This Austin FC season has had precious few silver linings, but the breakout of homegrown midfielder Owen Wolff is among them. The 18-year-old established himself as one of the very best teenagers in MLS this season, appearing in nearly every Austin match he was available for when he wasn’t off with the United States youth national team at the U-20 World Cup.
Wolff’s breakthrough to win a starting spot in a crowded Austin midfield throughout a very disappointing season for the team was made all the more tricky by the fact that he’s the son of head coach Josh Wolff. That dynamic is a delicate one, and difficult to manage.
“With any young player — I mean, he happens to share the last name with me but that has nothing to do with it — he has to prove to his teammates he’s capable of playing,” Josh Wolff told The Athletic. “You see what the kid puts in as far as the work, what it means to be secure, what it means to have positional discipline and understand principles of playing. He has done the work in training, showing he was capable.”
“I think we balance it out pretty well,” Owen added. “When we’re around soccer, at work, I treat him just as a coach. I’ll call him Dad at home, Josh at work.”
That family dynamic is likely foreign to most of us, but it’s standard for the Wolffs. In conversations with Josh and Owen, both largely skip over questions about their father/son relationship and want to get right into analyzing soccer— Their own games, training sessions or other professional games from around the world.
The Wolffs come by the obsession honestly. In his playing days, Josh was a long-time U.S. international with 52 caps. Owen is joined by his older brother, Tyler, 20, who is also having a breakout year with Atlanta United. Their younger brother, Gavin, is in the Austin FC academy. Owen’s younger sister, Ella, also plays.
“I’ve been around soccer for a long time, around my father,” Owen said. “He sees the game in a very different way than people do. For me, it’s about soccer IQ. It’s a game of passing and moving, finding spaces. It doesn’t matter what position I’m playing at, I feel like I do a decent job anywhere. I’ve just seen it for so long, I just see things differently.”
Owen has been comfortable as a winger and, even in rare cases, a fullback, but both father and son agree his best position is indeed as a box-to-box central midfielder.
“For me, he’s a true No. 8,” Josh said. “He’s a box-to-box player, he can play between the lines. He’s a good footballer. Technically, decision-making— Not like too many 17 or 18-year-olds.”
Owen Wolff fully broke into the Austin first team in 2022 as a 17-year-old in a very successful team. He appeared in 24 MLS regular season games and another two playoff games. It set him up for another step forward this season.
“Last year I was able to get a decent amount of minutes as a young player,” Owen Wolff said. “And I think it was important for me, I’ve gained a little more confidence and comfortability around the team. Coming into preseason, I think my confidence was much higher than what it was the first season. And I think that really, really helped me come into the season more prepared and ready for more minutes.”
Wolff appeared in both of Austin’s CCL games this year, subbing into the first leg after the damage was done in a shocking 3-0 defeat to Haitian side Violette AC. He started his side’s first three MLS games, two of which were wins, then appeared in 13 of Austin’s first 14 games across all competitions before heading off to the U-20 World Cup in May.
“His quality inside our team is extremely good,” Josh Wolff said. “Him and Dani Pereira showed to be the best right out of the gate in preseason, they showed to be the best at the very beginning of the season.”
Wolff started all five of the United States’ games at the U-20 World Cup in front of scouts from many top leagues and clubs. Already reported to be a target for Dutch club PSV, Wolff hopes to one day be at that next level.
“Yeah, eventually going abroad to Europe and trying to compete at the highest level,” Owen said when asked of his next goals as a player. “But right now I’m focused on Austin and I’m here. I’m staying focused here, getting better as a player and a better person to eventually transition to Europe when that time comes.”
(Photo: Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/Getty Images)