Austin FC desperate for goals after monthlong drought
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Austin FC has a big problem. They aren't scoring any goals. At all.
Last season's Western Conference finalists, who tore up the nets behind forward Sebastian Driussi, have been shut out in the last three matches and four of the last five.
That's 0-for-April, leaving a team that expected to contend for a championship looking a lot more like the floundering expansion club it was just two seasons ago.
“We have a number of guys who can score goals. Our roster is littered with goal-scorers,” Austin coach Josh Wolff said ahead of Saturday's home match against San Jose. “Right now, it's proven difficult and trying. It’s not for lack of effort.”
The last goal came March 25 against the Colorado Rapids. Key injuries have helped stifle Austin's offensive firepower as Wolff has been forced to adjust his lineup from front to back.
Midfielder Alex Ring was moved into a centerback role when Julio Cascante was injured early in the season and may not return for several more weeks. Left winger Diego Fagundez, who had six goals and 13 assists last season, is out with a groin injury. Left back Zan Kolmanic was lost for the season with a knee injury.
But goals have to come from somewhere if Austin expects to return to the playoffs.
“We are not rewarding ourselves with goals," Wolff said. "Goals change games. They give confidence, they give emotion and it's been lacking.”
Last week's 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy was perhaps the epitome of frustration. The Galaxy had been winless before thoroughly outplaying Austin with 8-2 shot advantage and 63% of possession time.
No Austin player is struggling more than Driussi, who talked before the season of chasing the league goal-scoring title and MVP honors. The Argentine ignited Austin's attack last season with 22 goals and seven assists. His quick touch and fluid movement made every possession near the goal swell with anticipation.
The club rewarded the 27-year-old with a contract extension through 2025 with an option for 2026. Although terms were not released, the deal reportedly makes him one of the highest paid players in the league.
He's been a shadow of last season's form so far.
“This year he plays the same, (but) he’s not lucky,” said Maxi Urruti, the club's other Argentine forward, who scored nine goals last season. “The important thing is we stay together, and the result will come.”
Unlocking the goalmouth for Driussi could ease the pressure on everyone. Urruti has just one goal this season. Gyasi Zardes, who has 97 career goals in MLS and was brought in for extra scoring punch, has none.
“The team goes as Sebastian goes to some degree. We recognize there’s going to be more attention on him this year,” Wolff said. “We have to be realistic and put him in more spots to score.”
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver league-leading 38 saves have been crucial in keeping Austin in matches. A few scores to match his hard work could start a climb back into playoff contention.
“We’re eight games in. This is about how your finish,” said veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay, who is in his 13th season. "We’ve put ourselves behind where maybe we want to be. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of it. We’re not even into May.
“This is a long game,” Finlay said. “There is no panic here.”
If the scoring drought drags on and the club needs to make significant roster moves, it will have to do so without a full-time team sporting director. Former U.S. soccer standout Claudio Reyna, who built Austin's current roster, was moved out of the job in January after his family’s spat with former U.S. men's coach Gregg Berhalter.
Wolff has been acting as club’s chief soccer officer, and director of player personnel Sean Rubio is the interim sporting director.
“It’s not an excuse. It’s not an excuse for me,” Wolff said. “My job is obviously to put this team in position to win and compete every week, along with now helping compile the roster, and a little bit of the roster build, and think about some of the transitions and transfer windows.”
The club eventually will need to fill the sporting director's role at some point, Wolff said.
“All organizations need that leadership," he said. “That job is way too much for a head coach."
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Jim Vertuno, The Associated Press