As Austin FC's standings continue to plummet, so does their fans' confidence in the team's game plan.
In August, we asked fans on Twitter why some of them think Head Coach Josh Wolff should be ousted just a few months into his first season. Dozens of fans left (very lengthy) responses on various ends of the #WolffOut spectrum, but all came to a clear consensus: the new club's game plan is not working.
That lack of cohesion was made all too clear over the weekend. In what may have been the lowest blow yet for the stumbling first-year team, Austin gave up a point to last-place Houston Dynamo within the first minute of play in a 3-0 loss on Saturday.
Some of Austin's flaws seem to contradict Wolff's original game plan: a lack of intensity, unforced errors and a lack of confidence in the final third continue to beset the team. But sometimes the team's biggest issues are hard to see with the naked eye.
Los Nerdes Verdes (from left: Sal and Erin Kubatzky, Travis Greenfield and Kingsley Powers-Greenfield) seek to find answers to Austin's biggest triumphs and defeats through the numbers. (Los Nerdes Verdes)
Each week, the two find a dataset that stands out to them and create fun, engaging tables and graphs to break down the club's best-and worst-stats.
"Saggy in the Middle"
Last game, errant passes and giveaways in the back plagued Austin. However, those giveaways may be covering up some more systemic defensive issues in the middle of the field where we struggle to put on meaningful pressure or make tackles. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/HTCXoqLuoY— Los Nerdes Verdes (@LosNerdesVerdes) September 4, 2021
When Austin FC lost 5-3 to rivals FC Dallas and lost a lead in a 2-1 defeat to the Vancouver Whitecaps, many fans pointed to the team's slow defense and errors from center backs Julio Cascante and Jhohan Romana, but the Nerdes found another culprit.
Austin FC is "Saggy in the Middle," the two said, ranking 24th and 27th of the MLS's 28 teams in tackles and pressure in the middle third of the field.
(1/2) With just 40.2% of Austin FC's touches coming in the middle third. That's good for 2nd last in the league.— Los Nerdes Verdes (@LosNerdesVerdes) August 14, 2021
Our opponents this season have spent just 39.7% of their possession in the middle of the field, a full 4% under the league average! pic.twitter.com/zIUI90eOYB
A few weeks earlier, the duo also found flaws in the middle: as of Aug. 14, Austin FC holds just 40% of their possession in midfield, ranking second to last in the league.
"Possession is nine-tenths of the law"
(2/3) This week’s matchup is a prime example of that dichotomy. The Sounders, despite averaging 48.3% possession, are second in the league goals per game and first in goals given up with just .64 a game. pic.twitter.com/aPczc8FZpm— Los Nerdes Verdes (@LosNerdesVerdes) July 22, 2021
Wolff's "positional play" method—a complex style popular in European leagues—has yet to pay off, and neither has their tendency to hold possession. According to Greenfield, holding possession has a higher correlation to success in Europe, South America and other high-caliber leagues. But it doesn't hold much weight in MLS.
"A lot of people touted the way Josh Wolff wants to play as something that's going to be kind of revolutionary... and that's very possession-heavy style, soccer that hasn't been done successfully in the MLS too much," Greenfield said. "And the way that kind of manifests on itself on the field so far seems to be this willingness to hold on to the ball, play a lot of passes, but something that's not necessarily good for progressing forward."
(1/2) Austin boasts some of the best passing statistics in the league – 2nd in pass comp/game and 1st in comp%.— Los Nerdes Verdes (@LosNerdesVerdes) July 31, 2021
However, only 30.5% of the distance covered by Austin passing is towards the opponents goal. That’s almost 4% under the MLS average and good for 24th comparatively. pic.twitter.com/rLBFIvuOvk
Austin's inability to transfer possession into goals may come down to their passing, which is actually impressive at first glance. While the team is second in MLS for pass completion, they aren't as adept in passing up the field. That translates to big losses to teams like the Seattle Sounders that tend to hold off on possession.
A silver lining
Austin FC— Los Nerdes Verdes (@LosNerdesVerdes) June 19, 2021
xGA: 2.16 (26th)
GA: 1.13 (10th)
The largest gap in the league. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/o2rEWjebma
Austin is an outlier in a few positive ways as well. In June, the Nerdes found that while Austin's expected goals against are high, the actual number of goals they give up are shockingly low. As of June 19, the team was expected to give up 2.16 goals per match, the second-most in the league, they actually rank 10th in keeping teams out of goal.
Greenfield said this comes down to two factors: the power of keeper Brad Stuver and the defense's shot-blocking prowess, though both have been less effective in recent weeks.
"In the story you tell about Austin FC this season, especially through the statistics, you have to mention Brad Stuver," Greenfield said. "It's this bend, don't break method where we allow them to come into the defensive third and try to clamp down."
This week we are playing Sporting KC which will be a TOUGH test. They lead the league in goals and goals per game. They are near the top of the league in goal distance, and they convert almost all of their expected goals. Their offense is efficient AND productive. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/fAdn5ezR97— Los Nerdes Verdes (@LosNerdesVerdes) June 12, 2021
While Greenfield admits that numbers reveal only part of the story, he's found Los Nerdes Verdes have united both seasoned soccer fans and newbies with their fun, Austin-centric content (see headlines like "Austin FC takes shots from Manchaca").
