Josh Wolff is hoping Austin FC can regain some urgency after their mid-season break, starting with their trip to Colorado Rapids.

Austin are on a three-game winless streak, losing their last two outings, leaving them sixth in the Western Conference.

With teams below them catching up to their 23-point tally, Wolff admitted there is still room for improvement, but remained upbeat about his team’s progress this season.

"We're pleased with where we're at. There's still a long way to go, there's a lot to improve on," Wolff said.

"The second half of the season will be challenging. You've got to quickly generate urgency to get back on the field and perform. Colorado is the most important game - because it's the next one.

"I want to create urgency and focus on the things we need to keep improving on while keeping our guys healthy. We are going to put everything we can into this game."

Colorado are one of the teams closing in on Austin, sitting just one point and two places below them in the table.

The Rapids have won just one of their last five matches in the MLS, but head coach Chris Armas is confident his side can turn good performances into results.

Armas said, "We really want to get these performances to turn into points. We think we're doing alright, but we know there's room to improve so that's where all of our energy went over the break.

"We're going to get there. We've got a good group, they're hungry and they come to learn. They're giving everything. We're still a work in progress, but I still believe in this."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Colorado Rapids – Djordje Mihailovic

After failing to contribute to a goal in his first five Rapids appearances, Mihailovic has 10 goal contributions in his last 11 matches (five goals, five assists) including recording one in three straight games.

Austin FC – Alexander Ring

Austin attempted just eight shots in their defeat to Real Salt Lake on June 1 – it was the league-high 10th time Austin have attempted fewer than 10 shots in a match this season.

All those efforts came in the second half, with Ring scoring a consolation goal from the penalty spot in stoppage time.

MATCH PREDICTION: COLORADO RAPIDS WIN

The Rapids hold the slight edge in the head-to-head between the teams, winning three times to Austin’s two wins (D2). Colorado have scored in all seven meetings between the sides.

However, the Rapids have lost back-to-back matches for the first time this season following defeats at Houston Dynamo and Vancouver Whitecaps. Colorado have lost three of their last four matches (D1) after dropping only three of their previous 12 in league play dating back to the start of March (W6 D3).

Austin have lost consecutive matches for the first time since last August with defeats to Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake. Austin had lost only three of their previous 14 matches (W6 D5) dating back to the beginning of March.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Colorado Rapids – 47.8%

Draw – 26%

Austin FC – 26.2%

Pablo Mastroeni believes Real Salt Lake's mindset has been the key to their long unbeaten run, which they will look to extend to 13 matches when they host Austin FC on Saturday.

RSL made it 12 MLS games without defeat in dramatic circumstances on Wednesday, as Andres Gomez scored nine minutes into stoppage time in a 1-1 draw with the Seattle Sounders.

Salt Lake remained two points clear of LA Galaxy at the top of the Western Conference with what was their third straight comeback, following a 5-3 win over the Colorado Rapids and a 3-3 draw at FC Dallas – who had led by three goals.

"I think one of the things we pride ourselves on is being a team that shows a strong mindset," Mastroeni said this week.

"You can use it in all aspects of life, it's five per cent what happens to you and 95 per cent how you react. 

"Unfortunately, in the last few games, we've found ourselves on the wrong side of the scoreline, and it's really easy to put your head down when things aren't going your way.

"There's this belief within the group that, regardless of what's happening, we're going to stay in it, we're going to keep our heads and not quit. Fortune favours the brave."

Austin are seven points behind RSL in fifth, though their momentum has stalled in recent weeks.

Since recording back-to-back wins over Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City, Josh Wolff's team have played out a 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes and been beaten 2-0 by the Portland Timbers.

To make matters worse, that latter match saw forward Sebastian Driussi suffer an injury that is expected to keep him out for several weeks. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Real Salt Lake – Andres Gomez 

Gomez has contributed to at least one goal in five straight league matches, becoming the second Real Salt Lake player to do so this year after Cristian Arango (six).

This is the first time since 2016 (Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan) that multiple RSL players have had a run of five or more games with a goal contribution in the same season.

Austin FC – Gyasi Zardes

Zardes' importance could be heightened after Driussi suffered a muscle injury during Austin's midweek loss.

He is yet to score in 16 MLS appearances this season, though only three have been starts.

MATCH PREDICTION – REAL SALT LAKE WIN

The visiting side won both meetings between Real Salt Lake and Austin last season, including a 2-1 win for the Verde at America First Field in March. 

The six regular-season meetings between the sides have been split evenly, with each team winning three times.

However, RSL are favourites here, having gone unbeaten in 12 straight league games to equal the second-longest streak in their history.

Since the start of 2019, the Sounders are the only MLS team to record a longer run, going 13 unbeaten to start the 2021 campaign. 

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Real Salt Lake – 60.3%

Austin FC – 18.9%

Draw – 20.8%

Luchi Gonzalez admits his team need to learn the difference between competing and winning as they aim to bounce back against Austin FC on Saturday.

The Earthquakes currently sit bottom of the Western Conference with 10 points, having won just three games this season.

