#WolffIn or #WolffOut?
Just halfway through the first season, Head Coach Josh Wolff is enduring the heat from disgruntled Austin FC fans after weeks of lackluster results.
In 17 weeks, the MLS expansion team has fallen to the bottom of the Western Conference, tallied just 13 goals—the lowest in the league—and has been shut out of all but two matches in their own home fortress.
Wolff has become the unfortunate face of the blame as pressure mounts, stating a clear "we need to score" mantra with increasingly frustrated undertones.
Bali, Austin FC fan and champion of the #WolffOut movement on Twitter, has been skeptical of the first-time head coach since before it was warranted; as the weeks go by, he's seen responses shift from calling him "crazy" to asking to wave a "Wolff Out" banner with him at the next home match.
"To me, he wasn't the guy since the beginning," Bali said.
Bali, pictured center, has been skeptical of Wolff since the beginning. (Bali/Twitter)
It wasn't until the FC Dallas match—which saw Austin's triple threat, Designated Players Tomas Pochettino, Cecilio Dominguez and Sebastian Driussi, out of the starting lineup in a 2-0 rivalry loss—that Bali said others began to catch on. "That kind of woke everyone up," Bali said.
The FC Dallas loss was the "nail in the coffin" for some of the seven busloads of fans that traveled to the rivalry match, and the feeling didn't get much sweeter as Austin fell 1-0 in a tumultuous road loss to Real Salt Lake.
Some who stay on the "Wolff In" side say that the lack of success was expected for an expansion team, drawing references to the 2002 Houston Texans and other MLS expansion teams—just four of which have been granted playoff berth in their first season in the past decade.
"I hope people can find peace and just enjoy the fact that we have a team, that we are out there with other great U.S. and international cities like Los Angeles & Monterrey, Mexico," fan Brandon Farmahini said. "I hope they can be happy just knowing that we have a common rallying point in our community that allows people of all different shapes and colors to come together in order to not only create a dynamic and addicting experience in the stands but also to make positive improvements to the city itself."
Others are more blunt with their disapproval of Wolff's "play from the back" strategy and often-cautious substitution decisions.
"You know that game that babies play with putting the shapes through the correct holes?" Austin FC fan Zachary Ullman said. "He keeps trying to put the square shape through the triangle hole week after week after week."
Wolff has been a stickler for his strategy all season. Since Day 1, Wolff, a former protegee of U.S. Men's National Team head coach Greg Berhalter, has stuck to possession-heavy gameplay, constructing a complex style that falls heavily into positional play.
But it doesn't seem like the players are buying into the brand, Austin FC fan Michael Bartlemay said.
"My primary concern right now is that it doesn't really feel like the team is getting better," Bartlemay said. "My question is, is do the players buy into what Josh Wolff is selling? My biggest fear right now is not that Josh Wolff is astute tactically, it's not about patience or judgment, it's about, 'are the players getting what he's selling?' Because if not, it's not going to work."
Austin FC fan Barrett Dietz, who said he is "awfully close" to converting to the "Wolff Out" movement, said Wolff will need to switch to his players' strengths to stay on board.
"Wolff needs to bend his tactics to the players in the squad, plain and simple," Dietz said. "At halfway through the season, our offense is still painfully inadequate and that's on Wolff."
It doesn't help that the team doesn't have a striker. Well before the signing and arrival of Driussi, the team hoped to alleviate that with the signing of 22-year-old striker Moussa Djitte in late June. Over a month later, Djitte finally turned up in Austin but still has no concrete date set for his debut with the team.
While fans understand what lacking a striker can do to a team, some wonder what error in leadership kept Djitte, who hasn't played since May, out for so long in the first place. Others wonder if Djitte alone can settle their ever-mounting scoring woes.
Wolff's cautious gameplay has even led some fans to believe the worst of all: he simply doesn't care about losing as much as they do.
"His lineup selection vs. Dallas really put me over the edge," Austin FC fan Chris Welhausen said. "He completely ignored the fans' desire to win that game... I still can't think of another coach in the world who would (bench star players) on a rivalry game. Something else that really frustrates me about him is he has yet to take clear responsibility or apologize to the fans, which again makes me think he views this as his team, not our club."
Some worry that a lack of success on the pitch may lead to lack of interest in the team, especially for new soccer fans.
Bali takes that fear seriously, and he's prepared to take action.
"If I have to be in there with the Wolff sign all by myself, I'll do it," Bali said. "Because I'm taking this into my own hands. I clearly see that this will not change."
While Bali would've ousted Wolff two weeks ago, others are giving Wolff until the end of the season before their support goes sour. But the most positive of the bunch hope to see Wolff's slow-burn tactics turn successful. Austin fan Mike Carr said fan's should wait three years before they carry the anti-Wolff pitchfork themselves.
