With less than one week remaining of the current PDL league season, the championship spots may have been decided, but the title winners have yet to make themselves apparent.
The pressure to win the Mid South Division was on all the teams as they headed into the series of matches over the weekend with Austin Aztex kicking off the proceedings with their tie against visiting West Texas Sockers at House Park, Austin.
This was Austin’s final home match of the current league season and after last weeks superb 6-1 victory over Louisiana side New Orleans Jesters, the team were in fine fettle as they took to the field for this all important tie that should they have emerged victorious from, would ply the pressure on their main title challengers Laredo Heat who had a later kick off.
It didn’t take long for the home side to pile some early misery on their visitors as emerging superstar Kris Tyrpak scored the opening goal in only 10 minutes on what was to be the first of many that his side would fire home in a high scoring match.
It however took until the half hour mark before another goal was added, and it came from a finely slotted home penalty kick from Kekuta Manneh to make the scoreline 2-0.
Khiry Shelton was next on the score sheet with both his first and second goal of the season as his brace of goals led up to the half time break with his side four goals to zero up on their West Texas opponents.
As a competition the match was over, as there looked no way that the Sockers would ever scrape their way back into this game to challenge their high flying hosts.
The game ended 7-0 in favour of the home side much to the delight of their supporters who cheered and clapped in support of their team as they left the field for the final time this league season.
The win meant that the pressure was fairly and squarely on Laredo Heat’s shoulder to bounce back to take victory in their match v New Orleans Jesters at TAMIU if they were to retake top spot in the league standings.
New Orleans have been difficult opponents for Laredo this season and after two tied matches with them under their belt already this term, the Heat players and coaching staff were well aware of the tough task that lay ahead of them as they took to the field.
The nerves and pressure seemed to be affecting the home players as it took them a while to get out the blocks and with the closest thing to a goal being a shot ricocheting off the crossbar, the half time whistle blew for half time without any score.
With a inspired team talk still ringing in the ears of the Heat players, they immediately stormed into the second period with a Daniel Garza goal much to the relief of all the home team supporters in attendance and before long Hector Vallejo added another to give his side a 2-0 lead after only nine minutes of play in the second half.
New Orleans struck back almost instantly though with a goal of their own from Allan Fisher that seemed to rattle the Laredo players confidence once again, and not for the first time in this match the potential title winning sides players looked nervous which was compounded by the news that Austin had overrun their match by a score of seven to zero.
The Jesters were really in this match to win it and gave no quarter as they fought and scrapped for every ball but it wasn’t until five minutes before the end of regulation time that Laredo seemed to finish the match off when captain fantastic Juan de Dios Ibarra popped up to score his sides third, handing his team the victors spoils of three points in the process.
The win placed the Heat back on top of the division but only the one point in front of their rivals Austin as both teams headed into the final two games of the season to decide the final overall winner.
Saturday night couldn’t come quick enough for the Austin players as they knew that victory over El Paso Patriots would see them sit top of the pile until at least Thursday when challengers Laredo Heat would next take to the field in the final decisive matches.
El Paso still had a glimmer of hope of reaching the playoff spots but needed a complete series of victories in cooperation with others lose in order for this scenario to play itself out. All this concluded that the home side wouldn’t give up this slim chance without a fight and ensured that this match would be a tremendous battle.
As expected, the match was cagey in the opening exchanges with Austin perhaps shading the possession for the first 30 minutes of play, but towards the end of the half, the home side pushed forward and plied some goal area pressure on the visitor’s with no less than five great goal scoring chances that were all kept out by the on form Cook in the Austin goal area.
Chance after chance came for both sides as they looked for the opening goal with the game simply swinging from end to end, with only the men between the sticks continually keeping the scoreline uninterrupted as the game wore on towards the 90 minute mark.
As if irony was needed as a memento of how to finish a game off, Austin’s goalkeeper managed to clear a header from crossing the line moments before Riley moved the ball forward, into the El Paso box before playing the ball to Morse to score just two minutes before the end of regulation time.
It was a goal that El Paso couldn’t return from and come the final whistle just minutes later, their players looked dejected as the victory for the Aztex meant they had secured their team a playoff spot and for the time being, top spot in the league.
Speaking on the Aztex website Head Coach Paul Dalglish said:“We are in the playoffs now and that’s what we wanted to do at the beginning of the season. Now we want to go on and win a championship in our first year.”
Both Austin and Laredo are now assured of a playoff spot due to El Paso mathematically being out of points range of both sides above them. The only thing to resolve is who progresses as champion and who finishes in the runners up spot.
Laredo travel to the West Texas Sockers on Thursday July 12 before facing El Paso two days later in what will be a title deciding day as Austin are also in action in the final game of the league when they travel to New Orleans.
Still plenty of action to come over the next week with both Austin and Laredo in action but this is what soccer is all about. Last day nerves will be in abundance for both sets of players and there’s sure to be plenty of twists and turns during the final minutes of play over the next few days.
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