Austin FC, Minnesota United on the rebound from down seasons in 2023

League: MLS

Posted on: 24 Feb, 2024 at 02:59 AM

Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

If hope reigns supreme on opening day, there is plenty to look forward to when Austin FC hosts Minnesota United FC on Saturday in a battle between Western Conference rivals.

The reality is that both sides are coming off disappointing seasons and have nowhere to look but up. Austin is bringing back the same coach and most of the players from last season while the Loons are all but starting from scratch.

Austin hopes to get off on the right foot in what is expected to be a season for rebuilding. The Verde missed the playoffs in 2023 when they finished in 12th place in the West with just 39 points a year after they advanced to the conference finals.

"If you think about it, MLS as a whole is a rebuild every year because there's no other soccer league in the world that has as much player turnover as here," Austin FC midfielder Alex Ring said. "Every team is dealing with the same thing year after year. We are no different."

Austin returns one of the best scorers in the league in captain Sebastian Driussi (11 goals, five assists in 2023). Druissi getting close to his 2022 productivity (22 goals and seven assists in regular season, three goals in playoffs) will be key in determining how competitive the Verde can be this season.

Defense was a question for the Verde in 2023 as their goal differential went from plus-16 in 2002 to minus-6 last year. Only three clubs in the conference gave up more goals last season than the 55 Austin allowed.

Minnesota United failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2023, finishing in 11th place with 41 points (10-13-11), two more than Austin (10-15-9). The Loons missed the postseason for the first time since 2018.

"Considering how we finished last season, we need to start this year on the right foot," Minnesota United defender Michael Boxall said. "It's just one game at a time in a long season. We've got goals of hosting playoff games, and that starts with habits that we put in in the offseason."

Minnesota United went through training camp under the tutelage of interim coach Cameron Knowles but reportedly signed Manchester United assistant Eric Ramsay on Thursday to fill the head coaching spot. At 32, Ramsay would be one of the youngest full-time head coaches in MLS history.

Knowles will lead the team in Austin on Saturday.

Minnesota United star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso told reporters on Wednesday that he won't play Saturday because of a knee injury that has kept him from playing any friendlies during preseason training.

Austin leads the all-time series 4-3 with no draws in the seven meetings. The Verde captured both of the matches last season.

--Field Level Media