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PREVIEW: After a week of rest, Austin FC faces first rematch against Sporting Kansas City

Austin FC lost big against Kansas City last time, and they're looking for a rematch after their first week of rest. (Sporting Kansas City/Twitter)

After a brutal seven-game road stretch against some of the toughest teams in the MLS, Austin FC was in need of some good news. Luckily, they got it: the underdog club forced No. 1 Seattle Sounders to their first scoreless draw of the season and is coming in fresh off of their first weekend break so far.

At the beginning of the season, being relentless, having intensity and keeping a high tempo were all key factors in Austin FC's identity, according to head coach Josh Wolff. That willingness to fight was curbed at times by exhaustion and injuries, but Wolff said they've taken their week off to hit the "reset" button.

"We've been kind of using this international break to take stock of where we're at, and think back to some of the principles that we kind of started out with," he said.

Now, Austin FC is seeing another good omen as they head into their first-ever rematch. The club is slated to play Sporting Kansas City, the former stomping grounds of defender Matt Besler and head coach Josh Wolff, once again on Saturday. One of the top teams in the league, Kansas City beat Austin FC 2-1 in early May after a catastrophic second half for the Verde and Black. This time around, however, they'll be without key goalscorer Alan Pulido—and Austin could just get the upper hand.

Here's what to expect as Austin plays its first rematch in club history against Kansas City this Saturday:

What to expect

Sporting KC's Gianluca Busio is a 19-year-old force in the club's midfield. (Sporting Kansas City/Twitter)

Strictly on paper, Kansas City is set to win Saturday's match. KC is currently 2nd in the Western Conference compared to Austin FC's 11th, and while standings don't matter much in the league, it is telling of how each club has performed so far this season.

In eight matches, Kansas has lost just one and is coming off of a 5-2-1 record. The club has scored 15 goals, the most in the league, and KC's Dániel Sallói has the second most expected goals in MLS with 3.68.

Austin has lucked out, however, with the absence of their opponent's star forward Alan Pulido as he plays for the Mexican National Team this weekend. Pulido has accounted for one-third of Kansas City's 15 goals, and his absence will be felt at the crown of the club's offensive system. They also might see a more tired Gadi Kinda, who was called up to play for Israel's national team on Wednesday, June 9.

With Pulido gone, Kansas has lost a key cog in their machine, but they're still packing star power. The club scored three goals in 14 minutes against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday, May 30, in part thanks to a stunning free kick by 19-year-old Gianluca Busio. Busio, who has scored two goals this season, is now getting attention from high-profile European teams in Italy's Serie A.

Austin FC is coming off of a victory of sorts as well. The club may have been 'scoreless in Seattle,' but a scoreless draw against the No.1 team in the league is a victory of sorts in itself. Austin FC seemed to gain their bearings after a rough few weeks on the road, and they should be even more prepared and well-rested after a weekend at home.

The club scored against Kansas in just seven minutes last match, and they could do the same again if they manage to complete their chances up front.

Wolff said that the club held their own against Kansas City last time, and he doesn't expect much to change in KC's gameplay as they continue to press high and attempt to drive in goals.

"They're a well-oiled machine, they don't deviate from that too much," Wolff said. "We've got to go in there with a real clear picture, of what it's going to look like and how we have to match the intensity."

Projected starting lineup

For the first time this season, Austin FC could be facing a new lineup as they go into the weekend's match. Wolff hinted that a 4-4-2 or 4-3-1 lineup could soon be on the table instead of the 4-3-3 formation they've been touting this season. Still, I went with a safer bet and predicted that the 4-3-3 will stay for one more game.

Cecilio Dominguez had one of his best performances of the season against Seattle after being switched from left wing to striker, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him at the top of the lineup again this week. Jon Gallagher did his part in left wing and could be there again, although Danny Hoesen or Kekuta Manneh could also get some playing time in the new open position. Meanwhile, Jared Stroud has been consistent on right wing and is likely to stay there as he continues to create opportunities.

Jhohan Romana was reported to be practicing fully with the club this week after missing the Seattle match due to a leg injury. If recovered, he'll go back into center back over Julio Cascante.

Brad Stuver, one of just two players to have started every match this season, is near-guaranteed to be back in goal after making several "Saves of the Week" already this season.

Wolff said Stuver has exceeded his expectations as he secures his spot over Andrew Tarbell, who he was competing with for the starting position in preseason.

"His performance has been fantastic," Wolff said. "He's taken it and run with it...I think that's probably stood out the most, he's made some very good saves kept us in some games."


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