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The Austin Preview

Last week, 10 Charlotte players missed the Montréal game due to COVID protocols. Well, this week it's my turn. Tomorrow will be the first home game I miss and it's due to COVID. Luckily symptoms are mild for me and my wife and this is more precautionary, but, man, could this not have happened during a 2 game road stretch?


I honestly don't think you can read too much into the Montréal game. With that many people missing and a road game, I thought we did well enough. It was clear that without a full squad--especially when we were chasing a goal--the absences were crippling.


With that said, I was impressed by the debut of McNeill and the appearance of Hegardt. I caution anyone about getting too optimistic about these appearances. First, both are young and inexperienced. Fluctuations in performance are going to happen. Second, we were playing a bad defensive team missing a key defensive player. Against a better, more structured side, I don't know if they would have had as much success. Third, we were chasing a goal, which I think lent them more freedom to take risks and "go for it." None of this is to say that these guys couldn't be real contributors, but I saw some calling for them to take other players' spots on the team. My conservative nature won't let me do that.


In some ways, it's a real shame that the US Cup has MLS teams start so late in it. Those would be perfect opportunities to see what you have in McNeill and Hegardt without the pressure of a MLS match. I wouldn't be against either player getting some more minutes at the MLS level, however, I don't know how realistic that is. They play at two of our deepest positions. More importantly, I'd much rather see both players playing regularly for the Independence and developing, rather than getting 15-20 minutes every few games.

 

The big controversy is the second Montréal goal. I'm going to borrow Matt Swift's tweet (hope he doesn't mind):

I commented on this tweet that I wondered if the ref saw this angle, as it came late in the TV broadcast (they showed it and then, almost immediately, the ref was back on the pitch making his decision). Someone replied to me saying that the ref saw this angle, as you could see it on the VAR monitor during the broadcast. I didn't notice that when I was watching, but I very well may have missed it, and I haven't gone back to rewatch the game. There are 3 things I want to say about this goal:

  1. What a goal. That finish by Choinière is fantastic. Yes, it's frustrating, but that is a defensive midfielder doing that. Montréal has played him out wide the past couple of games due to injury, but before that, he was partnering with Wanyama in the midfield. Those are two very different roles, so for him to be successful at each is something.

  2. If the ref didn't see the behind-the-goal angle, I understand why he allowed the goal. Without that angle, I don't think you can definitively say that Marks was obstructed. Again without that angle, if this was a Charlotte goal being looked at, I wouldn't want it overturned and so I don't think it should be for Montréal either. The corollary to this point is if the ref didn't see this angle, why?

  3. If the ref did see the behind-the-goal angle, then he's wrong. I'm not sure Marks is saving this shot either way, but with the behind-the-goal angle, it's clear that the offside Montréal player is very much in Marks' sightline and is very much a part of the play. If the ref has seen this angle, then he cost Charlotte points with a terrible--and wrong--decision.

 

Team

Possession

Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (standing)

WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)

Charlotte FC

53.4%

11.29

4.18

17 (19.2)

21 (21.9)

20 (9th in East)

6.52 (6.80)

Austin FC

56.3%

12.69

3.69

31 (24.9)

20 (25.7)

28 (3rd in West)

6.61 (6.84)

Austin is a good team and should be the model for Charlotte moving forward. Coming off the back of a 12-place conference finish in their inaugural season, Austin is up to 3rd in the West currently. They're already one win away from their total last year and just 3 points off their total from last year. Charlotte is off to a better start as a club than Austin had, however, playoffs for Charlotte are still very much a question mark. I'm still hopeful that we can get in, but even if we don't, Austin shows that an expansion team doesn't have to wait for a long time before finding success. Further, they show that you can quickly build a competitive roster. I still question whether, as a whole, Charlotte's roster is competitive. I believe the roster's talent is moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to do.


