Three Big Questions

Three big questions following Austin FC's 2022 season


MLS Cup 2022 is set, with just two teams left standing in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. That means the other 26 clubs (plus St. Louis!) are in full offseason mode. The Conference Finalists are the latest to see their seasons end and the offseason begin.

Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (Austin FC version). Read that, too.

He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.

Big picture

It was a sophomore breakout for Austin FC, jumping all the way to second place in the Western Conference and an appearance in the Western Conference Final. They played front-footed soccer in front of a great home crowd and, with Sebastian Driussi at the center of the attack, seem well-positioned to remain at this end of the conference.

What’s next?

Can Rigoni be a difference-maker in 2023?

Emiliano Rigoni did not look great in limited minutes down the stretch, particularly so in the Western Conference Final. He was one of many Austin players who weren’t great against LAFC.

The question isn’t meant to single out Rigoni, but to implicitly point out that the DP spot used to sign him was their biggest chip left to alter the roster. They don’t have a ton of top-end flexibility, with all three DP spots taken, as well as all three U22 Initiative slots.

Perhaps if they squeeze allocation money somewhere out of the couch cushions and behind the TV stand, Austin could theoretically add a Young DP and buy down Alex Ring, but that feels unlikely.

Adapting to MLS is not easy. Rigoni has played in a ton of different leagues in his career and is 29 years old, so the hope was he’d settle quickly and make an impact in 2022, but it didn’t happen. Rigoni had 0g/0a in 447 minutes between the regular season and Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. It was not encouraging, but it's still a small sample size and he'll have a chance to prove he’s an impact player in 2023.

Rigoni turns 30 in February. He’s clearly very talented, but has played for eight different teams since 2015. He has scored more than four goals in a single league campaign just one time in his career (2017 in Argentina). Adding in his appearances with São Paulo before joining Austin, he has 2g/3a in 41 games this calendar year.

Austin were really good while getting absolutely nothing from this DP spot (first Cecilio Dominguez, then Rigoni) in 2022. An improved Rigoni would solidify them in the top tier out West.

Is Sebastian Driussi’s production sustainable?

In a word: Yes. Driussi is so, so good.

It’s unreasonable to expect any player to consistently produce 22g/7a in 2,900 minutes – Driussi overperformed his xG by about six goals and scored four penalties, but that’s not a crazy number for a team that attacked so often – but Driussi will be among the league leaders in goals + assists as long as he’s playing regularly.

This is an in-prime attacker at the center of everything an attack-minded team does. Austin are built around him going forward. Maybe increased play from center forward or Rigoni could help level out those numbers even if finishing regression comes.

Austin absolutely smashed this signing. Driussi, arriving in July 2021 from Zenit Saint Petersburg in the Russian Premier League, is the face of the club and one of the very best players in the league, about to enter his age-27 season.

Where will they look to upgrade/provide competition?

Austin had a very good season. The core (Driussi, Diego Fagundez, Ring, Dani Pereira, Ruben Gabrielsen, Brad Stuver and Nick Lima) are there. They will be good again, but will look to improve in some areas.

Which ones?

Maxi Urruti had his most productive season in half a decade with 9g/2a, but Moussa Djitte started up top in the Western Conference Final. Are they content with this pair splitting minutes at center forward in 2023?

Washington Corozo is on loan from Sporting Cristal in Peru. Rodney Redes has been a non-factor. Ethan Finlay turned 32 this year. We already covered Rigoni. It feels like there’s a need for another winger.

Austin gave up 49 goals this year despite Stuver having a very good season, so defensive upgrades are likely. Which positions? Is Kipp Keller, the No. 5 pick in last year’s SuperDraft, ready for more minutes?

Depth chart as of Nov. 1
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A few more thoughts:

  • Jared Stroud, who I’ve been suggesting as a trade target for like 18 months now, is reportedly signing with St. Louis CITY SC this winter.
  • Will Jhojan Valencia be better in 2023? He was a highly-rated DM when signing last winter out of the Colombian league.
  • Owen Wolff had an impressive season, earning 910 minutes as a 17-year-old homegrown. What can the US youth international do next year? Is any other youngster ready to break into the team?