Austin FC Proving Impressive Early on in MLS Season

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Three weeks of action have already been played here in the 2022 MLS season, and already, we’ve got a team that has improved leaps and bounds over its 2021 campaign, sophomore side Austin FC, a soccer team that might be still in its infancy, but one which got out to an impressive start over the first couple of matches, then hit a roadblock during matchday three.

Austin FC Setting Out to Disprove the Notion of a Sophomore Slump

A season ago, Austin FC finished the MLS campaign, its first in the league, as the second-worst squad in MLS’s Western Conference with nine wins and four draws out of 34 total league matches played.

All told, Austin FC scored just 35 goals throughout the 2021 MLS regular season, and the club did not score its seventh tally of the year until July of last season.

Moreover, the club were shut out in 17 of the 34 matches last season, including scoreless draws, averaging a shutout in every other game, culminating in a 3-0 shutout against 2021 MLS Cup runners-up, the Portland Timbers, on Decision Day back in November.

After a freshman season that was par for the course for expansion teams in American sports, Austin FC knew it had to improve for its second season.

Cleaning House in Austin Ahead of Season Two for Austin FC

Less than a month after the team’s inaugural season, Austin FC got started on its commitment to bolster the roster ahead of 2022.

On Nov. 30, the team revealed that eight players who were on the roster during its first season would not be retained for season two at that time.

Forward/winger Kekuta Manneh, forward Aaron Schoenfeld, now retired from Major League Soccer, goalkeeper Brady Scott, defender Aedan Stanley, winger Jared Stroud, and defender Ben Sweat all saw their contract options declined by Austin FC following last season, although Jared Stroud was re-signed on a restructured contract right before Christmas in December.

Stroud’s current deal will see him remain with the team through the rest of the 2022 MLS season with vesting options for the 2023 and 2024 MLS season.

Two other players who joined the team via the transfer window also were not retained by the club after the inaugural season, midfielders Sebastian Berhalter and Manny Perez.

Since departing Austin FC after last season, Perez has joined USL side Louisville City FC for the 2022 season.

Austin FC Goes On the Clock for MLS SuperDraft

On the afternoon of Jan. 11, the 2022 MLS SuperDraft was held through videoconferencing, during which Austin FC held the rights to three picks over the course of the selection meeting.

No. 5 Overall Selection: Kipp Keller, Defender, Generation Adidas via Saint Louis University

With the club’s first selection of the afternoon, Austin used the No. 5 overall pick to draft defender Kipp Keller, a Generation Adidas product by way of Saint Louis University’s soccer program, one of eight players selected in the draft with ties to Generation Adidas– with Keller having appeared in two of Austin’s first three matches this season.

No. 35 Overall Selection: Charlie Asensio, Defender, Clemson University

Round two of the SuperDraft saw Austin hold the No. 35 overall pick and select fellow defender Charlie Asensio out of Clemson University, which won the NCAA Division I National Championship in men’s soccer late last fall, the first title in the sport for Clemson in 25 years.

Asensio recorded an assist on the clinching goal for the Tigers in the College Cup Final last year and was signed by Austin FC just three days before this MLS season began on a one-year deal with team options for 2023 through 2025.

No. 61 Overall Selection: Michael Knapp, Midfielder, New York Red Bulls II via Montclair State University

With the club’s final selection of the draft, Austin utilized the No. 61 overall pick to get midfielder Michael Knapp from USL Championship side New York Red Bulls II by way of Montclair State University’s soccer program.

Knapp joins the Austin FC roster still searching for his first professional goal in regular season play, having tallied three goals while still in college and scoring one goal in postseason play for now-former NPSL side FC Motown in Morristown, NJ against West Chester United in 2019, FC Motown’s second tally in a 3-0 shutout during the semi-professional league’s playoffs.

FC Cincinnati Gets Blanked By Austin on Matchday One

Austin FC began the season on Feb. 26 at home against FC Cincinnati and they looked like an entirely different team than the one fielded a year ago, shutting Cincinnati out 5-0.

Off of a free kick during the second minute in the first half, winger/forward Cecilio Dominguez sent the ball into the net to score the first goal of Austin’s season, scoring his second in the 61st minute of the match.

Later on in the first half of the contest, midfielder Alexander Ring scored a controversial goal during the 14th minute as Cincinnati contended that he was offside on the shot attempt, though television replays indicated otherwise, to make the Austin FC advantage 2-0.

Right before halftime, striker Sebastian Driussi converted on a pass from midfielder Diego Fagundez to make it 3-0, with Dominguez’s second tally in the second half making the team’s advantage 4-0 and giving Dominguez a brace on the afternoon.

During the final minute of second-half stoppage time, Austin FC was gifted with an own goal after a pass from forward Moussa Djitte was inadvertently deflected into the FC Cincinnati net by Cincinnati goalkeeper Alec Kann to close the scoring.

Inter Miami Fares No Better vs. Austin on Matchday Two

On March 6, Austin FC squared off against Inter Miami, and much like they did against Cincinnati on Opening Day, Austin got out to the fast start, quickly opening up a 2-0 lead on Miami with goals by Driussi in the 22nd minute of the first half and center back Julio Cascante in the 26th minute to give themselves the advantage coming out of halftime.

Driussi found the net again in the 50th minute to finish the day with a brace and increase Austin’s advantage to 3-0, but Miami forward Leonardo Campana, who entered the match as a substitute, ended the home team’s chances of a second consecutive shutout by scoring his first tally since joining MLS on loan from Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers to cut the Austin FC lead to 3-1 in the 53rd minute of action.

A brace by Ethan Finlay with goals in the 64th and 90th minutes of play capped Austin’s second five-goal output in as many weeks to begin the season.

Austin FC Shut Out By Portland on Matchday Three

Austin’s first true test of its sophomore campaign came in the form of Portland on the night of March 12, as did its first misstep of the season.

After holding Portland scoreless for slightly over one hour of match time, Austin FC gave up its second goal in as many matches, a 62nd-minute tally by Timbers defender Bill Tuiloma on a header from a Yimmi Charra cross to give the Timbers a 1-0 victory, with Austin failing to register a single shot on goal.

Final Thoughts

Austin FC has had a most-impressive start to the new MLS season, but by no means should this team be considered “for-real,” at least, not at the current time.

FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami are not squads in the upper-echelon of MLS and the first two matches were games that Austin FC should have won and did win.

With Austin’s loss to Portland, last year’s MLS Cup runners-up, last Saturday, the team has its first teaching moment of the season:

There will undoubtedly be more nights like last Saturday throughout the season

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Main image credits: Embed from Getty Images

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about MMA since the spring of 2018. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew enjoys a good game and an even better fight. When he's not writing, you can find him playing video games and listening to music.