Austin FC displays weaknesses in loss to Portland Timbers
Portland, Oregon – Austin FC fell short of fans' lofty dreams of coming out victorious in its first road match of the season, succumbing to the constant pressure of the Portland Timbers in a 1-0 loss.
After breaking MLS records in its first two games, many were looking to see whether Austin FC had somehow become the dark horse of the league after one season, or if its first opponents weren't that much of a challenge after all.
Within the first 10 minutes of play, it was clear this was going to be a well-balanced match up between the Portland Timbers and the Verde and Black.
Any time one team seemed to be en route to scoring, the other swiftly regained possession and sent the action to the other side of the pitch.
Following many rapid fire shots on goal, Austin FC nearly struck gold in the 31st minute when Sebastián Driussi launched one to the back of the net.
Unfortunately, he was ruled offside and the score remained 0-0.
Portland's response came just before the 40th minute when Bill Tuiloma sent the ball in goalkeeper Brad Stuver's direction, though it was the goal post that saved the Verde and Black this time.
But a costly foul by Daniel Pereira in the 61st minute gave the Timbers' a free kick that led to a scoring redemption header by Tuiloma.
With Portland taking a 1-0 lead in sloppy conditions thanks to a downpour, the Verde and Black were in a race against the clock to score the equalizer.
Once Wolff subbed out Diego Fagúndez for Ethan Finlay and Maxi Urruti for Moussa Djitté, it was hard to believe this was a likely possibility.
Despite many attempts at getting the equalizer by Alex Ring, Nick Lima, and Driussi all firing shots off and an added five minutes of stoppage time, Austin FC was ultimately unable to deliver, giving Portland the 1-0 victory.
Austin FC player highlight
Austin FC's first two matches of the season were a sterling display of what the team can accomplish when it lacks the hesitation that plagued the inaugural season.
But it was the club's defensive effort that took the cake on Saturday, more specifically that of forward Jon Gallagher.
Without defender Kipp Keller on the pitch to help clear the back field and assist in transition, there was a noticeable hole in coverage, and it was a problem Gallagher seemed more than willing to handle.
Despite the fact he didn't enter the game until the 66th minute, Gallagher's presence and fresh legs undoubtedly helped keep the score at 1-0 and minimize Portland's ability to take shots on goal.
With weapons on the offensive side of the field in Lima, Ring, and Driussi and a visibly gassed back four, Gallagher stepped up to assist in the area he could be most useful.
Though the Verde and Black didn't get the winning result many hoped for, it was Gallagher's go-getter mentality that helped keep Austin FC in the game until the end.
Looking ahead to next match
With its first road match under its belt against an in-sync and fast-paced opponent, Austin FC has successfully shown fans and other MLS clubs what its weak spots are.
After a dazzling performance against Inter Miami CF on March 6, Driussi was visibly targeted and nearly shut down by the Timbers on Saturday.
It's likely this will be the move other opponents make, given the success Portland had in throwing extra bodies on Driussi whenever the striker had possession, or was in pursuit of, the ball.
The club will have to figure out a response that allows the Argentinian to be the offensive weapon he is without the risk of a turnover or miscommunication amongst teammates.
Head coach Josh Wolff's choice of substitutions proved to be another predicament for Austin FC on Saturday, as he used all five in a 10-minute period of time.
Wolff was hounded for his rather questionable substitutions in the club's inaugural season, and seeing Fagúndez get subbed out for the first time this season while down 1-0 felt a bit nonsensical.
Still, there's a lot to be hopeful of following Saturday's loss to Portland. Rather than playing in a solely reactionary state, Austin FC showed control, confidence, speed, and overall awareness.
But a team is only as good as the results they get, and if Austin FC can't rack up goals outside Q2 Stadium, making it to the MLS Cup Finals – let alone the playoffs – will prove rather difficult.
The Verde and Black will take on its next challenge in the Seattle Sounders on March 20 in Austin at 3:30 PM CST.
Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO/ZUMA Wire & Icon SMI