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Opponent Breakdown | #ATXvMIN

It may be spring according to the solstice, but the Loons are flying south for a Sunday Funday with upstart Austin FC. The match at Q2 Stadium in The Domain neighborhood of Austin, Texas will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports 1, the first time this season Minnesota United FC will be seen by a national TV audience.

The Occasion: MLS Regular Season Game No. 6; road game No. 3

The Opponent: Austin FC

Head-to-Head

The Loons met Austin FC on the field a total of three times last season, Austin’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer. Minnesota has won two and dropped one in the young history between these two clubs, and won 1-0 in their only trip to Austin. Franco Fragapane scored the lone goal in that game and also found the back of the net in Minnesota’s 2-0 victory against Austin at Allianz Field on June 23. Adrien Hunou provided the second goal in that match.

Austin defeated the Loons in the first-ever meeting between the two at Allianz Field on May 1 of last season. Diego Fagundez provided the only goal on the day to help the Verde & Black to a 1-0 victory.

All four goals scored between the two teams across all three meetings came before the 30th minute.

Their Run of Form: D-D-L-W-W

Week 5 - 2-2 D at San Jose (11’ goal by Maxi Urruti, assisted by Julio Cascante; 52’ goal by Sebastian Driussi, PK)

Week 4 - 1-1 D vs. Seattle (70’ goal by Diego Fagúndez)

Week 2 - 5-1 W vs. Miami (22’ goal by Sebastian Driussi, assisted by Diego Fagúndez and Maxi Urruti; 26’ goal by Julio Cascante, assisted by Zan Kolmanic and Daniel Pereira; 51’ goal by Sebastian Driussi; 64’ goal by Ethan Finlay, assisted by Alex Ring and Sebastian Driussi; 90’ goal by Ethan Finlay, assisted by Diego Fagúndez)

Week 1 - 5-0 W vs. Cincinnati (2’ goal by Cecilio Domínguez, assisted by Zan Kolmanic; 14’ goal by Alex Ring, assisted by Nick Lima; 43’ goal by Sebastian Driussi, assisted by Diego Fagúndez; 61’ goal by Cecilio Domínguez, assisted by Sebastian Driussi and Daniel Pereira; ‘90+3 own goal by Alec Kanni

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Last Season

Like many expansion teams, Austin FC faced a daunting road trip as their baptism into Major League Soccer last season. The newcomers got off to a decent start, picking up a win against the Rapids in Colorado in their second game, before taking down the Loons at Allianz Field in their third game.

Austin is still looking for its first road victory since that day in St. Paul on May 1, 2021. 

Major League Soccer’s 27th franchise put some good results together at home after opening Q2 Stadium in mid-June, but the losses piled up on the road, and Josh Wolff’s side finished with 31 points on a record of 9-21-4 for a second-to-last finish in the West. Their -21 goal differential was the steepest mark in the conference.

More

Hi, Ethan Finlay! As my esteemed colleague David Naylor noted in the First Touches for this week, Sunday will be a historic reunion with former Loon Ethan Finlay.

“Finlay still has the second-most appearances in a Loons uniform in their time in MLS; he is one of only four players to play over 6,000 minutes for MNUFC; his 19 goals for the club remain fourth in club history; and he’s one of only nine players to record more than ten assists for the club.”

Finlay has made two starts and played in all five games of this season. He tallied a brace in Austin’s 5-1 drubbing of Inter Miami, his first two-goal-game since he provided both goals for the Loons in a 2-2 draw against Houston on October 18, 2020.

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The Defense

Austin FC conceded a total of 56 goals in 2021, tying Dallas for most goals allowed in the West. They’re off to a much better start this season and have allowed just five goals thus far. While the Loons have been fantastic on the defensive side of the field in 2022, the continuity Austin’s backline has been able to enjoy is the stuff of premium jealousy. 

Wolff has started two different backlines in five games. 5th overall MLS SuperDraft pick, Kipp Keller, started the first two games of the season at left centerback before getting replaced by Ruben Gabrielsen in the third. That’s it. That’s the only change. Zan Kolmanic, Julio Cascante, and Nick Lima have made every start at their respective positions in front of goalkeeper Brad Stuver who has also started every game.  

The results have been mostly good. Last week’s 2-2 draw marked the first time they conceded multiple goals, and one of them came on a controversial penalty, which Jeremy Ebobisse converted followed by a Cade Cowell equalizer moments later. Austin FC knows as well as anyone how valuable away points can be, but there is certainly a bad taste lingering in the mouths of their defense to not come away with three points in that one. The type of bad taste that can only be washed away by keeping a convincing clean sheet on your home field.

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The Attack

Schedule shmedule, soccer teams don’t get to choose who they play and when. After the schedule comes out, you have one job to do: beat the next team. And in order to beat teams at soccer, you need to score more goals than they do. Scoring five goals in a single game turns out to be a pretty effective strategy, one that served Austin well in the early going of 2022.

The cynics can point to the back-to-back five spots Austin hung on FC Cincinnati and Inter Miami to open the season, look at the teams they were playing, and give a big old shrug. I’m an optimist, though, and 10 goals in two games is a ton of goals no matter who you’re playing. This will be a tough test, even for a stingy Loons side that is tied for the second-fewest goals conceded in the Western Conference so far this season. 

Austin is tied with LAFC for the league lead in goals with 13. Austin has also assisted on all 13 of those goals, which is tops in the league (New York Red Bulls are 2nd with 10). Of those 13, 12 have come from inside the 18-yard-box, and the one that didn’t, well, you’re going to want to watch the one that didn’t.

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Final Thought

Austin and Minnesota are two of five teams in the Western Conference who have collected eight points in five games. The story of the wildly different paths both teams have taken to this point can be told in the goal differential. Austin holds the upper hand in that category with a +8 against +1 for the Loons. While it’s foolish to haggle over playoff position after (checks notes) only five games, Austin’s expansion struggles are long in the rearview mirror, and I expect to see them flirting with the thin red playoff line all season.

Austin is looking to defend their home turf and earn a convincing three points after their sizzling start to the season has cooled off. Minnesota hopes to brush off the first defeat of the season and put multiple balls in the back of the net for the first time this season against a fellow playoff hopeful. Big hopes and big expectations heading into this one against an opponent Minnesota could very well be fighting for playoff position when Austin comes up North for the grudge match in August.

MATCH INFO
Austin FC vs. Minnesota United FC

Q2 Stadium | Austin, Texas

04.10.22 | MLS Game No. 6

6:30 pm CT (FS1, FOX Deportes, SKOR North)