By the numbers, Austin is a different team than a lot of Charlotte's opponents. First, they want to have possession of the ball. That 56.3% possession is 5th in the league. The shots per 90 are 12th in the league, but the shots/90 on target is poor (6th to last in the league). The key to this team is that when they do shoot, the shots are really good. They're second in the West (and 6th overall) in team xG. Their goalscoring is not a fluke. Charlotte's ability to stay mentally engaged while Austin controls the ball--which I think will happen--will be key.


Only LAFC has scored more goals than Austin has on the season. They have been shut out twice on the year: 3/12 at Portland and 5/8 vs. the LA Galaxy. Each of these games was a 1-0 defeat.


While Austin is a good team, they feel like an erratic one. They went on the road and defeated arguably the best team in the league in LAFC, but they've also drawn Orlando at home and were destroyed by the LA Galaxy on the road (4-1). They have beat the teams they should have with maybe the exception of a 2-2 road draw against San Jose (it's hard to argue that a road draw is a bad result though) and an away loss to Portland (which also feels tough to call a bad loss, even as Portland sit 11th in the West). They can go one week scoring 5 goals and then a month scoring a total of 5 goals. Honestly, it's hard for me to exactly put my finger on why they seem erratic to me, but looking at their schedule, something just feels off about them. Again, this isn't a dismissal of them or their form. The table shows them as an elite team (and I think they are), but they feel like a--dare I say it?--beatable elite team.

 
Austin vs. LA Galaxy, 5/29, via MLS
Austin vs. LA Galaxy, 5/29, via MLS

Austin started the year in a 4-4-2 against Cincinnati. Since then, they've been in a 4-2-3-1. There's something I love about a team that sticks with their formation/tactics, regardless of the opponent. There are perfectly valid reasons for a team to be tactically or "formationally" flexible--and neither strategy is necessarily better than the other--but I love when a team says, "this is what we do, try to stop it."


Obviously, this oversimplifies the nuance that happens in games. Even with a consistent formation, player roles/responsibilities can change based on an opponent, but the fact that Austin has identified a formation that matches their personnel and has stuck with it is something I respect.


Injury/Suspension

According to MLS, Austin has two injuries: defender Frederik Kleeman (left knee) and midfielder Jhojan Valencia (right knee). Transfermarkt also has Valencia listed as out. According to transfermarkt, Austin has 4 players at risk of suspension as they have accumulated 4 yellows. These players include winger Sebastián Driussi and midfielders Alexander Ring, Valencia, and Daniel Pereira. Pereira is also coming off a suspension for a red card against Montréal, which resulted in him missing the Dallas game. It may be interesting to see if this accumulation impacts any of these players' aggressiveness.

Austin vs. Montréal, 6/18, via MLS
Austin vs. Montréal, 6/18, via MLS

Finally, there is the case of Austin winger Cecilio Domínguez. He was suspended due to an investigation for domestic violence. While he has been reinstated by MLS, this is not the first allegation against Domínguez. He was accused in 2016 in Paraguay as well. While this most recent accusation doesn't involve physical violence (rather it involves mental/emotional abuse, which does not make it any better), the fact that this is his second accusation and he has still not played for Austin since his reinstatement gives weight to the accusations. Apparently, MLS has suggested counseling for Domínguez and he has accepted that recommendation. While I am glad that Domínguez is getting counseling for his issues, I have no sympathy for people who engage in any form of domestic violence. He can stay off the pitch.


Attack

Austin vs. Dallas, 6/25, via MLS
Austin vs. Dallas, 6/25, via MLS

Austin has only 5 players listed as a forward on their website: Driussi (who is one of their DPs), Moussa Djitté (U22 Initiative player), Rodney Redes (U22 Initiative player), Danny Hoesen, and Maximiliano Urruti. FBref has Ethan Finlay listed as a forward and several others listed as a "FW,MF:" Diego Fagúndez, Owen Wolff (coach's son), Domínguez, and Felipe Martins.


Three of these players haven't really played for Austin this year: Djitté, Redes, and Hoesen.


