Austin is set to get off to the best start in team history as the Whitecaps look to stop the bleeding

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“I think it’s about confidence and confidence is that we have to get slapped to start playing.” – Vanni Sartini.

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That was, over the years of expansion, pretty typical.

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Results were rare. The brand new stadium shimmered and dazzled. The lubed and full-throated fan base was just happy to be there. The famous owner – in this case, a chest-pounding, drum-pounding Matthew McConaughey in a green tuxedo – was front and center in the games and ubiquitous social media videos.

No one expected Austin FC to win, and they did. Their 9-21-4 record in 2021 left them 12th out of 13 teams in the Western Conference, their total of 35 pistol goals marked the lowest in the league.

But now Los Verde is playing less like skinny The Green Guy and more like Hulk.


NEXT GAME

Saturday

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Austin FC

5:30 p.m., Stage Q2. TV: TSN. Radio: AM730


Austin (4-1-2) has 17 goals in seven games and is second in the West, just one win behind Los Angeles FC. They average one goal for every two shots on goal and have passed FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami 10, the highest two-game tally to start a season in MLS history.

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With apologies to Kermit, it’s easy to be green now. And that makes the Vancouver Whitecaps assignment this weekend a much tougher challenge than it was last week.

“They have a great staff, a great team,” said Whitecaps midfielder Sebastian Berhalter, who spent the 2021 season on loan to Austin from the Columbus Crew.

“I think last year didn’t click, but obviously now it clicked. They have the facilities, the resources, the fans, everything they need to be successful; they’re a good team.

“I know a lot of guys there and I can’t wait to get out there and compete against those guys. It’s a good team. I’ll give them credit, but I think we’re ready.

Teams’ fortunes have changed this year as Austin soars, while the smoke billowing from the Whitecaps’ historically poor start has clouded the good vibes and performance that resulted from last year’s playoff push.

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Austin leads the league in goals, expected goals (14.1), expected assists (9.8), assists created (3.43 GCA) and goals per shot on target (0.52). The Greens are a scoring machine.

The Whitecaps (1-5-1) are second-last in the West, have the second-last number of goals in the league (6) and have fewer shots on target than any other team (14). Vancouver’s expected no-penalty goals (npxG) is 5.7, higher only than last-placed DC United in the East.

Ryan Gauld, the key playmaker who spurred the team’s rise last year, will miss Saturday’s game with a concussion. Centre-back Erik Godoy, their former Defensive Player of the Year, is still not fully fit, and midfielder Caio Alexandre’s return after a broken foot was derailed just days before his return due to a broken hand (eight weeks).

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Injuries played their part in the slow start, but slow starts in games also cost the Whitecaps dearly.

“I think it’s about confidence and confidence is that we have to get slapped to start playing. And I have to be honest, it was also the same last year even when we were winning…especially for the first five six games and I was in control,” said head coach Vanni Sartini.

“It all comes down to ‘sticking to the plan’ and playing the basics because if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do at a basic level then we can be confident doing more because without getting without getting slapped or fall.

“The only way to win games is through a team effort, not with 11 different personal efforts.”

Austin is on a two-game winning streak in MLS, with his latest league win accompanied by a spectacular three-goal second-half comeback to beat DC United 3-2 at the weekend. But they are also angry after bombing the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the oldest knockout tournament in American sport.

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Their 1-0 lead against USL Championship side San Antonio FC evaporated when their state compatriots scored in the 82nd and 96th minutes to stun the MLS club.

“(The players) are disappointed. They’re definitely pissed now,” Austin coach Josh Wolff told the Austin Chronicle after Wednesday’s game.

“It was certainly important for them, our owners, our fans, and it’s disappointing. We’ll have to lick our wounds quickly.

The Whitecaps, who have been upset with Canadian Premier League clubs in the last two Canadian Championships, can certainly sympathize. And they know that a momentary lapse in concentration can cost you a goal, a game or even your job.

It’s all about spatial organization and tactical awareness, and managing the heat, humidity and loud crowds expected at Q2 Stadium. If they can stay focused through the 90 and injury time, which they haven’t accomplished yet this season, they’re confident they can get a result in Austin.

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“We have to maintain the intensity level for 90 minutes. We’re playing No. 2 in the Western Conference, a team that’s on the rise, and we have to be really, really, really good because we need a result,” Sartini said. “What we have to understand is that a heart without a brain is nothing. The most important thing is organization. If we don’t do what we are supposed to do, it makes no sense to to be intense.

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