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Preview: AC St. Louis, Austin Aztex Tangle in Texas

AC St. Louis makes its first trip to Austin, Texas Saturday night for a 7:30 pm clash with the Aztex.   Both teams are riding unbeaten streaks.   AC St. Louis has not lost in its last three league games, while the Aztex have not lost in their last four league games and sit atop the USSF D2 league with a record of 9-2-5, while AC St. Louis stands at 3-8-4 at the halfway point of the season.  Austin beat AC St. Louis, 2-1, in AC St. Louis’ first home game back in April.  The Aztex are affiliated not only with EPL club Stoke City, but also with FC Monterrey of the FMF and PDL clubs Victoria (British Columbia) Highlanders and West Texas United Sockers, and the Louisville Lightning of the indoor PASL.

The Aztex are owned by Englishman Phil Rawlins and are coached by another Englishman, Adrian Heath.  Heath has quite a resume.  As a player, he scored 71 goals in 228 appearances for Everton during their successful run in the early eighties, and also played for English sides Sheffield United, Burnley, Manchester City, Stoke City and Aston Villa, along with Spanish club Espanyol of Barcelona.  Heath has managing experience at Sheffield United, Burnley and Coventry City, and has been an assistant at Leeds United, Sunderland and Everton.

Heath’s Aztex club have come a long way from last year’s five win season as an expansion team.  They lead USSF D2 in goals scored, with 29, ten more than 2nd leading scorers, the Rochester Rhinos, despite having suffered a bit of a scoring slump the last few games.  Englishman Eddie Johnson is second to Portland’s Ryan Pore in the USSFD2 scoring race with eight goals, while teammates Maxwell Griffin and Jamie Watson have five goals apiece.  Midfielders Yordany Alvarez, Lawrence Olum and defender Maxwell Griffin have each chipped in two goals so far this season.  The Aztex have been on a bit of a scoring slump, only scoring one goal in their last three contests (including a 1-0 loss to Chivas USA in the US Open Cup), but look to regain their first half of the season dominance Saturday.  Alvarez and goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo are the only Aztex to have played every minute of the league season so far, but defenders Jay Needham and Yohance Marshall have been steady at the back as regular contributors and midfielders Michael Callahan and Kevin Sakuda have also played often.  Former KC Wizard Lance Watson returned from a hamstring injury last week after missing a month.

AC St. Louis travels to Texas to avenge their earlier season loss with a much improved offense and seemingly a better team spirit.  The Saints, as some fans refer to them, have scored five goals in their last two games, with midfielders Jeff Cosgriff and Chris Salvaggione netting in both contests and Luke Kreamalmeyer adding a goal and assists.  The young team has improved quite a bit, starting with their June 12 win over Puerto Rico, winning twice in the US Open Cup, defeating Montreal at home and drawing with Vancouver twice and NSC Minnesota once, with their only losses being to the Carolina RailHawks in league play and the LA Galaxy in the US Open Cup.   Surrendering leads late in games, however, has been a problem, with both Vancouver and NSC Minnesota coming from behind to deny AC St. Louis much-needed points.  New Coach Dale Schilly and his staff have brightened the offense and his young players are demonstrating new confidence with a crisper passing game and better possession.   It is crucial, though, that the new coaching staff figues out AC St. Louis’ late game blues, as they have dropped too many points this season, points that are so important to their chances of obtaining a postseason playoff berth.   Schilly, who has extensive experience coaching in the youth ranks, is in his first season heading a professional team. 

Certainly the young AC St. Louis team is maturing.  On a team that can only count Mike Ambersley, Jack Traynor, Tim Velten, Elvir Kafedzic, Kreamalmeyer and Brazilian Gauchinho as professional veterans, the first half of the season has involved a huge learning curve for the rookie players, many of whom came from a small college background.  Schilly, brought in as head coach in mid-June, has not had the luxury of a long preseason to  familiarize himself with his squad and teach them the specifics he wants to instill.  The fact that the team is 1-1-3 in league play since his arrival is very positive, and the AC St. Louis fans look for a better team record in the second half of the season, especially when they have a majority of games at home.  The team is relatively healthy, and did not suffer any injuries in its contest Wednesday in Minnesota.  If Schilly can improve the team’s late game tendency of surrendering goals to the degree he has improved their attacking, fans have a lot of fun to look forward to.

Saturday night should feature an exciting, upbeat match that I am definitely looking forward to.  The contest will be a good yardstick in which to measure the improvement of a young squad against the best team in USSF D2 in their home park.  AC St. Louis continues their road trip in Montreal on Wednesday July 21 and then go to Baltimore for a Saturday July 24 fixture before returning home against the revived Portland Timbers on Wednesday July 28.  GO AC !!!


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