Daily Kickoff 5.22.24
What you need to know

Austin exercise contract buyout on Rigoni

Austin FC have waived and exercised a contract buyout on winger Emiliano Rigoni. The move opens a Designated Player tag, senior roster spot and international slot. Further, Rigoni's salary will no longer count against the club's 2024 budget. Rigoni initially joined Austin in July 2022 from Brazilian top-flight side Sao Paulo FC. He tallied six goals and six assists in 51 matches (31 starts).

Atlanta, Sporting KC & LAFC book quarterfinal spots

Four MLS clubs were in US Open Cup action Tuesday night, with Atlanta United, Sporting Kansas City and LAFC advancing to the quarterfinals. See the full results here. The US Open Cup continues tonight with FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders FC competing.

Toronto, Vancouver advance to semis

Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC secured favorable results Tuesday night in their Canadian Championship quarterfinal second legs, eliminating lower-division opposition to reach the semifinals. CF Montréal’s CanChamp second leg is played tonight.

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Austin FC enter brave new world

In July 2023, Austin FC brought in their second-ever sporting director. Rodolfo Borrell, a Pep Guardiola acolyte, spent 2016-23 as an assistant coach with Manchester City. Beforehand, he spent time as Manchester City’s global technical director, in various roles with Liverpool FC, and as a youth coach in FC Barcelona’s La Masia Academy. It’s an impressive résumé, yet it means little about constructing an MLS roster.

All that coaching experience with the biggest teams and budgets in the world won’t save you here. It’s like a world-class fencer taking their épée into a prison brawl. They might have incredible technique, but this isn’t about surgical precision in a formal setting. This is about survival. Charlotte FC are about to sneak up from behind and slam you over the head with a discovery rights claim and the Colorado Rapids are in the corner offering you GAM in exchange for an international roster spot. You have to get your wits about you quickly.

Anyway, that’s an overwritten way to say we almost had something very MLS happen this week. According to Tom Bogert and Paul Tenorio of The Athletic, (now former) Austin FC DP Emiliano Rigoni carried a clause in his contract that activated his option for 2025 if he played 12 games in 2024. With 11 appearances on the books this year, Austin and Borrell chose to buy out his contract. We were one game away from something sorta spectacular happening if Borrell and company had lost track of a bureaucratic detail or two.

They were on it, though. And It’s the right call. Rigoni didn’t produce at anywhere near a DP level. After arriving near the end of Austin’s 56-point 2022 season, Rigoni contributed zero goals and zero assists in nearly 450 minutes. Rigoni started 25 games in 2023 and scored five times while delivering six assists. This season, he had scored only once in about 700 minutes.

The only question is: “Why didn’t it happen sooner?” Rigoni, 31, didn’t seem likely to leap forward at any point. If you had the buyout available, why wait? An 11-game tryout didn’t seem necessary.

To be fair, there’s always a chance Austin didn’t have a viable target available in the winter transfer window. If they waited until the summer anyway, why not try and get what you can out of Rigoni? Especially as Borrell continues to learn the ins and outs of MLS.

Either way, the move is done now. Austin can move on and think about who they want to add to a team that’s outpacing expectations and, once again, outrunning their underlying numbers.

Yep. Sorry, Austin folks. We gotta talk about it. Austin are currently 28th in a 29-team league in American Soccer Analysis’ expected points metric. Only one team, Inter Miami, is outperforming that metric by more. It’s very 2022 of them.

They do have quality pieces, though. Brad Stuver remains one of the best goalkeepers in the league, Dani Pereira is as underrated as they come in midfield, Sebastián Driussi is putting up (not exactly 2022 but still) decent numbers, and Diego Rubio has been a nice fit at striker. Austin aren’t overwhelmingly talented, but they have a decent enough spine to set themselves up for results.

An open DP spot should allow them to be more than that. And they could also buy down Alex Ring, offering even more DP flexibility. It’s a huge test for Borrell, who can make his first major signing in charge of Austin’s roster. Getting this right may determine whether or not Austin can earn a second Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth in club history. And that’s only in the short term. A top-level DP can be a centerpiece that transforms a team’s future. That said, it will be interesting to see whether they opt for a potential upgrade at winger or look to bolster an already decent spine.

I’m not sure exactly what the plan is (though reports Wednesday link them to Ghanaian international and Red Star Belgrade winger Osman Bukari). Until then, Austin just need to keep grinding out results and ignoring the underlying numbers. It’s easier said than done, but as long as they can stay above the playoff line until the summer window opens, Austin fans should have plenty of optimism. Borrell is starting to get the flexibility to make big moves and there could be more on the way.

It’s not a guarantee they’ll get those moves right. Remember, MLS is hard and weird and Austin don’t have Manchester City’s budget. But at least we’ll get to see a plan start to come into place. With one decision, Austin have instantly become a team to keep an eye on this summer rather than a team you’re waiting to see crash back down to Earth.

Other things

Cincy sign homegrown forward Chirila: FC Cincinnati have signed homegrown forward Stefan Chirila through the 2028 MLS season with an option for 2029. The 17-year-old, whose MLS Homegrown Priority rights were acquired from the Philadelphia Union, will play the remainder of the 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season with FC Cincinnati 2 before joining the first team in 2025.

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