It was a battle of MLS Western Conference cellar dwellers on Wednesday night at Q2 Stadium when Austin FC hosted Vancouver Whitecaps FC in a mid-week tilt. The home team struck first in the opening half, but the visitors countered with a pair of goals in the second, leaving the Lone Star State with a 2-1 win, and dropping the first-year team further in the standings and making the playoffs less realistic.
Austin FC scores for first time in three matches
Austin FC returned home to Q2 Stadium to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC after a short two-game road trip that came up empty in both goals and results, including a 2-0 loss against FC Dallas and a 1-0 loss in the Rockies against Real Salt Lake.
Coming home provided a sense of comfort and confidence for Austin and its fans. That’s because the last time out, the home crowd saw a rare offensive outburst, which ended in a 3-2 win over in-state rival Houston Dynamo.
Playing host against the Whitecaps — the team directly above them in the standings — Austin FC came out sluggish and sloppy in the first 20 minutes. In the 30th minute, head coach Josh Wolff made an unexpected substitution, bringing on Jon Gallagher for designated player Cecilio Dominguez.
“He was performing poorly, and it was affecting the entire team,” Wolff said of Dominguez. “At that point, I had to make a decision to make the change. I think Johnny came in, and he gave us a little bit of life. We got a little bit more organized. Had the ball more and had a little more verticality, and thus we were able to push the tempo a little bit more at the end of the first half.”
Wolff’s plan worked initially and in the 37th minute, Austin opened the scoring when newly-signed Sebastian Driussi delivered an in-swinging corner kick just outside the six-yard box that captain Alex Ring headed to the far post past the diving Whitecaps keeper for a 1-0 lead.
Austin FC surrenders a pair of second-half goals
The match turned out to be a tale of two halves, and the Vancouver visitors didn’t wait long to put their stamp on the contest early in the second half. In the 52nd minute, the Whitecaps Jake Nerwinski cleaned up a rebound on a corner kick to tie the contest.
Austin FC responded in the next 15 minutes with multiple opportunities to reclaim the lead, including a Driussi steal deep in the Vancouver end, but Tomas Pochettino pulled his shot left of the far post.
With Austin possessing the ball more, Vancouver looked to the counterattack, and in the 74th minute did just that up the left side, when Ryan Gauld delivered a ball to the far post where Brian White punched it past Austin keeper Brad Stuver to take a 2-1 lead.
Austin had several more chances to answer, but in what has become an all-too-familiar theme in the club’s first season, failed to finish each time in the final third. The result was the team’s third consecutive loss.
Defense has become problematic in last month
While the offense has struggled the entire season, and is the league’s worst with just 14 goals in 19 games, the defense has played solid and kept the club in multiple contests. Through the first 15 games of the season, the club had surrendered two or more goals in just five contests. However, in the last four games, it’s happened three times.
“Today we gave up goals in set pieces and transition, two of their strengths that we talked about, and certainly we weren’t able to keep them off the board,” an exasperated Wolff said. “I think defensively over the last couple of months we’ve been pretty solid but the last few games we’ve given up a little bit more. It’s for a variety of reasons. We’ll take a look at it. We’ve got to continue to get better.”
Fortunately for the Verde and Black, the team doesn’t have a lot of time to mull over this latest defeat. The club returns to action on Saturday night at Q2 Stadium against the Portland Timbers.