With the USL Championship opening on March 7th fast-approaching, I thought it would be a good time to look at the Austin Bold and see how the squad is shaping up for the 2020 season. As discussed in our interview with Bold GM Roberto Silva, most of the 2019 squad is returning. Nonetheless there have been some departures. Francis Atuehene returned to FC Dallas after his loan expired and Demar Phillips, Calum Mallace, and a handful of other role players moved on in free agency. Finally, tragedy struck near the end of last season when Promise Isaac died suddenly leaving the team without a key player and teammate.
On the incoming side of business, the bold have signed Ismailia Jome, a rangy fullback with a cultured left foot, Billy Forbes, an experienced winger, and loaned in Brecc Evans, a promising center back, and Ema Twumasi, a returning top-performer, from partner club FC Dallas.
During my interview with Roberto Silva I was able to learn a little more about player transfers that has not yet been announced by the club:
- Young Brazilian center back Gustavo Rissi will be returning to the club on loan this year. The player announcement is awaiting the final touches to the paperwork.
- The club will bring in Gabriel Félix, a 24 year old keeper, on loan from Brazilian club Vasco de Gama. Félix is a big boy at 6’3″ and has a handful of senior appearances in Brazil.
- Silva mentioned two young Senegalese players from Monteverde Academy in Florida that the club is trying to sign. One plays as a defensive midfield and the other as an attacking winger. Silva said both are excellent players so fingers crossed the club can get their visas across the line.
- Alfredo Paez, the club’s marketing coordinator, played soccer at the university level in the United States. Marcelo Serrano was using him as practice player to make numbers and, due to his strong performance, received playing time in the friendly against FC Dallas. He already works for the club so does that mean he’s already technically signed?
Okay! So let’s dive in:
- Diego Restrepo: 32 year old Colombian-American 2017 USL Goalkeeper of the year and likely starter. Diego was great in 2019, no reason to expect anything different this year.
- Gabriel Félix: He’s young and he’s big. Gabriel will hope to challenge Restrepo for the starting spot. Can he win some playing time? My guess is yes.
- Ryan Thompson: 35 year old Jamaican player-coach with loads of experience. More than capable of filling in between the sticks if needed.
Restrepo had a fantastic season last year and looks sharp in the preseason so far. Goalkeeper should be an area of strength for the Bold this year and they have plenty of depth.
- Ismailia Jome: 25 year old Gambian who had played for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks last season and has a handful of MLS under his belt gained during a stint with Minnesota United. Tall left back that is good at getting forward and loves to dribble. New signing this year.
- Josué Soto: 24 year old Mexican-American with experience playing in Mexico for Cimarrones de Sonora. Joined on loan from Liga MX club Quretaro and appeared in 19 games before joining permanently this season.
It will be interesting to see who is able to win the battle for the left back spot this year. Soto looks determined this preseason: check out this recovery run and karate kick clearance against FC Dallas. Jome comes with a great resume and his set piece skills would be greatly appreciated. Thomas de Villardi can also fill in if needed.
- Jermaine Taylor: 35 year old Jamaican international center back with 143 MLS appearances between three clubs. Lead the club in minutes played in 2019 and made 33 starts. Taylor has struggled a bit with injuries this preseason but should be a leader at the back again this year.
- Fabien Garcia: 25 year old French center back most recently at Nimes in Ligue 2. Struggled with injuries last season appearing in only 8 games. His pedigree suggests he should be able to compete at this level.
- Brecc Evans: 20 year old American loaned from partner club FC Dallas. He was the captain of USL League One champions North Texas SC last season. A cultured center back that is likely to have a long MLS career ahead of him.
- Gustavo Rissi: 22 year old Brazillian center back returning on loan this year. Made only 7 appearances last season after joining on loan late in the year.
Center back will be another spot with competition for playing time. Taylor will likely retain his starting spot at least to start the season (assuming he recovers from a niggling injury), but there is no doubt the young guns will be keen to find playing time. Amobi Okugo and Edson Braafheid can also provide cover if needed.
- Sean McFarlane: 26 year old Jamaican that was one of the Bold’s most important players last season. Despite playing right back, he led the club in assists with 12 and chances created with 56. McFarlane will hope to have another standout season.
- Jorge Troncoso: 27 year old Chilean who broke his leg early in the season last year. He is fully healed and will provide competition for McFarlane. Can also play as a right winger.
McFarlane is a standout on the squad and the position is his to lose. Troncoso is a more than capable back-up. Ema Twumasi is a killer right back if he’s not already playing further up on the wing. Another position of strength.
