Musings on the Austin FC Match: Is This a Rivalry?


by Jason Goodbody

This will have been the first St. Louis CITY SC game I had not seen in person or live broadcast. Over the weekend I was in Charlottesville, VA with friends watching the University of Virginia basketball team play Georgia Tech. And while I would love to write about that, I'm sure none of you care. #GoHoos though.

In a comfy Cuban Coffee shop in downtown Charlottesville, I watched the replay Sunday morning while recovering from a late night of bourbon and stories. In anticipation of this very scenario, to make it easier on myself I had pre-written some of this piece on the plane to Virginia on Friday. So, I'll share my Mad Lib quick summary of the game and then I'll get into the musings.

This Saturday, St Louis City SC [tied] Austin SC [2-2] after a hard fought game where [Cèlio Pompeu], [Eduard Löwen], [insert 3rd goalscorer], and [insert 4th goalscorer], played with [intensity] and [energy] [despite] [trailing] for most of the match. Coach Bradley Carnell was [proud of] his team's performance saying ["They fought till the bitter end. Everyone who came in made a big impact in the game."]

You can tell I wanted to be prepared for any outcome. I was even anticipating a throttling like the 6-3 scoreapalooza CITY bestowed on Austin at home last summer. But this time around, while the performance was good, the outcome was a bit different. Let's get into some musings.

Sooooo many chances.

The score could very well have been 4-1, making my pre-made form much easier to fill out. There were plenty of shots on goal, 18 shots so the stat elves tell me. This bodes particularly well given that Sebastián Driussi, Austin's designated player and Argentinian-sourced attacking midfielder has been out with a nagging hamstring injury and here's why. Without el Crack (that's his unfortunate nickname) available to score all the goals as he's been asked to do these last two seasons, 

Austin has been employing the low block defensive strategy until at some point he heals up or they find another offensive player to be more offensive (all three of Austin FC's goals have been scored by defenders this year). 18-ish shots on goal against a low block defense is impressive, pleasantly surprising for CITY, and it is worth exploring.

The low block is traditionally used by teams whose Argentinian score-all the-goals-guy is out with a hamstring injury, or by teams desperate to maintain a healthy lead. This strategy focuses on the defensive 3rd of the field hunkering down closer to their goal. Some may call this strategy "park the bus". Others may call an Uber and leave a game early because this can make for boring soccer.

For those familiar with CITY's pressing and counter pressing style of play where success comes from pressuring the other team, creating turnovers, and catching the defense off-guard and undermanned. The low block, with so many of its players in a defensive position, can be an obvious problem for the way CITY plays.

CITY also struggled last year building up an attack using precise surgical passes and cutting through defensive positions. And by "struggle" I mean mostly unable to do it. A low block puts more players in the small spaces you already had difficulty maneuvering through. So you see, a low block is now twice the problem.

If I may use an American football analogy, CITY also likes to have its strikers Samuel Adeniran and João Klauss run post, seam and flag routes and send them long balls like it was 3rd and 25. Now imagine Austin putting 8 defensive backs deep in formation and only rushing 3. The low block is now thrice the problem for our playing strategy.

Historically (last year), against the low block defensive strategy and for the reasons stated above, CITY struggled to steal the balls, couldn't dribble and pass the balls, and had its long balls to its strikers intercepted. And yet in this game, they seemed to attack the low block well enough to have 18 shots on goal. This makes me happy and why I'm growing optimistic about this season.

Tie Games

We had a healthy conversation in the City SC Report newsroom this last week around the statistical style convention for capturing wins, losses, and ties (draws) in the stat sheets and standings tables. I've already biased the reader by starting it off this way but this is also the way American sports captures records; W-L-D. In contrast, the rest of the world shows game results in increasing order of bad outcomes; W-D-L. And this is what emerges during a slow news day, the debate over which was better.

Because our most learned and expert voices follow the English Premier League, Bundesliga, and other international football, they must toggle between the two conventions when they argue with each other about which teams deserve relegation. For a brief moment some of these same learned and expert voices confused the order and I was so gleeful watching this happen in real time but was sworn to secrecy as to who it was.

Incidentally Win Lose or Draw was also an American celebrity game show in the late 80s and early 90s modeled after Pictionary if that helps you remember the proper American order used in all other American sports. There is no record of similar European game shows entitled Win, Draw or Lose. In fact, the United Kingdom used the American name NOT, as one would expect, Win, Draw, or Lose, also because that sounds dumb.

I proposed that we instead show the game results as W-L-GT-BT, capturing Wins, Losses, Good Ties and Bad Ties. This was resoundingly overruled.

This particular game was a good tie I think. It could have easily been 4-1 CITY and could have easily been 2-1 Austin were it not for a late goal by Célio freakin' Antônio Pompeu Pinheiro Martins. It's always good to escape an away game with a point. But it may not always feel that way. Coming from behind and stealing a draw feels good… so a good tie.
Outplaying another team without its Argentinian-sourced attacking midfielder and only ending in a draw is less so.
But I'm an optimist and am feeling ok with this one, particularly after seeing how the team did against the low block. Although it would be nice to see this recorded as 1-0-1-1 in the standings.

Do we have a rivalry?

There is little about these two teams, cities, cultures, demographics, or history, that even sniffs of a rivalry. Austin doesn't even know we have barbecue. But there are several direct flights a day between the two cities and that, at a minimum, is a crucial start. Budding rivalries can't start between cities that need connecting flights through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport. I think that may be an MLS rule.

But from the opening whistle, there was an intensity infused by both teams into this game that may someday be worthy of a clever derby moniker. Maybe it'll be the Shawnee Cattle Trail Cup, named after an obscure cattle driving trail connecting stockyards in central Texas to St Louis railheads in the late 1800s. Or not.

Late game goals are now good

Last season, CITY had gotten into an ugly habit of giving up late scores and evaporating away a win or ruining an otherwise comfortable draw and an assured point. If some of the games so far this year are any indication, St. Louis may be figuring out how to leverage what Carnell describes as fighting to the "bitter end". We expect to see more late game heroics like Kijima bringing home a win against Houston in the first CONCACAF match in the 90' and Cèlio destroying the dreams of a half-filled Q2 Stadium in Austin. It is going to be a good season.

Update your oven clock

Speaking of stuff going on Sunday, remember that daylight savings time started…or ended. No, I'm pretty sure it was the start of it. Listen. I'm a pretty smart fella. I've been on this orbiting ball of dirt for quite a while and I understand we have an axial tilt of 23°, causing seasonal sunlight discrepancies throughout the year and I still can't remember how this all works. So I will just say this. Don't forget to look at your phone's clock and wonder if you just lost an hour or gained an hour. I think we sprung sideways…or something.

We've been up-Sweded: Rasmus Alm returns

After recovering from a surgery correcting a sports hernia and being out since last November, Rasmus Alm subbed for Aziel Jacksonin the 86th minute. Many were fearful that Alm would be out for a Klauss-length of time and so his return was a relief for those with an eye on the calendar. While I didn't see much in the short time he was in the game, we can be excited for what is in store for this dynamic attacking midfielder.

Austin FC is now winless against St Louis CITY SC in three games over the history of this apparent rivalry. Not much to gloat over over-priced craft cocktails and roots rock music in the 2nd Street District but it's a start.

See you next time.  #AllForCITY

Check out musings from the NYCFC match. 

Photos courtesy of St Louis City SC