Austin FC begins preseason training camp as work in progress

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — After temperatures below freezing delayed their start, Austin FC kicked off preseason training camp Thursday in spring-like weather and hopes of putting the disappointment of the 2023 season behind them.

With more than a month until Verde and Black open Major League Soccer play Feb. 24 at Q2 Stadium against Minnesota United, the front office has some work to do. The first thing? Put together a full first team.

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Head coach Josh Wolff said they have “14-15 field players” right now with half a dozen or more Austin FC II players filling out the workouts. With the team’s preseason trip to St. Petersburg, Florida in five days, they’re “thin on numbers,” he said.

Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff gestures during the first half of an MLS soccer match against Inter Miami, Saturday, July 1, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff gestures during the first half of an MLS soccer match against Inter Miami, Saturday, July 1, 2023, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Wolff trusts that Rodolfo Borrell, who came over from European treble winner Manchester City to fill the sporting director vacancy last June, will be able to build out the rest of the roster by the time the “MLS is Back” weekend hits Austin.

“We’ll welcome players as they get here, and he [Borrell] will do it in a responsible way,” Wolff said. “You’ve got to work around salary and roster compliance, but there’s a number of positions that we can look to add to immediately and some that we can add in the summer.”

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Borrell declined contract options on nine players in the offseason, kept one player and traded for $250,000 in allocation money in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft. Borrell also traded veteran defender Nick Lima to the New England Revolution for a guaranteed $275,000 in allocation money with the chance for $25,000 more. The primary transfer window for MLS opens Jan. 31, so there’s a three-week period Borrell can use to bring players in to get to a full roster.

Austin FC ended the 2023 season with 39 points, 12th out of 14 Western Conference teams, and missing the postseason after its terrific 2022 run that ended in the conference finals. Sebastian Driussi, the captain of last year’s team and one of the league’s top goal scorers over the past two seasons, said through an interpreter the team is “doing the best they can” with the small roster.

After scoring a franchise-record 25 goals in 2022 to help lead Austin to the conference finals, he scored 11 last season while playing in 28 matches, missing seven with a groin injury. He recently obtained his green card, and that offers the club a little more roster flexibility since he doesn’t have to occupy an international spot.

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Driussi acknowledged that the team is far from complete given the roster, but he said the club has a welcoming environment and once new guys come in, they’ll be integrated in no time.

“We make sure everyone is welcomed here,” he said. “This is a very unified team and we hang out outside of practice as well, so they’ll adapt well.”

Austin will play two preseason matches in Florida, taking on Philadelphia on Jan. 23 and Cincinnati on Jan. 26, then they’ll return home to play Louisville City FC on Feb. 3.

They’ll spend a week playing at the Coachella Valley Invitational on Feb. 7-14, taking on Chicago, LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls in Indio, California before a final preseason match in Austin against NYCFC on Feb. 17. The only preseason matches open to the public are the ones in Indio.

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