"There is a huge group of people who like to engage in soccer the same way that we do.. and it's just been really fun to try to bring those two types of fans together in a way," Greenfield said.
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Austin is seeing an increase in luxury home sales of almost two times the Texas average, according to the latest Texas luxury home sales report.
The report analyzed luxury home sales, or homes priced at $1 million and higher, from November 2019 through October 2020 for the Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio areas. Despite Austin luxury housing being more expensive per square foot at $443 compared to the statewide average of $360, it still continues to outperform every other major Texas city.
The Austin metropolitan statistical area, or MSA, has had 1,534 homes sell for over $1 million between November 2019 and October 2020. This is a 41% increase over the previous year compared to the Texas average of just under 24%.
Luxury homes in the area also spend less time on the market than other major cities. While Dallas, Houston and San Antonio's homes spend, respectively, averages of 78, 79 and 133 days on the market, Austin-area homes only spend an average of 71 days sitting empty.
The relocation of celebrities such as Joe Rogan, James Van Der Beek and now Chris Harrison to Austin contributes to the increased demand for high-end real estate. Realtors have had to resort to more creative efforts to bring homes to their buyers when there is sometimes only one $20 million home on the market at a time, a realtor told Austonia last month.
Austin is seriously falling behind in housing inventory. While a healthy housing market is defined by experts as having six months of housing inventory, Austin has just under four. Dallas has the healthiest inventory with seven months worth of housing on the market.
Given the decline in housing inventory, it is no wonder why Austin housing is getting costlier. Austin Board of Realtors President Romeo Manzanilla said in a statement this last month that Austin's falling inventory "will put enormous pressure on home prices" and encouraged city leaders to think about ways to make the market more sustainable in its longterm growth.
More on luxury real estate:
Property crimes were up in April over last year, but violent crimes were down, as Austin residents settled deeper into quarantine mode during the first full month the city was shut down to avoid spread of the coronavirus, according to a new report from Austin Police Chief Brian Manley.
The April numbers, released this week in the Chief's Monthly Crime Report, count the number of times police were called for crimes ranging from homicide to gambling.
They appear to tell the story of a city hunkering down and staying off the streets—with fewer crimes like pick-pocketing and shoplifting, fewer violent incidents, and more property crimes that are easier done with no one around.
There's also an overall 38% drop, compared with April 2019, in crimes typically encountered by patrols or neighborhood watch groups: weapons violations, drug charges, prostitution, gambling and other violations known as "crimes against society."
"It all has to do with people not being outside," said Austin police Det. Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association. "They're locked up and scared to go outside. I think the more you see people going out and feeling comfortable leaving the house, the more crime you'll see."
When the lockdown began in mid-March, police saw an uptick in violence, which they attributed to tensions boiling over in the early days of the pandemic.
In April, violent crime dropped, dipping some 13% below last year's rate.
Casaday said those changes could be attributed to regular statistical swings, less reporting and fewer opportunities.
The sharpest decline in violence, both from March to April and over last year's numbers, came in simple assaults, which commonly occur during bar fights and muggings—no deadly weapons and no major injuries.
But with no bars open and fewer people roaming the streets, these types of attacks were down from 933 in March to 791 in April. The numbers are similar when compared with April 2019.
Casaday said the lack of nightlife activity is a clear contributor to that drop, likely short lived.
"Once you start seeing the bars open up, I think you'll see more of that," he said.
Property crimes like robberies, arsons, burglaries, auto thefts and car break-ins saw significant increases from the same month and time span as last year.
Manley said a large chunk of those are typically perpetrated by teenagers, who now have no school or activities to occupy their time.
"With the kids not being in school and a lot of the parents working, it's a good mix for property crime," he said.
Asked whether economic desperation is a factor, Manley said he hasn't seen that yet.
"But the longer this goes on, and the more people that become homeless or without a paycheck, I would expect those types of things to increase," he said.
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There is a 64% chance that the COVID-19 peak has already passed in Texas, and a 99% chance it has passed across the U.S., according to the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. In a week, the chance that the peak has passed in Texas will increase to 89%.
The consortium used local caseload and death data, as well as cell phone GPS data, to develop its projections. The peak is defined as the day on which the model predicts the average daily death rate stops increasing.
The consortium's findings track with the projections of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The national peak in daily deaths from COVID-19 was a week ago, per the IHME, and in Texas it was six days ago.
Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told Austin City Council at a work session yesterday that while Austin is flattening the curve it remains unclear when the local peak will occur—or a second wave will arise.
"We've had factors change over the past two weeks that may impact or stretch out that peak, namely the reactivation of construction as well as the Easter holiday," he said. "We've heard anecdotally from a number of sources that a number of families have gotten together, there was still some activity that brought people together, so we're a bit concerned that we may see a little increase based upon that yet."
As of yesterday evening, Travis County has confirmed 1,232 COVID-19 cases and 27 deaths. Seventy-nine people in the 5-county region are hospitalized, with 34 in intensive care and 18 on ventilators.
Amid these projections and efforts by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to reopen businesses across the state, Dr. Escott urged continued vigilance.
"As we start to roll things out and look to roll out additional business in the future as far as reopening [the economy] is concerned, the public has got to understand this should not at all be seen as an indication that we're over this," he said during the work session. "The peak is generated by us, by our decisions as individuals, as a community."
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