"Good coaches do not get stupid overnight," Carr said. Wolff has proven a good tactician. Austin FC is following the same experience path as the USMNT; it takes players longer to grasp more complex schemes. We don't want style that wins yesterday's skill level."
Still, Bali said things could turn toxic quick if Wolff and the team's scoring woes continue.
"It's going to get to a point where it's going to be toxic," Bali said. "'Wolff In' and 'Wolff Out.'"
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Austinites love their pets and even more so, they love to name them Charlie and Luna, according to the latest report.
The two names topped both top male and female categories for dogs and cats in the annual end-of-year report from Rover, a site for dog care. While the names Charlie and Luna topped the Austin lists, they came in second nationally. Luna goes on another year of reigning, while Charlie climbed up to the top spot this year.
Top dog names of 2021 in Austin
Top cat names of 2021 in Austin
But that's not to say the year's events and other factors didn't have an impact on how people named their furry friends. Here are some notable trends seen this year in Austin pet names.
- Food-inspired names: Hershey is up 1,030% for dogs, while Sushi is up 944% and Bean is up 544% for cats.
- Alcohol-inspired names: Tequila is up 630% and Merlot is up 330% for dogs.
- Olympics: Manny, after Puerto Rican skateboarder Manny Santiago, is up 730% for dogs. Amber, inspired by U.S. Women’s Skeet Shooting Gold Medalist Amber English, is up 730%.
- Pop-culture: Dogs named Greta are trending up 930%, which could be inspired by rock band Greta Van Fleet.
- COVID: For the first time in Austin, the dog names Rona and Zoom made the list.
- Austin weather: Storm is the most popular new-to-the-list name for cats. Snow was also new to the list.
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Looks like Austin FC is cleaning house—and they're taking a few Verde faves out ahead of the 2022 season.
Following the retirement of defender Matt Besler, the club's original 33-man roster was trimmed to 22 in roster changes announced Tuesday.
(From top left) Players Emmanuel Perez, Jared Stroud, Ben Sweat, Aaron Schoenfield, Brady Scott, Aedan Stanley, Kekuta Manneh and Sebastian Berhalter will not be with Austin FC for the 2022 season. (mlssoccer.com)
Austin FC declined its contract options for six players, including:
- Kekuta Manneh
- Aaron Schoenfeld
- Brady Scott
- Aedan Stanley
- Jared Stroud
- Ben Sweat
Stroud became an early fan favorite for the team after helping teammate Diego Fagundez to the team's first goal in April, racking up a second assist just one match later with another Fagundez goal. After a few months of limited appearances, Stroud started once again in November and attempted his first MLS goal, but no dice.
Manneh, a forward, showed promise as Austin FC's first Austinite: a Gambia native, Manneh played soccer in the Texas capital while in high school and early in his professional career. Manneh showed energy on the pitch but never saw his efforts translate to the stat board.
By the start of the season, Sweat had secured a starting spot as left back for Austin FC but tore his ACL in the Colorado Rapids match on April 17, putting him off the pitch for the remainder of the season.
Both under 23, Stanley and Scott saw few appearances to the Verde pitch. In May, Scott went on loan to play as goalkeeper for USL Championship side Memphis 901. Schoenfield, a 31-year-old forward, has played briefly for various MLS and USL teams as well as professional teams in Israel.
Austin FC also announced that they would not exercise the transfer options for Sebastian Berhalter and Emmanuel Perez, both of whom spent the 2021 season in Verde on loan.
Berhalter, the son of U.S. Men's National Team Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, filled some big shoes in key moments of the season as central midfielder. At just 20, Berhalter started five times in the key position for Captain Alex Ring. Perez made four starts as forward for Austin FC.
(From left) Captain Alex Ring, Will Pulisic and Freddy Kleemann all had their contracts renewed with Austin FC for the 2022 season.
It wasn't all doom and gloom. The club held on to the following for the 2022 season:
- Captain Ring
- Freddy Kleemann
- Will Pulisic
Ring, known as one of the top defensive midfielders in the league, had a rocky but rewarding road as Austin FC's captain in their inaugural season. Despite two red cards that rendered him out of two key matches, Ring tallied four goals and three assists as he led the team throughout the season, earning MLS Team of the Week honors multiple times.
At 22, Kleemann made just three appearances in central midfield for Austin FC but showed potential toward the end of the season. Pulisic wasn't able to start due to fellow goalkeeper Brad Stuver's standout success, but the cousin of Chelsea standout Christian Pulisic has plenty of years left in the tank.
