A week can be a long time in the soccer world, but three days can be just as intense if you follow the USL PDL Mid South division.
With less than one week remaining in the current PDL league season, the championship spots may have been decided, but the title winners have yet to make themselves apparent.
Over the past three days, Laredo Heat, Austin Aztex, and El Paso Patriots all entered into the fray with one goal in mind – WIN!
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 against visiting West Texas Sockers.
This was Austin’s final home match of the current league season and after last week’s superb 6-1 victory over Louisiana side New Orleans Jesters, the team was in fine fettle as they took to the field for this all important match that, should they emerge victorious, 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.
However, it took until the half hour mark before another was added and it came from a penalty kick that Kekuta Manneh finely slotted home from the the spot, making 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.
Kris Tyrpak was to add another couple of goals to his tally in the second half to give himself a hat trick which was only interluded by Calum Riley scoring what was possibly the goal of the match.
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 shoulders to bounce back to take victory in their match against New Orleans Jesters at TAMIU in order to retake the 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 so far 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 of the starting blocks and with the closest thing to a goal being a shot ricocheting off the crossbar, the whistle blew for halftime without any score.
With an 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 side 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 side’s 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 and 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 side’s third, handing his side 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 to reach the playoff spots but needed a complete series of victories and others to lose in order for this scenario to play itself out. All this concluded that the home side wouldn’t give up the chance being lost without a fight and gave the feeling that this match up would ensure 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 tremendous pressure on the visitors 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 and only the men between the sticks continually kept 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 were 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 now being out of range of both sides. 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 and this is what soccer is all about. Last day nerves will be in abundance with both sets of players and there’s sure to be plenty of twists and turns during the final minutes of play this season.
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