Winds of perception shift constantly for a major league franchise. Take Austin FC. The Verde and Black first played Sporting Kansas City on May 9, entering the match on a two-game winning streak and with six points out of nine through three games of the season. The Oaks were riding high when a seventh-minute goal by Jon Gallagher produced a 1-0 lead that was held until late in the second half.
The proverbial wheels fell off in the second half when Alex Ring was shown a second yellow, which resulted in a red card and forced Austin FC to finish the match with 10 men. Sporting Kansas City took advantage, scoring two goals in the final nine minutes plus stoppage time to steal three points.
Ring, the club’s first ever captain, said he apologized to the team for his recklessness and that he’ll take full responsibility for the loss when he met with the media following the tie against Seattle. He showed leadership skills by not shying away from questions about the red card, which was the first in his club career.
“I will learn from that mistake. I take responsibility for the Kansas City loss,” he said. “I know that the team supports me.”
Austin FC hasn’t won since. In fact, Austin FC hasn’t scored since. El Tree lost its next three games, stopping the skid in the most recent match at Seattle Sounders in a scoreless draw. Austin FC rode into Kansas City with six points on May 9. The Oaks return June 12 with only seven points, one more than five weekends ago.
“We got away from our intensity, and that is what makes us good. We are at our best when we play hard for each other and not as individuals,” Ring said. “We don’t have anyone who can score goals like Messi. We need to do it with a team performance, and we got back to the basics with a result (in Seattle).”
That lack of intensity might be exhaustion. Austin FC has flown more than 10,000 miles through the first seven weeks of the season. Austin FC was offered a respite. MLS was off last weekend, providing head coach Josh Wolff with an opportunity to give his players a break.
“We gave them a few days off after Seattle. These are tough trips,” Wolff said Friday at his weekly press conference. “We hope it creates some freshness, and this time gives us a chance to incorporate some new ideas. We knew the first seven games would give us a chance to see where we are as a team.”
Where they are as a team is in 11th place in the Western Conference. Austin FC would be in sixth place with 10 points if the Oaks eked out the win in K.C. Austin FC needs goals. El Tree is dead last in the Western Conference with only five goals. Only three players have scored for Austin FC through six matches. The only time the Oaks scored more than once in a match was on April 24 against Colorado Rapids.
“We could be a little more direct and aggressive when we need more bite offensively,” Wolff said. “On set pieces, we need to be cleverer and have better execution on the offensive side.”
A seven-game road trip turned into an eight-match odyssey when Major League Soccer rescheduled the match against Sporting from July to June 12. Austin FC gets a chance to avenge that 2-1 loss with a 2 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. That journey ends after the match in Kansas City. Austin FC will play 17 of its final 26 matches at Q2 Stadium, including the June 19 opener against San Jose Earthquakes.