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Julio Cascante is ready to “work, work, work” to get Austin FC back on track

Austin FC supporters have been riding a rollercoaster over the past few seasons, yo-yo-ing from the bottom of the table to the top and right back down again. Aiming to return to a competitive level in 2024, this season hasn’t followed the early bounceback blueprint.

Verde remains winless through five matches as the managerial seat for head coach Josh Wolff continues growing warmer with each passing day despite backing from new sporting director Rodolfo Borrell who, in his first full season with the club, blames the failed roster build for any failures more than the manager.

In an effort to gain an inside perspective on the current situation in Austin, SBI caught up with Austin FC original Julio Cascante on international duty with his country, Costa Rica, before he returned home to Austin.

“It’s been tough,” he admitted of Austin’s poor start to the season. “Now that I’m heading home, the only thing that I can do is just go and help my teammates, help everyone to try to turn this all around and be a better team because that’s the only way that we can go.”

In 2022, Austin FC produced their breakout season with a second-place finish in the Western Conference. Led by now-captain Sebastian Driussi, who scored 25 goals that season in a Best XI campaign, Verde showed potential to be the latest expansion side success story under Wolff.

When regression to the mean hit in 2023, however, Austin returned to a near-bottom finish in the West. Driussi only managed 11 league goals last year but the team’s problems extended beyond just their star.

“[We] missed some players,” Cascante highlighted. “Having Ruben [Gabrielsen] back in 2022 was a big addition because he was an experienced guy in the defense.”

Along with transfers out such as Gabrielsen, the Texas team faced injury hurdles in the back line with medium-term injuries to Cascante himself, Alex Ring, Kipp Keller, and Adam Lundqvist, as well as suffering long-term injuries when Leo Väisänen tore his LCL and Zan Kolmanic tore his ACL. As a result, Verde finished in the top five in goals conceded across the 2023 MLS season – something they’re looking to improve in 2024.

“Right now you can see how we are lacking on some specific points,” Cascante acknowledged. “That’s the only thing we have to do, right? Work, work, work.”

Unfortunately, the tournament that could seemingly provide Verde with a clean slate to put in that work in a new competition and find their early-season footing – the U.S. Open Cup – will not include Austin FC this season as the club’s second team, Austin FC II, was selected to compete instead.

“Yeah, 100%.” Cascante affirmed his desire to have played in the tournament. “The U.S. Open Cup has been the oldest [competition] here [in the United States]. It would be really nice to play because we’re not in [Concacaf Champions Cup] but of course it’s the MLS [who makes] the decisions. We cannot do anything.”  

If there is a silver lining for a struggling team being barred from potential trophy opportunities, it is an increased time spent on the training pitch due to fewer matches. After all, that’s where the work ultimately begins. 

Amid the outside noise ramping up regarding Wolff’s job and Borrell’s intention to overhaul the roster in upcoming transfer windows, Cascante is therefore focused on what’s going on inside St. David’s Performance Center rather than anything outside of it.

“We know about it but we try to just leave it there,” Cascante said of Borrell’s intention for roster change. “That’s his job. Of course he came to the team for a reason, to do something, but we have to just focus on what we can work on. On the field, we have to just do our thing and, of course, leave things outside [because] we cannot do anything.”

The same applies to Wolff, who likely has the hottest managerial seat in MLS after Matchday 6. Regardless, the locker room is still “100%” behind the club’s only ever head coach according to Cascante.

“We are a group, we are a family, and we have to stick together, right? We have to stay away from what is around outside,” he explained. “Of course things aren’t going well but I think inside we don’t talk about anyone or anything outside. Even though we are not doing well I feel like we have to stick together and keep going.”

Austin FC keeps going on Saturday when Verde hope to find their first win of the season as they begin their 2024 Copa Tejas campaign by hosting FC Dallas at Q2 Stadium. The work resumes.

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