EDITORIAL – I told my wife when we got married 22 years ago that if the England men’s national team ever made the final of a major tournament, wherever in the world it was and whatever it cost, I had to be there. I had to be in that stadium. I suppose you could call it the ultimate of my bucket list items.
Austin FC share Soccer DNA with England
So, after England handsomely dispatched Ukraine at the quarter-final stage of the UEFA European Championships a couple of weekends ago, I made sure that 8 days later I was sat in Wembley (well, mostly stood!) watching England contest their first final in 55 years. It’s probably not considered good form for a writer to confess that they have no words, nothing I can write which could properly convey my emotions on that day. But this article isn’t about that day as such. It’s about something that occurred to me watching England throughout the tournament.
The England team has morphed and evolved over the past few years under the stewardship of head coach Gareth Southgate. The team I watched compete in this summer’s Euros looked strangely reminiscent of another club that I’m familiar with. The Three Lions share some significant soccer DNA with Austin FC. Consider…
Defense first: England, much like Austin, rely heavily on a sturdy rearguard. England boasted the best defensive record in Euros, conceding only 2 goals and none from open play. Just as with ATX, it all starts with their goalkeeper. Jordan Pickford and Brad Stuver have a nice line in worldly saves plus impressive records when facing penalty kicks. They’re both comfortable playing with their feet and are lauded for their distribution out of the back. They certainly don’t appear to share temperaments, something which the Austin defense is most likely grateful for.
As for the rest of the defense, Besler, Romana, and Cascante share the same battling qualities as that of Maguire, Stones, and Mings. And though the Verde faithful haven’t yet seen Žan Kolmanič open his goalscoring account, his frequent foraging runs in the opponent’s half certainly have echoes of Luke Shaw.
Win the ball, keep the ball: It might surprise some readers to learn that England won more tackles than any other team at the Euros (37). They also logged positive possession stats throughout the tournament, though not the sort of dominating numbers Austin has registered this season. England finished the tournament 10th out of 24 teams in the possession charts. The fact that the Three Lions were even trying to possess the ball instead of forcing the play represents a significant sea-change in their style of play, though.
Likewise, tenacity and a high-press have quickly become characteristic of ATX’s identity. And discounting their first Sporting Kansas City contest where they were forced to play the final 30 minutes with 10 men, despite only winning 3 of 12 games so far this season, they have dominated possession in all but 4 of them. Perhaps England could learn something from how Austin fully leans into the possession game? In turn, Austin might want to consider how England is converting their lower possession numbers into more victories?
Modern Day Managers: Josh Wolff and Southgate appear to be cut from similarly – impeccably tailored – cloth. Clean-cut, intelligent and well-spoken, pragmatic to the point of ruthless when necessary, and with a penchant for snappy dressing; but the similarities don’t end there. They are both relatively young managers (Wolff 44, Southgate 50). Also, both enjoyed decorated playing careers, including over 50 international appearances each (Wolff 52 appearances for USMNT, Southgate 57 for England).
Another similarity is that the two coaches favor two defensive midfielders. Lastly, they both also encourage their fullbacks to push high in an effort to overload the attacking third and deliver dangerous crosses into the box. Wolff and Southgate have also demonstrated tactical nous, making necessary tweaks to formations or changing them altogether as circumstances and opposition dictate. Perhaps most importantly, the two men also seem to value the person over the player, prioritizing wellness, team camaraderie, and an almost family-like sense of togetherness above all else.
— Last Word on Soccer – Mark Turner (@LWOSMarkTurner) July 11, 2021
A stark difference between the two managers – and the two teams – is the availability of attacking options. Southgate has an embarrassment of riches, whereas Wolff has struggled with a clear roster deficit in that regard. Both managers are fortunate to have creative wide players; only Southgate has several high-quality options at #9.
What could Wolff do with a player even a fraction of the ability of Kane or Calvert-Lewin leading the Verde line? ATX fans will be hoping that this summer’s transfer window enables Wolff to answer that question. And if he can, perhaps Austin can, England-like, convert their impressive possession stats into more victories.