Djitté has 8 appearances for a total of 170 minutes. He does have a goal and an assist on the year. He joined Austin last year from French Ligue 2 side Grenoble, where he had two good scoring years. He scored 7 goals as a 19-year-old for Grenoble and then 8 goals in 2020-21 as a 20-year-old. He only go into 13 games (9 starts) last year for Austin, scoring 1 goal. The production hasn't translated yet, but at only 22 there is still time.


Redes has 4 appearances for a total of 71 minutes. He joined Austin from the Paraguayan side Guaraní in 2021. With Guaraní, he had 11 goals and 6 assists in 96 appearances (83 starts). That's pretty good for a winger, especially one who accrued these stats during his age 17, 18, and 19 seasons. Like Djitté, the production hasn't translated to MLS yet. He got into 25 games (5 starts) last year for Austin, but he's yet to score a goal. He had only 1 assist last year.


Hoesen has 6 appearances for 76 minutes this year. Unlike Djitté and Redes, Hoesen is a veteran. He's 31 and in his 6th season in MLS. He joined San Jose in 2017 after spending 3 years with Groningen in the Eredivisie. He was once a real prospect, as at 20 years old, he had a 13-goal, 9 assist campaign for Fortuna Sittard in the Eredivisie. This got him a move to Ajax, where he spent two seasons scoring 7 goals (with 2 assists) in 32 appearances (he only got 8 starts).


In MLS, his best year was in 2018 as a 27-year-old. He scored 12 goals and had 3 assists for San Jose that year in 34 appearances (29 starts). He spent two more years with San Jose after that season before joining Austin in 2021. Since 2020 (his last season with San Jose), Hoesen has only had 19 appearances (8 starts) for a total of 632 minutes. During this time he's only had 3 goals. He does have 2 goals this year in his limited time, but he's not a player Charlotte should be overly concerned about.


Domínguez, who is a DP for Austin, was a starter for Austin before his suspension (see above). He had 2 goals in 4 starts for them before his suspension.


Felipe and Finlay are attacking midfielders who are mostly coming off the bench. Felipe has 12 appearances, but only 1 start. Meanwhile, Finlay has 16 appearances but only 7 starts. While Felipe does usually play higher, he can and has played deeper in the midfield.


Felipe is an MLS vet, having joined the league in 2012 with Montréal. He's played for RBNY, Vancouver, and DC United before joining Austin this year. In his early days, he was a serious goal contributor. He had 12 goals and 18 assists in 3 seasons with Montréal and 10 goals and 13 assists in 3 seasons for RBNY. These were his first 6 years in the league and he was getting over 30 games a season, usually starting at least 30 games a season. Since 2018, though, he's not been playing as much.


He joined Vancouver in 2018 and played in 29 games (24 starts). He only scored 1 goal with 2 assists that season. The following season he got 18 games (13 starts) for Vancouver, but only scored 1 goal with no assists. He was traded to DC United in 2019 and made 9 starts for them. He didn't record a goal or an assist. He only made 7 appearances (7 starts) for DC in 2020, recording a single assist. He did get into 27 games last year for DC but only got 9 starts. He recorded 1 goal and 2 assists.


Finlay is another MLS vet. Like Felipe, he started his career in 2012, but with Columbus. He spent his first 6 seasons with the Crew, making 150 appearances (102 starts). He scored 30 goals and had 25 assists with the Crew. His best years were 2014 (11 goals and 6 assists) and 2015 (12 goals and 12 assists). He joined Minnesota during the 2017 season. He made 95 appearances (71 starts) for Minnesota, recording 19 goals and 9 assists. He's in his first year with Austin and has 2 goals and an assist so far this year.

