A closer look at Austin FC’s Sebastian Driussi

For a team to rise from near the bottom of the table to contenders at the top in just a year, it needs a special performer to step up. For Austin FC this season, that has been Sebastian Driussi, he was impressive as best sportsbooks.

The Argentine midfielder has, at times, carried his team on his back, proving a goalscoring machine and a creative linchpin with 22 goals and five primary assists in 34 regular-season appearances.

That’s even a marked improvement from the five goals and eight assists in 17 games last year, when Driussi only joined halfway through the season. But then, given his pedigree, we shouldn’t have expected any less.

After all, Driussi is a player who hails from the same River Plate youth system that has produced legends of the game such as Pablo Aimar, Javier Mascherano, Gonzalo Higuain, and Hernan Crespo.

Driussi flourished in his homeland and in the 2016/17 season, netted 20 goals in 36 appearances across all competitions – enough to earn him a long-awaited move to Europea with Russian giants Zenit Saint Petersburg.

Though he scored 19 goals across his first two seasons, Driussi’s time in Russia was somewhat less successful and slowly but surely, he fell down the pecking order. The path to Major League Soccer was opening up before him and when he did arrive Stateside, Driussi was stronger for his European experiences.

“That is part of the reason why he is in the moment that he is sporting-wise,” fellow Argentine and Portland Timbers icon Diego Valeri said of Driussi earlier this year. “He is mature, he has a lot of experiences, he’s very competitive – all of that collaborates into his performance, but certainly there is a lot of value in what he has already conquered.”

In his first full season with the club, Driussi’s 22 goals have guided Austin FC all the way up to second in the Western Conference. Only the Philadelphia Union (72) and LAFC (66) have scored more than the Verde and Black (65) and although he may not win the award, Driussi is rightly at the front of the MVP conversation.

“He’s a very tactical player, with a lot of power,” said veteran NYCFC playmaker and compatriot Maxi Moralez. “He’s not a big No. 9 but rather knows how to manage his speed in very small spaces, but you can clearly see the quality that he has in front of goal. Is he the MVP? For me, yes. There are still a few games to go, but what he is doing is superb.”

Driussi himself will likely be paying very little attention to individual awards, though losing the Golden Boot race to Hany Mukhtar to just a single goal may hurt.

 

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A closer look at LA Galaxy figure Julian Araujo

Julian Araujo has become a staple for the LA Galaxy, standing out as one of the league’s brightest at only 21 years old.

He first kicked off with the Western Conference giants in 2019, working his way through the Academy before earning his first professional contract with the team. The defender’s initial season with the Galaxy saw him record just one assist in 18 appearances, slowly gaining confidence with each passing game.

Now, he’s managed one goal and 20 assists in 100 matches. He boasts nine assists and 14 goal-scoring attempts this season alone, inspiring the Galaxy to fourth place on the table and a slot in the playoffs. 

His Major League Soccer success propelled Araujo towards a career in international football. 

Araujo was born in Lompoc, California to Mexican parents, making him a prominent dual-nationality player. He initially represented the USMNT at several youth levels before making his senior debut in 2020. But he did not meet the cap maximum, making him eligible to switch his allegiance to Mexico. 

In October 2021, the figure Julian Araujo declared his loyalty for the Mexican national team. He filed for FIFA’s one-time switch, leaving the United States men’s national team for El Tri. 

After declining a call up by USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter to the 2021 Gold Cup, the midfielder made the shocking announcement. 

“It was one of the most important decisions I’ve ever had to make to this day. Ultimately it was one I made at heart. Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to represent Mexico. I dreamed of celebrating goals with Mexico, playing with the guys I am here with today,” he explained exclusively to 90min. “It was a dream come true.”

Since then, Araujo has recorded three appearances for the Mexican national team, debuting in December 2021 during an international friendly against Chile before going on to feature in World Cup qualifying matches. 

The player recalled the feeling of sporting the special jersey for the first time, labeling the experience “beautiful.”

“When I first put on the jersey, I was very happy. It was just something that was going to come to life. It was something that was bound to happen. I was just so happy, I woke up in the hotel, sent videos to all my friends and family while getting ready for the game. It was a beautiful moment,” he said.

With a blossoming international career and a consistent spot in LA Galaxy’s starting 11, Julian Araujo is making himself known. 

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Why Beth Mead deserved to win the 2022 Ballon d’Or Feminin

Alexia Putellas and Beth Mead were separated by just a single point in the final Ballon d’Or Feminin standings. To give you an idea, under the points-based scoring system where voting journalists rank their top five picks for the award, that is effectively less than one whole vote.

Putellas scooped the prize for the second year in a row, having recorded a career-high 28 goals for Barcelona during the 2021/22 season, captaining the club to a ‘perfect’ league season in Spain and completing a domestic double. She was also already UEFA’s Women’s Player of the Year.

It is a fantastic list of achievements and the Spaniard was arguably individually better than she had been in 2020/21 when she also walked away with the Ballon d’Or.

