Austin FC has a short – but mostly blissful – history in MLS. Relying on a creative attacking style, the Texas club went from 12th place in their first season in 2021 to second in 2022.
This season, however, the team floundered. Austin FC is 11th in the West and has the second-worst goal differential in the conference. In March, they were knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League by a Haitian club that hadn’t played a competitive game in over a year.
Perhaps most alarmingly, Austin FC have gone 355 minutes – and counting – without scoring. So why is the team underperforming?
Turns out Austin isn’t underperforming at all. Instead, it fails to live up to its massive outperformance from 2022.
The biggest giveaway is expected goals from Austin or xG. In its simplest terms, xG reflects the probability that an offensive action results in the ball finding the back of the net. There is a lot of hard data that specifies this probability, from the position on the pitch where the action occurs to the part of the player’s body involved.
But it all comes down to that final number. So if a team starts a match with an xG of 2.4, that means the data says the team will score 2.4 goals in the match. It’s a stat that has been proven to be simple, clean, and reliable.
Austin’s xG for 2022 was 50.9. But somehow, the Texas team managed to blow that number and score 64 goals.
Austin FC forward Sebastian Driussi outperformed his personal xG by six points. These are huge gaps at the team level and at the individual level. This year, however, things seem a little more in line. Austin’s 2023 xG is 8.9 and the team has scored six goals – slightly less but nothing out of the ordinary.
What these shortcomings in xG tell us is how much luck Austin had on its side during a wild playoff run in 2022.
A nearly 13-goal surplus for the entire season shows that many of Austin’s offenses weren’t as incisive or reliable as they could have been – otherwise those goals would have been reflected in the xG stat .
And that’s a problem for Austin, because it looks like coach Josh Wolff may have seen the goals coming and mistakenly assumed everything was fine. After all, he has hardly changed his game tactics in 2023.
But things weren’t going well. Austin’s lucky goals hid a defensive weakness that teams ruthlessly exploited in 2023.
Wolff likes to play from the back – an effective strategy when you’re scoring – but dangerous when you’re not. Just watch LA Galaxy’s Chicharito take advantage of a slow Austin defense last Saturday: