JJON5053 (1)

In their second consecutive road match, Vancouver Whitecaps FC are set to travel to Texas to face Western Conference side Austin FC this Saturday, April 23 at Q2 Stadium.

After finishing 12th in the Western Conference in their inaugural season last year, Austin FC find themselves second in the West through their first seven matches of the campaign, tallying a 4W-1L-2D record and scoring a league-high 17 goals in the process.

The side is coming off a mid-week loss in the US Open Cup, bowing out of the competition with a 2-1 extra time result against USL Championship side San Antonio FC.

In this edition of ‘Know thy enemy’, we look at some of Austin’s tactical strategies and their key players to watch out for.

WIDE OVERLOADS

As they did last year, Austin have continued to commit numbers in wide areas to create overloads and more passing triangles for their attacking pieces, whether it be their fullbacks pushing forward or their attacking midfielder dropping into pockets out wide.

However, the difference from last year is their ability to get their striker involved in the build-up play, causing opposing defences to be more aware of their surroundings.

For much of last season, Austin found it difficult to find rhythm in the attack with a mobile striker.

As Senegalese striker Moussa Djitte started getting integrated into the team, they were able to find more of an attacking flow to their game, as the club scored 13 goals in his nine starts towards the latter end of the 2021 regular season compared to just 22 goals in their previous 25 matches.

Even with Djitte providing an attacking outlet, the club decided to go out into the market in the offseason to boost their attacking corps in the form of long-time MLS striker Maximiliano Urruti.

The Argentine has brought a new dynamic to Austin, stretching opposing backlines with his threatening runs, having an eye for goal and oftentimes overloading attacking areas with his fellow attackers.

So far, the former Houston Dynamo FC man has tallied two goals and an assist in six starts and seven appearances this season.

Expect Urruti to combine with Austin midfielders Diego Fagundez, Ethan Finlay and Sebastian Driussi in wide areas while also drifting around the penalty area to have a sniff at goal.

ONE TO WATCH

A big part of Austin’s attacking prowess through the first weeks of the season has been the play of Argentine Designated Player Sebastian Driussi.

Capable of being deployed as a winger, number 10 or second striker, Driussi has already matched his tally of five goals from last season through seven starts in 2022 and has added two assists.

In addition, the Argentine sits tied for fifth in the league in expected goals with 3.8.

What has made Driussi so dangerous this season is his ability to hurt teams in any way.

The DP can either arrive late in the box to get on the end of crosses, have a shot from distance, dribble around defenders or make sneaky passes to slip his teammates in on goal.

Driussi is also a key piece of Austin’s success with overloading wide areas, given the freedom he has to go wherever he needs to create opportunities.

The ‘Caps will need to be wary of preventing Driussi from getting service and keeping an eye on his late runs into the box.

SET PIECES

An area the 'Caps could take advantage of on Saturday are set pieces.

Through the first seven matches of the season, the Blue and White have created the fourth most shots from dead ball situations in MLS with 16, while Austin sit third from last in the category with eight.

In fact, Austin have given up four goals off set pieces across all competitions this season, including one against San Antonio in midweek from a second ball into the box.

The 'Caps even scored off a set piece in their previous trip to Austin last August, with Jake Nerwinski tapping home a loose ball in the box after a left-footed corner kick from Ryan Gauld.

Make sure to catch this Western Conference showdown this Saturday, April 23 from Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas at 5:30 p.m. on TSN1/4 and AM730, with the radio pre-game show starting at 4:30 p.m. All times in PT.