Fagúndez heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore
Fagúndez heatmap, 2022, via SofaScore

Fagúndez has been their primary left-sided attacker, making 16 appearances on 15 starts. The 27-year-old is in his second season with Austin, having started his career with New England at 15 (!!!!). Fagúndez was a regular for NE up until his last year with them, when he only had 19 appearances (9 starts) and 1 goal on the season. Over 261 appearances (186 starts), Fagúndez had 53 goals and 37 assists. His best season is probably either 2013 when as a 17-year-old he scored 13 goals and had 5 assists or 2018 when he scored 9 goals and had 8 assists. He was really good for Austin last year, too, as he had 7 goals and 4 assists over 33 appearances (30 starts). He's been better this year, as he has 3 goals and 7 assists already on the year. It should be noted that his xA is only 2.6, so he's massively overperforming it. He appears to be one of their primary corner kick takers, so that certainly helps with his assist numbers.

Fagúndez heatmap, 2021, via SofaScore
Fagúndez heatmap, 2021, via SofaScore

This year his role has been a bit different than in previous years. Early in his career, his heatmaps resembled the 2022 heatmap. However, from 2018 to 2021, his heatmaps are what we see in 2021, namely, a player who is all over the field. Austin is playing him as a left-sided attacker, although it does appear he will swap flanks occasionally. It's very clear, though, that this year Austin is asking him to keep the width on the pitch, rather than drifting around too much.


With the assist numbers in mind, it's not a surprise that Fagúndez's passing is a real strength. He's in the 93rd percentile for short passing completion, the 85th percentile for medium passing completion, and the 75th percentile for long passing completion. Last year he was outrageously good with his long passing, as he had a 72% completion percentage on 189 attempts. That number is down to 49.4% this year on 79 attempts. His career completion rate for long passing is just 55.7%, so this year's number is more in line with his career. Before last year, his career-high had been 60.7%. Both his short and medium-distance completion percentages are in line (more or less) with his career numbers. Finally, he might be on pace for a career-high in crosses. His high came in 2018 when he had 71; he already has 30 on the year after having only 40 all of last year.


Owen Wolff is the coach's son and younger brother of Atlanta's Tyler Wolff. At only 17, he has very little experience but has been getting a fair amount of game time this season. He only got into two games last year for 9 minutes. This year he's up to 9 appearances with 5 starts for a total of 409 minutes. He has one assist on the year and is primarily been deployed as a right-sided midfielder. While nepotism is an easy accusation to level at him, it probably doesn't apply here. Considering the ability of his brother and the fact MLS isn't rec league soccer where a coach can get away with over-playing his/her kid, Wolff seems like a real talent.


Urruti is a 30-year-old MLS vet who has bounced around the past few years. He began his career with Toronto before moving to Portland for 3 years, Dallas for 3 years, Montréal for 2 years, Houston last year, and Austin this year. He's a solid, if unspectacular, forward. His best year was in 2017 with Dallas when he had 12 goals and 4 assists. Aside from that year and 2014 when he had 10 goals for Portland, he's never been in double digits for goals.


Wherever he goes, he plays a lot. Excluding his first season in the league and 2020 (when he had only 15 appearances and 10 starts), he's never appeared in less than 30 games a year. Since 2016--again, excluding 2020--he's averaged 30.8 appearances and 23.7 starts per year (this is over 7 seasons). The goal returns are never spectacular--he's had 5 goals, 7 goals, and 5 goals over the past 3 seasons--but he's a contributor to a team.

The big-name has been saved for last: Driussi. The 26-year-old Argentinian is absolutely destroying the league this year. He started his career at River Plate in Argentina before moving to Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia after a 17-goal, 3 assist campaign for River in 2016-17 as a 20-year-old. He spent 4 seasons with the Russian club, scoring 21 goals and getting 16 assists over 95 appearances. He had a good debut for Austin last year, scoring 5 and getting 3 assists in17 appearances. He's obliterating those numbers this year, as he's already got 9 goals and 3 assists. He's overperforming his xG of 6.6 a bit, but good scorers usually do. He does have 2 PKs on the year, so the goals are a bit inflated, but 7 in 16 is still pretty good.

What has been interesting about him this year has been his positioning in the box. Look at the red right in front of the goal. Sure, his penalty kicks add to it, but he's being much more aggressive in front of the goal. While he does drift around the pitch, he does show a tendency towards the left side of the pitch, where he's teaming up with Fagúndez. Fagúndez keeping the width on the left is what can give Driussi space to drift into.


