KANSAS CITY – The last time Austin FC scored a goal nearly 400 match-minutes ago was at Children’s Mercy Park, courtesy of Jon Gallagher. On Austin’s return to Kansas today, Cecilio Dominguez ended that drought. Unlike their first contest, though, when Austin were very much on top until Alex Ring’s red card swung that match in SKC’s favor, Sporting will be wondering how they came away from today’s game without the win?
Austin FC earn an unlikely point at Sporting KC
Against an Austin team known for ball handling, SKC had the rare distinction of leading in the possession stats (52/48) at half-time. As the stats suggest, though, it was a rather cagey 45 minutes. Austin struggled to get into a rhythm in what looked like a new formation. Their usual 4-3-3 appeared adapted, with Diego Fagundez deeper than usual playing almost alongside Alex Ring. Tomas Pochettino, who Wolff had previously admitted he wanted to see further up field where could do more damage offensively, seemed to be playing alongside Austin’s new ancillary number 9 Cecilio Dominguez.
Austin had a few dangerous flashes, but they weren’t wholly ‘clicking’. And then they did. A lovely, flowing move saw the ball transferred quickly from left to right via Pochettino, Gallagher, and Kolmanic who slid the ball to Dominguez. Cecilio’s low shot was well-placed and Austin took a somewhat unlikely lead into the break.
Sporting KC, who had flipped the script the last time these teams met, clearly had a mind to do so again in the second half. Battling performances from the men in the green steamed the blue tide, but for the longest time, the wall that is Brad Stuver was the difference. Stuver blocked shot after shot with his legs, arms, torso, and even his face! He palmed shots wide and on to and over the crossbar to register a career-high of 9-shots saved.
As the match wore on and SKC continued to turn the screw, the combination of the heat, relentless pressure from SKC, and the undoubted fatigue of an 8th consecutive road-game, finally broke the Verde dam. Daniel Salloi was the benefactor of two blocked shots, as the ball fell to him for a routine conversion.
Despite the fact that SKC had more possession and outshot Austin three to one, the visitors had their moments to steal victory. Dominguez tiptoed through the SKC defense before seeing his attempted chip-shot palmed away. The impressive Manny Perez introduced second half might have scored, and on another occasion fellow-sub Rodney Redes could have done better with a Perez slide-rule pass in the box with the net gaping.
Josh Wolff summed it up best. ‘Maybe we got out of here with a point we didn’t deserve.’ And assessing Austin’s grueling start to the season, ‘we’ve gotten 8 points in 8 games on the road, and we’re fairly proud of that haul.’ (he should be – SKC amassed 10 in 10 before they opened Children’s Mercy Park). But Wolff also admitted, ‘We had some great chances today, but the decision making wasn’t there. That’s part of it, we need to be better with that. We’ve left a lot of goals in games so far this season, and we as coaches take some accountability for that, too. So, we continue working on it in training and trying to get better.’
Three Key Takeaways:
Brad Stuver, MLS All-Star Starter: Ask SKC captain Johnny Russell.
Goals win games: And Austin aren’t converting enough of them. Wolff knows, and as a decorated striker himself, he’ll need to mine that experience to help improve his players decision-making and ruthlessness in front of goal.
I’m coming home: Is the cry from the Austin FC team and the traveling faithful who have followed them all over the country for the past two and half months. And the city of Austin can’t wait.
In a game Sporting Kansas City should have won, Austin FC also had their chances at victory. ATX isn’t that far away going from good to great. If they can couple their undoubted grit and spirit with an increased conversion of chances created, sprinkle in a few canny signings when the transfer window re-opens, and lean into their new home advantage, more W’s should follow.
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