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Two newcomers join Brad Stuver as Austin FC's 'A' players in our midseason grades

With 17 games behind it and 17 to go, Austin FC is at the midpoint of its MLS season.

The Verde & Black (6-6-5, 23 points) sit in sixth place in the Western Conference before Saturday’s slate of games, which is the club’s bye week. Here are our team and player grades for the first half. And note that a player's salary factors into his grade, so Sebastián Driussi ($6 million) isn’t on the same grading scale as Hector Jiménez ($89,700).

Grading Austin FC's players

GK Brad Stuver: A-

Stuver has done about everything Austin FC could ask. He leads MLS with 72 saves, has played every minute of the season, is second in the league in save percentage and has made several highlight-reel stops that have kept the Verde & Black in games. Austin FC getting blasted 5-1 at Real Salt Lake last Saturday might hamper his All-Star chances, but he certainly deserves to be in the game.

Austin FC players celebrate a goal scored by forward Jadér Obrian, right, during their May 18 match against Sporting Kansas City at Q2 Stadium. Obrian is second on the team with four goals.
Austin FC players celebrate a goal scored by forward Jadér Obrian, right, during their May 18 match against Sporting Kansas City at Q2 Stadium. Obrian is second on the team with four goals.

DEF Brendan Hines-Ike: A-

Hines-Ike might be the steal of the MLS offseason. Signed 12 days before the opener to an inexpensive contract, he quickly moved into the starting lineup and has been a rock at center back. At the team’s deepest position, he’s arguably the best option, and he’s drastically underpaid at $200,000.

MF Jadér Obrian: A-

He has played in every match, has started 16 of them, is second on the team with four goals and has been excellent playing either the right or left wing. Providing a speed threat the club lacked a year ago, Obrian has been a critical addition for the Austin FC attack.

MF Dani Pereira: B+

He has started 14 times and generally has been excellent in passing, taking on defenders and thwarting opponents. Pereira seems to be more comfortable farther up the field as an attacking midfielder rather than a defensive one, and he should be able to play there once the club’s summer signees can step on the field July 20. And still being on his rookie contract, Pereira is a bargain with a salary of only $140,000.

Austin FC defender Leo Väisänen takes a shot in the second half last weekend against Real Salt Lake, a 5-1 loss. He missed 12 of Austin FC's 17 matches in the first half of the season with a foot injury.
Austin FC defender Leo Väisänen takes a shot in the second half last weekend against Real Salt Lake, a 5-1 loss. He missed 12 of Austin FC's 17 matches in the first half of the season with a foot injury.

F Diego Rubio: B+

Maybe he isn’t lighting up the stat sheet (three goals), but Rubio is a constant threat up top, and his work rate at forward has provided something Austin FC sorely lacked there a year ago. At a salary of less than $400,000, he’s an exceptional value.

DEF Jon Gallagher: B

At one point, Gallagher was the team’s iron man, playing every minute but one in 13 straight matches. An injury caused him to miss two recent contests, and his absence was noticeable. Gallagher is unquestionably the best option at right back, and if his current injury makes him miss more games, that’s bad news for the club.

DEF Julio Cascante: B

He and Hines-Ike gave the Verde & Black one of the league’s top center back pairings for most of the season’s first half. Leo Väisänen has taken some of his playing time recently, but this is arguably Cascante’s best year as a pro.

DEF Hector Jiménez: B-

At 35 years old and the second-cheapest salary on the team, Jiménez has more than lived up to his contract with eight appearances, four starts and an assist. From a pure optics point of view, the club should bump his contract up to $100,000. He has been in the league since 2011, is a good locker room presence and still provides value on the field.

Austin FC players look on during a loss against Real Salt Lake last weekend. At the halfway point of the season, Austin FC sits in sixth place in the Western Conference standings.
Austin FC players look on during a loss against Real Salt Lake last weekend. At the halfway point of the season, Austin FC sits in sixth place in the Western Conference standings.

MF/DEF Owen Wolff: B-

Another player still on his rookie contract — his salary is less than $125,000 — Wolff is the most versatile player on the team, having played winger, outside back, defensive midfielder and attacking midfielder. Still 19 and able to use the “Teen Wolff” moniker, he has flexibility that has saved the club in multiple games with its extremely short roster.