Over the past 365 days in MLS, his percentiles are fantastic. I'm not going to post them here because I would want to post the entire scouting report, but I would encourage you to take a look yourself. There's not much that stands out in the way of weakness for Driussi, as his numbers are usually in the 80th percentile or higher.


If there is a weakness it may be that he is incredibly one-footed. He's making 41.90 passes per 90 with his right foot, but only 2.44 per 90 with his left. The former is in the 90th percentile while the latter is in the 10th percentile. He's also only in the 68th percentile for passes under pressure, so maybe you could man-mark him with someone like Bronico and try to keep him either off the ball or constantly under pressure when he does have it. Additionally, keeping him off his right foot, especially in dangerous areas, is a must. That's easier said than done and based on his overall numbers, no one has been able to do it this year.


Some might look at his output this year as a fluke, but when considering the fact he has had a 17-goal season with River and an 11-goal season with Zenit, I'm not so sure. The goals are definitely higher than his average, but he's entering the prime of his career. If we exclude the PKs, he's at 7 goals in 16 this year after 5 goals in 17 last year, which is pretty consistent. This is also a player who has played in Europa and Champions League games, so he's faced high levels of competition. If I were to bet, I would bet that this kind of output will be his normal as long as he's in MLS.


Midfield

Austin lists 11 players as midfielders, but we've already touched on a number of them. The remaining midfielders include the injured Valencia, Tomás Pochettino (who is loaned out to River Plate and has no relation to Mauricio), Pereira, Jared Stroud, Ring, and Hector Jimenez. Jimenez is listed as a defender on FBref and that is where he has been playing for Austin. I'll discuss him in the defense section.


Valencia is going to be out for a few weeks. He had made 9 appearances (2 starts) on the season, recording no goals and an assist.


Stroud has only made one appearance on the year for a total of 23 minutes. He is in his 2nd season with Austin and made 22 appearances (13 starts) last year, in which he had 1 goal and 4 assists.

Ring defensive percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref
Ring defensive percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref

Ring and Pereira are the two primary midfielders. Ring is a designated player who has spent the last 6 seasons in MLS, first with NYCFC and then for the past 2 years with Austin. Pereira, meanwhile, is only in his 2nd season as a professional, having been selected first in the 2021 draft out of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.


While Pereira and Ring play in a double pivot, neither are particularly adept defensively, at least this year. Some of Ring's defensive numbers have been better in previous seasons, but they are pretty bad over the past year. I'm not sure if this is age catching up with him or him being asked to play a different role. At 31 years old, it could be either one of these or a combination of both. This past year he has been okay at pressuring opponents and blocking shots and he's been really good at clearances. Outside of that, he's been pretty poor.


Pereira is better defensively, but not great. Unlike Ring, Pereira is only 21, so he most definitely could and should improve his numbers. He's already providing more defensive support than Ring, especially in the defensive third.

Pereira defensive percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref
Pereira defensive percentiles, past 365 days, via FBref

Where Ring excels is the offensive part of the game. He's in the 85th percentile for goals, the 77th percentile for assists, the 88th percentile for total passing distance, the 89th percentile for progressive passing distance, and the 93rd percentile for passes into the final third.


Ring also dominates touches at 70.81 per 90 (86th percentile). What is most interesting about his touches is that he is either touching the ball in his defensive third or in the attacking 3rd, especially in the penalty box. He's in the 95th percentile for defensive 3rd touches, the 73rd percentile for attacking 3rd touches, and the 87th percentile for penalty area touches. Yet, he's only 60th percentile for middle 3rd touches.


Ring and Pereira are both good carriers of the ball, with Ring being pretty exceptional. Ring is in the 89th percentile for carries and 80th percentile for progressive carrying distance. Pereira, meanwhile, is in the 73rd percentile for carries and the 87th percentile for progressive carrying distance.