- Amobi Okugo: 28 year old Nigerian-American and former first round 2010 MLS SuperDraft pick who was nearly ever-present last finishing second in minutes played splitting time between center back and defensive midfielder. Okugo is a smart and strong player and will look to boss the field again this year.
- Valeri Saramutin: 24 year old Russian-American who came up through Dynamo Moscow’s youth ranks. He is a solid passer leading the club in pass accuracy last season and looks to clog up the midfield with tenacious coverage and tackling.
- Edson Braafheid: 36 year old Dutch international brings insane levels of experience to squad having featured at the highest levels of European and international soccer. The former Bayern Munich, Lazio, and Hoffenheim man can serve as a utility piece with the potential to feature at a variety of positions.
- Thomas de Villardi: 25 year old French midfielder who was drafted in 2017 MLS SuperDraft by Minnesota United. He appeared in 21 matches for the Bold last season. Can also play left back.
- Sonny Guadarama: 32 year old ATX local attacking midfielder who had had a long career for various clubs in Mexico, mostly appearing in the second division. He is a strong dribbler and a danger from distance. Comfortable on the wing in a pinch.
Marcelo Serrano certainly has some strong defensive options to clog up the midfield, but, outside of Sonny, this group doesn’t offer too much going forward.
- Kris Tyrpak: Another ATX local, the 27 year old has one MLS goal to his name, scored in 2014 after being drafted by Chivas USA. Tyrpak is a crafty winger with a penchant for goal-scoring. His highlight last year was a substitute’s hat-trick scored in a 30 minute span after entering a game against the Tulsa Roughnecks in the 54th minute. Here’s the video evidence.
- Ema Twumasi: the 22 year old Ghanaian was a stand out for the Bold last season playing at right back and right wing and his return on loan from FC Dallas was confirmed on the Bold media day. This season he is more likely to feature in the attack. Bold GM, Roberto Silva, cited Twumasi as probably the best player on the squad towards the end of last season. He will likely split time between Austin and Frisco although this arrangement hasn’t been finalized.
- Xavi Báez: 32 year old Mexican with loads of experience at the highest levels of Mexican soccer. Báez appeared in over 200 games for Chivas Guadalajara from 2007 to 2013. Since then he has played for Cruz Azul and Necaxa before joining the Bold last season. Báez is a silky smooth play-maker who can feature either in the center or on the right and looks to be a key player for Marcelo Serrano.
- Billy Forbes: The 29 year old speedy Turks and Caicos international is one of only a handful of new signing for the club this season. Forbes spent last season at rivals San Antonio FC and should see plenty of play time on the left for the Bold. He could also fill in at striker if required.
- Beto Avila: 19 year old ATX local whom Marcelo Serrano discovered playing locally. This will be his second season at the club and he will need to get some playing time to continue his development. A very quick and direct player, Beto has rough edges, but also plenty of potential.
With the late addition of Ema Twumasi, this group looks pretty good. However, if the Bold’s squadron of old strikers starts to hit road-bumps, someone will need to step up to score goals.
- Kléber: 36 year old Brazilian striker, nicknamed Gladiator, has hundreds of goals to his name in his native country. Kléber was and is a big name signing for a USL Championship club. Last season he struggled with injuries, but was still an excellent scoring threat for the Bold collecting 11 goals in limited time. His class is evident when he’s playing, it’s getting him on the field consistently that is the hard part.
- André Lima: Although the 34 year old burly Brazilian was meant to play second fiddle to Kléber, but Lima had other ideas and lead the Bold in scoring with 14 goals. With an impressive career playing in the Bundesliga for Hertha BSC and many of Brazil’s top clubs, Lima will look to build upon his strong first season.
You cannot question the pedigree of the Bold’s Brazilian duo, but you can question if they have enough gas in the tank to last a long, hot season in the USL Championship. Of any position, this is the one with the most questions. The Bold would do well to add some depth here.
The Bold had a successful first season even while dealing with the turbulence of being a first year franchise. This year will provide much more stability, a connected team with great chemistry, and an additional year of experience dealing with the challenges of the league. The defense looks stacked and also appears to be able to provide offensive support. Relying on two late-30s strikers who are both built like tanks is less of a sure thing. Nonetheless, the Bold look well positioned for the season and it would be a disappointment if they did not make the playoffs. 538 seems to agree giving the Bold a 75% chance of a play-off appearance. It is sure to be an exciting season and I hope you follow along!