Gonzalez highlighted his team has no trouble competing with their opponents and is optimistic they can turn leads into actual wins soon.

"The result of the last game [against Austin], we didn't get the job done there at the end even though we thought we were about to, but we're competing consistently in any competition," he said.

"We've had the lead in eight out of [14 MLS games]. That does show you that we're ready, we're prepared and we compete. Competing and winning are two different things. We've got to keep working on our ability to make decisions individually, collectively."

At the other end of the table, Austin sit in third with 22 points, just six behind leaders Real Salt Lake after back-to-back wins over Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City.

Head coach Josh Wolff was pleased with his side’s approach in recent weeks but urged them to keep up that level as they head into a busy week.

"We're very spirited, we're very organised and opportunistic," Wolff said.

"We've shown we can score goals, that's not a problem. We have to keep approaching games in a meticulous way, a responsible and disciplined way so that we can win."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

San Jose Earthquakes – Jeremy Ebobisse

Ebobisse has scored five goals in seven career matches against Austin FC. Only Jesus Ferreira (6) has scored more MLS goals against the Verde.

Austin – Sebastian Driussi

Driussi has scored seven goals in seven career games against the Earthquakes. No player has scored more goals against a single opponent than Driussi against San Jose since he joined MLS in 2021.

MATCH PREDICTION: SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES WIN

Austin recorded their first-ever win over San Jose on April 6 with a 4-3 home victory (D5 L2). There have been at least four goals scored in five of the eight matches between the sides, including a pair of seven-goal games.

San Jose has lost four of their first six home league matches this season (W2) after losing just twice at PayPal Park during the 2023 regular season. The ‘Quakes have conceded at least once in 11 straight regular-season home matches dating back to last year.

Meanwhile, Austin have won six of its last nine regular-season matches (D1 L2), including the last two in a row. Only three teams have collected more points than Austin’s 19 since that run began in late March.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

San Jose Earthquakes – 41.2%

Draw – 28.6%

Austin – 30.2%

Ben Olsen had to hold a few "tough conversations" to get the Houston Dynamo out of their slump, with Saturday's Texas derby at Austin FC offering them the chance for back-to-back wins.

The Dynamo approached Saturday's trip to Sporting Kansas City both winless and goalless in three MLS matches (one draw, two defeats), while they were also dumped out of the U.S. Open Cup by Detroit City FC.

However, goals from Hector Herrera and Ibrahim Aliyu handed them a 2-1 road win and lifted them into the top seven of the Western Conference – above Austin by a single point. 

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's grudge match against a team that won the reverse fixture less than a month ago, Olsen credited his players for coming through a tough patch. 

"I think some people were questioning us, and we've had a few tough conversations, particularly with the U.S. Open cup knockout. This was just a really good response," he said.

"We have to figure out when we are at our best, to think, 'who are we, at our best?'

"It was our defensive effort that we hung our hat on last year, so it's a bit of a renewed feeling of that being there."

Austin, by contrast, were on a run of four wins in six games before they were beaten 2-1 by another Texas rival in FC Dallas on Saturday.

Despite that reverse, centre-back Julio Cascante has praised the defensive work done by coach Josh Wolff, with Austin looking far more competitive than was the case in their dismal 2023 season.

"Despite everything, we've worked very hard on the defensive side," Cascante said.

"Emphasis has been placed on the defensive side, but defending is done as an entire team. It starts with the number nine. I think that makes the difference."

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Austin FC – Sebastian Driussi

Driussi scored a consolation from the penalty spot at Dallas on Saturday, his third goal of the season in eight MLS starts. 

Only Diego Rubio, who has started three additional games, has matched that tally for Austin this year. The Argentine will be looking to carry his team's attacking hopes again here.

Houston Dynamo – Amine Bassi 

Bassi recorded his third assist of the season by teeing up Hector Herrera's 31st-minute strike against Sporting on Saturday. 

All three of Bassi's assists have come on goals from outside the box this season – Houston's only three strikes from outside the penalty area.

MATCH PREDICTION – AUSTIN FC WIN

Houston have won three of their first five road matches this year, having only recorded more than three regular-season away wins in one of the last 10 campaigns, winning four times on their travels in 2022.

However, Austin have won all four of their previous home matches against Houston, netting multiple goals in each contest. The Dynamo are one of two teams – alongside Kansas City – that Austin have hosted more than once while posting a 100 per cent record.

Austin have also won three straight at home after only winning once in their previous 10 outings at Q2 Stadium. Back on home soil after Saturday's derby loss, they will expect a different result. 

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Austin FC – 44.9%
Houston Dynamo – 26.9%
Draw – 28.2%

FC Dallas boss Nico Estevez would have preferred not to face both of the club's Texas rivals in back-to-back home games, but he is keen to follow up their victory over the Houston Dynamo with another against Austin FC.

Dallas overcame Houston 2-0 on their last home outing in MLS, though they were then beaten 3-1 by in-form Toronto FC on their travels last week.