Ring and Pereira both make themselves readily available for passes. Ring is in the 91st percentile for pass targets, the 92nd percentile for passes received, and the 84th percentile for progressive passes received. Pereira is in the 76th percentile for pass targets and 80th percentile for passes received, but only the 22nd percentile for progressive passes received.


It seems pretty clear what Austin is doing with these two. Both will start deeper in the midfield, but Ring is making runs forward while Pereira is staying back. Whether through a loss of ability or a tactical shift, the defensive onus seems to be on Pereira in this pair.


As far as counting stats go, Ring is good for 4 goals a year; that's where he's been at each of the past 3 years. He's at 2 so far this year, along with 2 assists. The assist numbers are also pretty consistent for Ring, as he's had seasons of 4, 4, and 3 assists over the past 3 years.


Pereira doesn't have much in the way of counting stats. He's scored 1 goal in his career (this year) and has never had an assist. Based on the way they are utilizing him and the role he is playing, this isn't necessarily surprising.


Finally, based on their heatmaps, Pereira stays fairly central with a bit of a left-sided bias. When Ring moves forward, he very much has a right-sided bias.


Defense

Austin list 9 players as defenders: Ruben Gabrielsen, Carlos Asensio, Kipp Keller, the injured Kleeman, Jhohan Romaña, Jon Gallagher, Nick Lima, Zan Kolmanič, and Julio Cascante. Again, while they list Jimenez as a midfielder, he has most definitely been playing as a fullback for them.


Romaña, Asensio, and Keller haven't played much this year, if at all. In Romaña and Asensio's cases, they haven't played at all this year. Asensio did get into 25 games last year (starting 19). Admittedly, I didn't spend a ton of time looking into it, but there's no obvious reason why he's not playing this year. Keller has played in 4 games (starting 2).


Gabrielsen and Cascante are the primary CBs. Both have played in all 16 games with Gabrielsen starting 14 and Cascante starting all 16. Both CBs have been contributors to the attack as Gabrielsen has 2 goals while Cascante has a goal and 2 assists. Cascante is in his second season with Austin while Gabrielsen is in his first.


Neither center-backs' defensive percentiles are great with an exception for each. Gabrielsen is outstanding versus dribblers, as he's in the 98th percentile for percentage of dribblers tackled and the 99th percentile for dribbled past. Cascante's strength is in blocking shots, as he's in the 88th percentile for shots blocked and the 89th percentile for shots saved. Aside from these areas, they're pretty bad. Neither tackle well (Cascante is better at the 40th percentile for tackles won), pressure well (54th percentile for Gabrielsen, 55th percentile for Cascante in successful pressure percentage), or intercept the ball well (30th percentile for Gabrielsen and 29th percentile for Cascante).


Gabrielsen is 30 and Cascante is 28. CBs can have a bit more of a lifespan than other positions and, aside from goalkeepers, often hit their prime later than other positions. There is a chance these two could improve, but I wouldn't count on dramatic improvements. Austin allows a good number of goals and this defensive pairing is probably a large part of that.


Before the past 3 games, Lima had been the primary RB. He has 2 assists on the year, which is the same number he's had in each of the past 4 seasons. Jimenez has taken over that position the past few games. He has 2 assists on the year as well.


Defensively, neither is strong. Jimenez is better at contesting dribblers (83rd percentile) and making tackles in the attacking 3rd (87th percentile). Lima is exceptional at pressuring (98th percentile for successful percentile percentage). It should be noted, though, that Lima is only in the 5th percentile for pressures and the 26th percentile for successful pressures. As such, while his percentage is good, he's not really doing it a ton.


As neither excel defensively, it makes sense that Austin has turned to Jimenez, as he's much better offensively. Here's a quick snapshot of how they compare:

Stat

Jimenez Percentile

Lima Percentile

Shot-creating Actions

95th

58th

Goal-creating Actions

77th

78th

Goals

67th

27th

Assists

76th

86th

xG

47th

32nd

xA

90th

72nd

Pass Completion %

88th

70th

Pass Completion % (Short)

94th

36th

Pass Completion % (Medium)

99th

69th

Pass Completion % (Long)

87th

91st

Progressive Passes

99th

33rd

As you can see, Lima isn't a bad player, but Jimenez excels offensively. If neither can do the job defensively, you might as well have one who can do the job offensively.


