Criticism, from fans and pundits alike, follows every Major League Soccer defeat.
But when it’s a derby setback, that criticism is a bit sharper – as was the case for Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff following the expansion club’s Copa Tejas road loss to FC Dallas on Saturday night.
The biggest point of contention was Wolff’s lineup selection. He left Cecilio Dominguez and Tomas Pochettino out of the starting XI, new signing Sebastian Driussi made his anticipated MLS debut off the bench for the final 28 minutes and Manny Perez partnered with Diego Fagundez atop a changed 5-3-2 formation in a 2-0 defeat.
The end result was frustration for the large traveling support that made the 200-plus mile trek to Frisco for the first-ever meeting between Austin FC and FC Dallas.
“I'm disappointed for them and obviously we'll take the criticism for maybe the lineup and choices that we weren't able to get the result tonight,” Wolff said after the match. "But we'll continue to get better and do everything we can for our fans. They deserve everything because they're fantastic.”
Wolff explained those lineup decisions in his post-match press conference, ones where their Designated Players weren't called on until after Ryan Hollingshead had already given FC Dallas a 1-0 lead at Toyota Stadium.
“We also have to make decisions based on the health of our players, the long-term goals and obviously between a couple guys with Cecilio and Tomas, whether it was a half or not, we were certainly more thoughtful to making sure they were alright,” Wolff said after the match. “Cecilio was ill for a couple weeks and he was battling through the last game. You could tell his energy was off, so putting him out there again from the get-go wasn't in the cards for us, didn't make the most sense.
"And Tomas, again, he's played probably the most minutes, covers the most ground for us and we wanted to get and were expecting to get these guys in there. Obviously a different scoreline it would've been better, but we brought in Ceci [in the 62nd minute] and we gave up a goal. It was a careless mistake and we got punished for it.”
As for Driussi, who hasn’t played a match since May, Wolff said the Argentine only had about a half-hour of fitness in him. The attacking midfielder was signed on July 29 after last competing for Russian giants Zenit St. Petersburg.
“He trained two days with the team, maybe a day with the team actually, so 30 minutes was all we were talking about today,” Wolff said. “Certainly from a high-performance side of things, it was limited, but I was glad to get him out there.”
The expansion side sits 12th in the Western Conference standings after the loss with 16 points, seven points below the playoff line. Their next four matches this month, culminating with a rematch against FC Dallas at Q2 Stadium (Aug. 29), are against Western Conference foes also battling around the playoff line.
Austin were playing their third game in eight days, so Wolff prioritized squad rotation. But the need for points is only increasing whether they're at Q2 Stadium or away from home.
"We were very mindful of the minutes. Twenty minutes after the game, it's an easy question and an easy option given that we lost the game," Wolff said when pressed for why Dominguez, Driussi and Pochettino didn't enter earlier. "But from where we were at, we created a few good chances and we really gave them nothing. So from the starting point of that, it was pretty good. But bringing energy and intensity and tempo, that lacked a little bit in the second half and obviously the goal came and that changed things."