Nashville SC take on expansion side Austin FC on Sunday night in a primetime, nationally televised matchup in front of a near full capacity Nissan Stadium. To get up to date on Austin, with spoke with Chris Bils of The Striker Texas.
Ben Wright: Nashville and Austin have drawn some comparisons for their roster builds, with both taking a more modest-budget approach than we’ve seen from the LAFCs and Atlantas of the league, but both putting a big emphasis on smart spending. How have Austin gone about building their team, and how are they similar or different from Nashville’s year one approach?
Chris Bils: I do think the comparisons are fair, especially when you look at the MLS veterans both teams brought in. Walker Zimmerman/Alex Ring; Matt Besler/Dax McCarty. And some of the steals they have near the bottom of the roster are very similar. Right down to not doing as much as you might expect from the expansion draft. I guess Nashville could chalk that up to having to pick against another team.
BW: On the field, what’s Austin’s identity? How does Josh Wolff want his side to play?
CB: Are you familiar with the current U.S. men’s national team? I know, it’s been awhile since we had to care. But it’s pretty much that. So far, Josh Wolff has stayed true to his 4-3-3, positional play system that puts emphasis on possession as well as the wingers and fullbacks being in synch with one another. When it works, like it did in the second half against Colorado, it’s a thing of beauty. The one twist I think Wolff has added is a little more oomph to the press, which was best implemented against Minnesota United in Week 3.
BW: Results have seemed a bit up and down so far. How has their start to the season been, and is their current 10th place position a good reflection of where they are?
CB: If you ask Wolff and the players, they feel like they should have more than six points. I do think it’s a good reflection, though, in the sense that Wolff is sending his team out to try to win. It’s admirable, really, but there are going to be matches like Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy where something goes awry (SKC) or you’re just outmanned (LA). It’s been a bit of a roller coaster. More Maverick than Millennium Force. (If you know, you know.)
BW: Obviously Covid has thrown things off, but how has the reception of the team been in Austin? Is there good buzz locally?
CB: It’s been incredible watching this club come to life over the past month. People who barely knew what I was talking about when I said “Austin FC” are now asking me about the matches they watched, and the footage from watch parties have been insane. More than 200 fans went to Colorado, and the supporters groups are expecting similar attendance this weekend at Nissan Stadium.
BW: From what you’ve seen of Nashville, how do you expect Austin to approach this one? Do you think they’ll match up well?
CB: I think it’s a really intriguing matchup. Two similarly built teams with very different coaching methodologies. That’s the focus of a piece I’m writing this week, actually. I think if Austin can find a way to feed Cecilio Domínguez the ball in the middle, it might be able to find some joy. Otherwise, it might be a long day against those Nashville counterattacks.
BW: If you’re comfortable giving one, do you have a lineup/score prediction for Sunday?
CB: I’ll go 1-1. Another draw won’t be what Nashville fans are hoping for, but I think getting points is crucial for Austin before heading to Seattle next week.
Thanks to Chris for his expertise. Make sure to follow all the great coverage over at The Striker Texas, and check out our full conversation with him on last night’s episode of Speedway Soccer live.