Estevez's team sit 13th in the Western Conference with eight points, some eight adrift of Austin in sixth, but he feels there are things they can replicate from the Houston game in their next derby match. 

"It would be nice for our fans and everyone if the games were a little bit more spread out, right?" he said on Thursday.

"When you have back-to-back, I feel like it is difficult to get that assignment and motivation and everything right, but for us, it is important. 

"Austin uses more of the wings and it's a different type of approach. They defend in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2, which is similar."

Austin, meanwhile, have won four of their last six MLS games (one draw, one loss) to surge up the standings, leaving boss Josh Wolff encouraged ahead of a busy few weeks. 

"There's no way we can look past one opponent and towards the next," Wolff said. 

"We have to see who comes through Dallas in a good way and see where we're at physically and where the opponent is at physically.

"These guys are fit, they're strong and they're in a good space."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

FC Dallas – Sam Junqua

Junqua has recorded a goal contribution in consecutive matches (one goal, one assist), including scoring Dallas’ lone goal at Toronto last Saturday.

Junqua had only recorded two goal contributions in his previous 35 MLS appearances going back to August 2022.

Austin FC – Brad Stuver

Austin’s goalless draw at Vancouver on Saturday was their third consecutive clean sheet, their longest shutout streak in team history. Stuver started in goal in all three games and will be looking to continue that run against Dallas.

Austin had kept just one clean sheet in their previous 25 matches in all competitions dating back to last July.

MATCH PREDICTION – DALLAS WIN

FC Dallas won each of their first three meetings with Austin FC – all in the 2021 season. Since then, Dallas have managed just two wins in seven against Austin (two draws, three losses), including a 2-1 loss at Q2 Stadium on March 30.

With eight points, Dallas are off to their second-worst 10-match start to a season in club history with only their start in 2009 (six points from 10 matches) being worse. However, seven of their eight points have come in their five home matches.

Meanwhile, Austin have collected 13 points in their last six MLS matches after totalling just 10 points in their previous 16 league matches dating back to their return from the Leagues Cup last August. The form book often goes out of the window on derby day, however, so their positive run could end here. 

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Dallas – 46.4%

Draw – 28.2%

Austin – 25.4%

Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini labelled Brian White as a "special" player ahead of Sunday's enticing MLS meeting with Austin FC at BC Place.

The Whitecaps are third in the Western Conference after a 1-1 draw with New York Red Bulls last time out, completing a fine April that saw them lose just one of four matches.

Whitecaps forward White scored in that draw and may get somewhat of a hero's welcome at a packed-out BC Place after becoming Vancouver's all-time leading scorer.

"I'm really happy he could make history here at home in front of his family, in front of his friends," Sartini said of White, who moved past Camilo Sanvezzo as the club's all-time leading scorer.

"It adds a special, special flair to that, so I'm really happy for him.

"He's a player so committed that it doesn't matter if he misses a goal, or he scores the first goal, or if he misses the first touch because he's going to adjust."

Sartini even suggested his coaching has improved White, albeit in a playful manner.

"I think he scored 99%  of the goals with me as a coach, so I can even tell that maybe that it's [to] my credit," he joked. "Because I put him in the right position."

Austin are just two points but four places behind Vancouver in the West after winning four of their last five outings, having swept aside LA Galaxy 2-0 in their last match.

Verde and Black head coach Josh Wolff is not getting overly excited with that form, though.

"It's 10 games into the season so we don't get carried away," Wolff said. "When you guys [the media] are slaughtering us earlier this year, I don't get too bummed out.

"You guys do what you do. You got to pump out headlines and you got to get readers, I understand it. Whether I agree with that or not, that's what you guys choose to do."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Vancouver Whitecaps – Brian White

With a goal against the Red Bulls on Saturday, White has contributed to at least one goal in six straight matches, the longest streak by a Whitecaps player in the club’s MLS history.

The 28-year-old has found the net – or assisted – in every game since failing to do so against San Jose Earthquakes on March 10, with the Whitecaps reaping the rewards from their star forward.

Austin FC – Brad Stuver

Austin have kept clean sheets in two straight matches for only the second time in club history, also doing so in June-July 2023.

Austin kept just one clean sheet in the 25 matches in all competitions between the two streaks and their upturn in form should be somewhat credited to goalkeeper Brad Stuver, who continues to impress.

MATCH PREDICTION – VANCOUVER WHITECAPS WIN

The Whitecaps are the heavy favourites for this one, having won four of their six meetings with Austin FC (D1 L1), including recording victories in all three meetings between the sides at BC Place.

Vancouver have also equalled their best nine-match start in club history with 17 points, yet the Whitecaps have never reached the 20-point mark within their first 10 games of an MLS season.

It will be far from a routine victory, though, as Austin have won four of their last five matches (L1) following a 2-0 win over the Galaxy, including the last two in a row.

Austin have had only one winning streak longer than two games in all competitions in club history, a four-match run in June-July 2022 – but that could come to an end here.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Vancouver Whitecaps win – 46.7%

Austin FC win – 27.2%

Draw – 26.1%

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