But football is always decided by fine margins. And while Barça did win every domestic game they played, they fell short of retaining their Champions League title. Injury also cruelly cost Putellas the chance to shine at Euro 2022 with Spain, with La Roja among the pre-tournament favourites.

Mead, conversely, won Euro 2022 with England, finishing the tournament with both the golden boot and award for the best player. She also scored 20 international goals over the course of one season. However, Mead didn’t win anything with Arsenal, nor go as far in the Champions League as Putellas.

It comes down to how you perceive the importance of their respective achievements and how vital a role they played in any team success.

Putellas had a great year personally. But it was arguably slightly less successful overall than her 2020/21. Had she won the Champions League again, the debate would likely be a non-starter, while she didn’t even make it to the start line at the summer’s Euros.

Mead gave herself a strong base-line with a resurgent club season in which she jointly led the WSL in assists and reached double figures in a top flight campaign for the first time since 2015. No trophies at club level is a definite mark against her here. But the European Championship was arguably the biggest piece of silverware on offer in 2022 and she took that home in style.

The reality is that Barcelona, because of their enormous quality elsewhere, probably would have won what they did domestically with or without Putellas, such was the margin of victory. But would England have won Euro 2022 without Mead? The answer is almost certainly not.

As top scorer and best player at the tournament, Mead was more important to her team’s achievements in the ultimate competition of the year than Putellas was for her side’s victories and triumphs in lesser settings by relative comparison.

Euro 2022 was only a short burst compared to a full club season. But it is a weighty trump and Putellas didn’t have more Champions League glory to fall back on to match that.

Both players would have been worthy winners of the Ballon d’Or. But, on balance, Mead just about deserved it more.

For more from Jamie Spencer, follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

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Nico Estevez praises Alan Velasco following triumph over Minnesota United in the MLS Playoffs

FC Dallas is through to the conference semifinals after a panenka penalty by Alan Velasco secured the 5-4 triumph over Minnesota United. 

Despite Minnesota United taking a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute of the match through a clinical strike by Emanuel Reynoso, Dallas came back with an equalizer by Facundo Quignon to force the game into extra time. After 120 minutes of play and a persistent 1-1 draw, the teams took to penalties. 

FC Dallas triumphed 5-4, eliminating Minnesota United. 

Head coach Nico Estevez hailed his side after the victory, but pointed to youngster Alan Velasco in particular for his determination throughout the game. 

“Some players have a special gene,” Estevez said of Velasco after the game. “He’s a competitor. He wants to win, he wants to make FC Dallas big. It’s not only the quality he gave to the team, it’s the work he does. It’s amazing.”

Velasco missed a month of the 2022 MLS regular season due to injury, only making his return to the pitch on Decision Day to feature for 29 minutes. But the forward played as if nothing had happened on Monday night against Minnesota United, lasting all 120 minutes before securing a heroic win.

“I can’t believe he did it,” Estevez said of Velasco playing the entire game after injury. “I was worried, I kept asking him ‘how are you doing?’ He was mad at me that I kept asking. I said, ‘I was trying to take care of you!’ But he kept saying ‘I’m good! I’m running! Did you see that run?!’ It’s unbelievable.”

Velasco has been a key component in FC Dallas’ recent success after arriving in a club-record transfer from Independiente last winter. He managed six goals and seven assists in his first MLS campaign, adapting well to the team and Estevez’s style. 

The player will have a chance to extend his tallies as the team prepares to face Austin FC in the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday at Q2 Stadium. 

“It’s going to be tough in Austin,” Sebastian Lletget said on the field after the game. “But we’re ready.”

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Brentford confident of keeping Thomas Frank despite widespread interest

Brentford are confident that they will be able to keep hold of head coach Thomas Frank despite mounting interest in his services, 90min understands.

Frank oversaw his 200th match in charge of the Bees on Friday, beating Brighton 2-0 to maintain their good start to the 2022/23 season.

After four years in charge, Frank is firmly part of the furniture at Brentford and having led the club into the top flight for the first time in 72 years, his approval rating could hardly be higher.

90min understands that Frank has plenty of admirers elsewhere in the Premier League as well as across Europe, with several sides placing him on shortlists of potential replacements should they part ways with their current managers.

Leicester City would notably be interested in speaking to Frank in the event that they sack Brendan Rodgers, but such a job is not as attractive as it has been in recent years given the general instability surrounding the club.

It has been reported elsewhere that Brentford are ready to offer the Dane a new contract, though he stated at a press conference on Tuesday that he is happy right now with his current deal up in 2025 anyway.

“There’s a lot of rumours out there, in many ways,” Frank said of these reports.

“One thing for sure is I’m very happy here at Brentford. [There’s] a lot of things to achieve, very ambitious on behalf of the club. But I have a contract running to 2025. That’s it. Let’s see what happens in the future.

“I speak to Matthew [Benham, Brentford’s owner] and Phil [Giles, director of football] about everything, we are focusing on the Chelsea game tomorrow.”

Regardless of whether he signs a new deal in the near future or not, 90min understands that Brentford are confident of Frank sticking around in the long term.

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