Austin FC now has three goalkeepers, six defenders, seven midfielders and six forwards as the team's brief offseason continues. After the retirement of legendary central midfielder Matt Besler, the team will need to make strong signing options in the back and midfield positions in the MLS SuperDraft and transfer seasons before their first match against FC Cincinnati on Saturday, February 26.
But don't worry about fan favorites Fagundez, Sebastian Driussi or Stuver: all 22 other players are still firmly rooted in place for the upcoming season.
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Just as the world takes a breath from the Delta variant-induced third COVID surge that pushed hospitals past capacity this summer, a new variant—the omicron—is forcing countries around the world to once again consider shutting their doors.
It's too early to tell whether the variant will have the devastating effects of the Delta variant, the Mu variant—which accounted for 3% of U.S. cases before dropping off almost entirely by October—or somewhere in between. But as omicron continues to rise sharply in all provinces of South Africa, the Biden administration is reintroducing some travel restrictions that went into effect Monday.
As the variant spreads to countries around the world, including Canada, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, the World Health Organization declared omicron a "variant of concern"—though some are calling the move premature.
What is omicron?
The omicron variant, B.1.1.529, is now under strict watch from the WHO after quickly spreading throughout Southern Africa.
It's genetically different from the Alpha and Delta variants and has up to 30 mutations in its genetic code, leading some to worry that the risk of retransmission from those who have already had COVID could be high. The strain's mutations could also aid omicron in beating out other strains and spreading more quickly to hosts.
Omicron is the latest version of the coronavirus to cause concern. Here’s what we know about where it’s spread so far and what makes it different than other variants that came before. https://t.co/ncciXnIuw9
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 29, 2021
It appears to be doing the trick. While an Associated Press report found that case numbers in South Africa are still well below other pandemic peaks—3,220 new cases were reported in South Africa on Saturday— up to 90% of new cases in the South African province of Gauteng are omicron.
The strain's effects seem to be mild so far, and hospitals haven't been overburdened yet, though hospitalizations are rising.
And doctors worry that the full extent of the variant hasn't been realized. Vaccine hesitancy is strong among South Africa's youngest population—22% of those aged 18 to 34 are vaccinated—and most of those infected with COVID have been in those younger age groups. Doctors worry that older age groups will be more adversely affected.
And while experts in the country expected a fourth surge and possible variant, the omicron still came as a "shock" as it quickly spread to all nine South African provinces and other continents. It's now the first strain labeled as a "variant of concern" since the Delta variant.
It's unclear if the variant is more immune to vaccines, although some signs indicate that it's a possibility.
Where has it been detected?
Cases of the Covid omicron variant have appeared in more than a dozen countries as of Monday. https://t.co/2bPapBIYK2 pic.twitter.com/idnQ6LjIfH
— NBC News Graphics (@NBCNewsGraphics) November 29, 2021
The omicron strain still hasn't been detected in dozens of countries, and it's far from the first strain to make a mark since Delta. But it's coincided with a quick uptick in cases in South Africa, where it was originally found, and became the dominant strain in Pretoria, a city of around 750,000, in just a few weeks.
Omicron is now present in nearby Botswana and has jumped on board flights to Europe, Asia, Australia and North America. Hong Kong has detected three cases, while 10 European nations including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Germany have found a total of 45 cases. Canada has detected three cases, and none have yet been found in the United States.
What has been done?
Against the wishes of both South Africa and the WHO, several countries have decided to once again shut their doors.
After detecting an omicron case, Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners, while Morocco suspended incoming international air travel for two weeks. Dozens of countries are restricting travel from Southern Africa to South Africa's chagrin—the government said travel restrictions are “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.”
The WHO also called for borders to remain open as closing borders appears to have a limited effect on the spread of variants, and many countries are hesitant to clamp down on restrictions that have limited its citizens for so long.
The United States said in a statement Friday that it would restrict travel from eight southern African countries except for citizens and permanent U.S. residents who test negative for the virus.
White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that it's "too early to say" whether tightened COVID restrictions will be needed to combat omicron but that citizens must be ready to do “anything and everything” to prevent its spread.
When will we know more?
The WHO said it will take around two weeks to gauge the full effects of omicron, from its ability to evade vaccines to its contagiousness.
For now, countries have once again urged their citizens to get vaccinated. Some vaccine companies have already spoken about the strain, including Moderna, which said Sunday that a new vaccine that protects against the variant could be released in early 2022 if needed.
For now, Fauci said that the country must "prepare for the worst" just in case omicron becomes the culprit of yet another surge.
“Inevitably, it will be here. The question is will we be prepared for it? If and when, and it’s going to be when, it comes here hopefully we will be ready for it,” Fauci said.
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