Whitecaps FC make their final stop on Wednesday prior to making their BC Place homecoming on Saturday. It marks their 31st consecutive match away from BC Place, including the final 12 games of 2020, and the first 19 of 2021. The stretch started back on September 19, 2020 with a visit to Real Salt Lake, continued with extended stays in Portland to finish 2020, and in Salt Lake City to start 2021. They returned to Vancouver for training at the end of July and now play the last of four additional matches away from BC. They visit expansion side Austin FC for their first-ever meeting, pitting two clubs looking to claw up the table and into the playoff picture.
POINTS ON THE ROAD: Wednesday’s fixture is the last of a three-game road stretch for Whitecaps FC, who are aiming for three points at brand-new Q2 Stadium. The ‘Caps have drawn their last five road matches – their longest away point streak in the MLS era. In total, they are unbeaten in six matches (1W-5D) – two away from the club record (3W-5D in April-June 2014).
NEW DPs: The two sides made key acquisitions in recent weeks, each signing attacking Designated Players to bolster their roster. Attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld has made consecutive substitute appearances for the ‘Caps, seeing 31 minutes against the Quakes last Friday. Austin FC striker Sebastián Driussi is coming off his first MLS start last Saturday but his availability for Wednesday evening is dependent on how he responds to treatment after being diagnosed with a right lower leg contusion. Austin’s other two DPs – midfielder Tomás Pochettino and winger Cecilio Domínguez – are also in their first MLS campaign.
Austin FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Wednesday, August 18, 2021 – 6:11 p.m. PT
Q2 Stadium, Austin, TX
TV: TSN4/5 - RADIO: AM730
Pre-match show: 5 p.m. PT (AM730)
KNOW THY ENEMY: AUSTIN FC
by Sebastian Pereira
Austin FC, nicknamed Los Verdes by their fanbase, have assembled a roster consisting of experienced MLS veterans and exciting newcomers to the league.
What’s been interesting to watch from afar is the Texas side’s recruitment process, as they’ve acquired plenty of players within the league that weren’t getting as many minutes in previous seasons.
Despite sitting bottom of the West with 16 points, there’s been plenty of flashes from those players and the rest of Austin’s roster, showing they can compete with some of the league’s best sides.
At the back, goalkeeper Brad Stuver has put himself into the Goalkeeper of the Year conversation thanks to some crucial saves to preserve key results for the expansion side.
The former NYCFC man has never played a full MLS season in goal and has now taken full advantage of his opportunity in Austin, leading the league in saves with 76 and sitting with the best save percentage (78.3%) amongst goalkeepers who’ve played more than seven games this season.
In terms of the defensive backline in a 4-3-3 formation, former Sporting KC centre-back Matt Besler has formed a solid partnership with former Portland Timbers centre-back Julio Cascante in recent games, while long-time MLS veteran Hector Jimenez has taken his chance in Austin and showed a willingness to get forward from right-back.
At the left-back spot, Slovenian youth international Žan Kolmanič has impressed on both sides of the ball, stepping up when needed at the back and playing an important role on the attack for Los Verdes as he’s shown with his two assists and 25 key passes in his first MLS season.
Kolmanič is nursing a slight injury he sustained at the weekend against Real Salt Lake so there could be a change at the back once Austin line up against the ‘Caps Wednesday night.
Another player who’s taken their chance with Austin after experiencing a lack of minutes in previous seasons is midfielder Diego Fagundez, who’s registered three goals and an assist in 18 appearances for Austin.
The former New England Revolution homegrown likes to operate in between the lines of opposing defences as he looks to create opportunities for his teammates or make late runs into the box to get efforts on target.
Joining Fagundez in midfield throughout the season have been former NYCFC captain Alexander Ring and Argentine DP Tomás Pochettino.
While Ring puts the fires out defensively for Los Verdes, Pochettino has the freedom to roam around the pitch to help create opportunities on the offensive for Austin and like Fagundez make late runs into the box to get shots on goal.
Despite only scoring a pair of goals for a player of his high price tag, Pochettino can still provide a creative threat from midfield so the ‘Caps will need to be wary to prevent the Argentine from having an influence on the game.
Looking at the attacking front three, Los Verdes went all out to get some exciting attacking flair in former Club America and Paraguay international winger Cecilo Dominguez.
The Designated Player has showed some moments of magic in his first season in MLS and has looked like the most promising attacking option for Austin so far.
Dominguez leads the team in goals with four and has also added two assists.
If Austin are to get some production in the final third, expect Dominguez to be a big part of creating chances and stretching the field with his creativity in wide areas.
The last Designated Player on Austin’s books is Argentine forward Sebastián Driussi, who was acquired in late July from Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg where he scored 25 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions.
Driussi has only appeared twice for Los Verdes since signing and only just made his start this past weekend against Real Salt Lake.
The 25-year-old did sustain a slight knock at the weekend so it’s possible he could miss the game on Wednesday.
As for the other attacking options, former Atlanta United forward Jon Gallagher and former New York Red Bulls winger Jared Stroud have both found more regular playing time in Texas, combining for two goals and four assists this season.
Another option on the attack for Austin FC will be very familiar to long-time ‘Caps fans.
After spending some time playing in Europe, former ‘Caps 2013 SuperDraft pick Kekuta Manneh returned to MLS this past offseason to join Los Verdes for their inaugural campaign.
The kid they called “Scooter” scored 21 goals and tallied 12 assists in 89 league appearances for the ‘Caps, while also becoming the first Whitecaps FC player to score a hat-trick in MLS play on October 10, 2013 in an unforgettable 4-1 away win against Cascadia Cup rivals Seattle Sounders.
If Manneh sees the field on Wednesday, it won’t be the first time he’ll be lining up against the ‘Caps, as his only previous appearance playing against the Blue and White saw him score a stunning strike from distance for Columbus Crew SC in a 2-2 draw back on September 16, 2017.
Despite all their attacking options and creativity on the field, Austin have simply not been able to find a consistent attacking flow week-in, week-out.
Los Verdes currently sit with the least amount of goals in the league with 13, while also sitting third to last in the league in expected goals (xG) with 20.5 according to FotMob.
Austin’s most successful source of offence thus far has come from putting crosses into the area, as they’ve notched eight goals in this fashion.
Whether it be a low ball in or a lifted cross to the back post, it’ll be important for the ‘Caps to prevent crosses into the area and stay sharp with man marking in the area as well as keeping an eye out on late runners into the box.
It’s sure to be a feisty affair tonight at Q2 Stadium as the ‘Caps play their final away game before coming back to BC Place this weekend. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. You can catch the match live on TSN4/5 and AM730, with the radio pre-game show starting at 5 p.m. All times in PT.