On the opposite flank, Gallagher and Kolmanič have split time at left-back. Gallagher has appeared in 15 games, starting 7, while Kolmanič has appeared in 14, starting 9. Gallagher has 1 assist on the year and Kolmanič has 2.


NOTE: As a quick aside, these defensive players really chip in the assists. Taken as a group, there are 9 assists amongst these center halves and fullbacks. As an entire team, Charlotte has 11 assists...


Kolmanič is a young player at 22, but Gallagher isn't old at 26. Last year Gallagher made 27 appearances (13 starts) for Austin, recording 3 goals and an assist. Kolmanič played in 30 games last year, starting 23. He has yet to score a goal but did have 3 assists last year. Honestly, it's a good problem for Austin to have. Both of these guys seem pretty capable at left-back, with Kolmanič probably the more talented of the two. Both players will get forward down that left-hand side of the pitch. Like the rest of this defense, neither of these guys are good defenders.


And that is the theme of this Austin backline, and the team overall: good attackers and average to bad defenders. This team is not going to attempt to win 1-0. Austin knows it needs to score to win, sets a team out with players who can do that, and usually does.


Goalkeeping

Austin list 4 goalkeepers on its website: Damian Las, Brad Stuver, Andrew Tarbell, and Will Pulisic (Christian's cousin). Pulisic is on loan and Las has yet to make an appearance in MLS. Stuver is the starter, although Tarbell has played in 3 matches, starting 2.


Stuver has been good for Austin over the past two seasons. He came over from NYCFC, where he only got into 7 games over 2 seasons. At age 29, he finally got to be a starter and has rewarded Austin. Last year over 33 games he had a 72.7% save percentage and a +2.7 PSxG+/-. For a team that lost 21 games, that's pretty impressive.


This year he's been better. His save percentage is at 74.6% while his PSxG+/- is at +4.5. He's cut his goals allowed per 90 from 1.61 last year to 1.30 this year. Considering the backline that he has in front of him, that's quite an achievement.


Austin's possession-based tactics probably help his numbers, as he doesn't have to face as many shots as maybe he normally would. He's only faced 59 shots on target this season, compared with 187 last year, so he's definitely on pace to face fewer shots this year.


Finally, Austin uses him in their buildup. Stuver is in the 91st percentile for passes attempted at almost 29 per game. He's only launching the ball 27.3% of the time and only 46.1% of the time from goal kicks. He likes to come out of his area, as he's in the 83rd percentile for defensive actions outside the penalty area.


Overall, Stuver might be the best goalkeeper Charlotte has seen since Andre Blake in Philadelphia.


Conclusion

In a vacuum, I would be weirdly optimistic about this game. Austin is good, but I think Charlotte would have a chance under normal circumstances. Of course, the elephant in the room is the availability of our players. If we're still down 10 guys, I'm not sure we have a chance. If we have guys back, especially the likes of Kahlina, Jóźwiak, Gaines, and Shinyashiki, I feel good about us pulling out a win.


The only part of the team that seems fairly "healthy" is the backline. If Fuchs is finally healthy, we need him back in the lineup. We've missed his passing ability. I'm a fan of Corujo, but he's not a progressive player. I'm still undecided about Walkes, but I've seen flashes. I would like Fuchs to be our LB with a Walkes-Corujo partnership. I'm not against Afful starting as I think he's added some real solidity to the backline, though Lindsey's speed might be useful against this team. Realistically, if Fuchs is healthy, I think we see a Mora-Fuchs-Corujo-Lindsey/Afful backline, which isn't the worst. Mora's inability to add to the attack continues to frustrate me, though.


Prediction (with players back): Charlotte 3 - Austin 2


Prediction (without players back): Charlotte 1 - Austin 3

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