DEF Guilherme Biro: B-

Like Hines-Ike, Biro has been a steal. A constant starter at left back with a salary of only $200,000, he has scored twice and has done a solid job on the left side of the defense.

DEF Matt Hedges: B-

He started the first five games but then with the emergence of Hines-Ike has found it tough to get back on the field. He played the entire match against Houston on April 20 when Cascante had to miss the contest due to yellow card accumulation, but other than that he has made only two appearances for a total of 10 minutes since March 23. He still carries a hefty salary north of $550,000.

MF Sebastián Driussi: C+

Far and away the club’s best player, Driussi leaves a glaring hole when he’s not on the field. Unfortunately, that was four times in the first half, with Austin FC going 0-2-2 in those games. He leads the team with five goals, including game-winners vs. San Jose and Houston. But with a salary north of $6 million, he needs to produce more the rest of the way.

MF Jhojan Valencia: C+

A true defensive midfielder, Valencia has been adequate when he’s been on the field, with some metrics stating he’s part of the team’s best lineup.

MF Alex Ring: C

Ring gets dinged for his giant salary of $1.6 million and the fact that he’s lost a step, but he deserves credit for playing the most minutes of any field player and for his on-field leadership. At 33, this is probably his final year with the club unless he wants to take a drastic pay cut.

Austin FC forward Gyasi Zardes had a 10-goal season two years ago but has yet to score a goal through the first half of this season.
Austin FC forward Gyasi Zardes had a 10-goal season two years ago but has yet to score a goal through the first half of this season.

F Gyasi Zardes: D+

Though not scoring any goals also is a big factor, this mostly has to do with the fact that Zardes is making $1 million. And that’s not his fault. If a club is going to put a three-year contract in front of you for around $3 million when you’re a 31-year-old striker on the downside of your career, as Austin FC did with Zardes before the 2023 season, you sign that as fast as possible. Still, his production has been almost nonexistent, and he’s lost a step from even two years ago when he scored 10 goals for Columbus and Colorado. With Emiliano Rigoni gone, this is now Austin FC’s anchor contract.

DEF Zan Kolmanic: Incomplete

Hampered by an injury, Kolmanic made six starts in the first half and played an unmemorable 500 minutes.

DEF Leo Väisänen: Incomplete

He seems to have recovered from a foot injury in the season opener that caused him to miss 12 matches. He started two of the past three games and fared well and appears to be in a battle with Cascante for the second center back starting spot alongside Hines-Ike.

MF Ethan Finlay: Incomplete

Another player whose season has been derailed by injuries, he’s made only four starts, played barely more than 400 minutes and become a bit of an afterthought. The club will be far better off with him healthy, though, as it needs him until new designated player Osman Bukari can play July 20.

GK Stefan Cleveland: Incomplete

He’s the equivalent to the backup quarterback in football who never plays and collects a decent check. Making more than $220,000, he hasn’t played a minute all season.

MF CJ Fodrey: Incomplete

With only five appearances and 114 minutes played, it’s not clear what Fodrey can do at this level. He's only 20, and the club probably thinks he needs to develop more with most of his time spent playing for Austin FC II.

Coaching: B

Head coach Josh Wolff has dealt with a limited roster very well and has the club lined up to compete for a playoff spot if it can get to July 20 — when Bukari, right back Mikkel Desler and any other new signees can play — without completely falling apart. An MLS national media poll put the Verde & Black last in the West in February, and most Austin FC fans would have anxiously signed up for being sixth or seventh in the conference at the halfway point before the season.

Front office: A

With limited room under the salary cap, sporting director Rodolfo Borrell brought in Obrian, Rubio, Biro, Hines-Ike and Cleveland. That’s four starters and what many consider a goalkeeper who could start for about a third of the league. Borrell also persuaded Bukari and Desler to leave Europe and come to MLS. It’s still early, but Borrell looks like a home run hire.

Ownership: A-

Anthony Precourt and his ownership group will pay Rigoni about $1 million through the end of the year not to be part of the club. While it might have seemed like an obvious move with Rigoni's average form, it’s an important step by the club to admit that his signing in July 2022 was a major mistake and not to throw good money after bad by keeping him around another year. Bukari and Desler also won’t have come cheaply, and when you look at what’s going on at some other MLS clubs — San Jose, Chicago and Colorado come to mind — this is an ownership that clearly tries to win.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin FC midseason player grades range from A's to incompletes