’s backline through winger Roberto Louima. His dribbling and pace created headed goals in the 13th and 39th minutes for man-of-the-match striker Miche-Naider Chéry, who twice beat offseason center-back signing Amro Tarek in the air.

Facing a 2-0 deficit at halftime, Austin’s comeback hopes were essentially dashed in the 47th minute when Tarek’s night turned from bad to worse. The Egyptian-American defender mishit a clearance and scored an own goal, firing into his own net after goalkeeper Brad Stuver’s sprawling save. Tarek, nursing an injury, was subbed out for Kipp Keller after the hour mark.

A problem area for Austin, amid Ruben Gabrielsen’s offseason departure and an injury to Julio Cascante, was exposed. Key offseason singing Leo Väisänen, a Finland international, didn’t play as part of heavy squad rotation.

“We don't have great relationships along the backline at the moment,” Wolff said. “Nick [Lima] was playing center back, Amro was also in there for the first time. Those relationships haven't been built out and developed yet.

“We're certainly undermanned at center back, to say the least at this point, but those players are good enough to handle it. We could have managed those situations better, but I think those relationships or lack thereof certainly make it a little more challenging.”

Austin’s rotated XI, Wolff said, was being mindful of Saturday’s MLS Matchday 3 clash at Real Salt Lake (9:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). Leaders like Alex Ring, Gyasi Zardes and Sebastián Driussi weren’t in the matchday squad as Austin juggle playing four games in 11 days across two competitions.

After facing RSL in league play, Austin need to overcome a three-goal deficit at Q2 Stadium next Tuesday (8 pm ET | FS2, TUDN) to keep their first-ever CCL journey alive. An away goal would have done wonders, Wolff noted, but they seldom seriously threatened Violette’s goalkeeper. Now, penalty kicks might factor in next week.

Without exaggeration, a huge task awaits Austin to avoid an early exit.

“I'm really disappointed with the result, the performance to a lot of degrees,” Wolff said. “But again I'm going to take responsibility. I did not get these guys wound up enough to compete and understand what this was going to be about, even as much as we talked about it. 

“We'll rebound. We have a big game against Salt Lake on the weekend. We'll fly back tomorrow and we got to lick our wounds, rally and get ready for another big match. We'll see these guys again on Tuesday.”