The Austin Aztex played host to the expansion NSC Minnesota Stars Saturday night at House Park, and shut down the Stars 2-0. The Aztex victory put them back into first place in the USL Conference with a 14-3-7 mark, one point ahead of the idle Rochester Rhinos. Austin’s 49 points are the best total in the USSF D2.
This was a big game for both teams, as the Stars are holding onto the eighth and final USSF D2 playoff spot by their fingertips and were looking for a result in Austin. But it was not to be, as Man of the Match Eddie Johnson, and his co-star Jamie Watson. combined twice to give the Aztex the win.
Adrian Heath was back on the sidelines for Austin after a one-game suspension, and his troops responded well. The Aztex opened the scoring in the 24th minute, as Jamie Watson threaded a beautiful through ball to Eddie Johnson, who worked NSC Minnesota goalie Matt Van Oekel and scored into an empty net. Austin went to the half holding a 1-0 lead.
Coach Manny Lagos’ Stars came out pressuring in the second half, and did some good work in Austin’s side of the field, but anytime they looked likely to get off a shot, an Austin defender was there to block it. Many admire Austin’s high-scoring attack, but it’s time to give a shout out to the Aztex defenders. Playing without the injured Jay Needham in the center, Yohance Marshall, Kevin Sakuda, Kieron Bernard and Leonard Griffin seemed to be everywhere, blanketing Stars’ forward Brian Cvilikas anytime he got a touch. Miguel Gallardo will be credited with another clean sheet, but only had to make two saves and perhaps should be buying dinner for his defenders, considering the quality work they did.
Eddie Johnson scored again in the 81st minute, this time on a headed ball, from co-star Jamie Watson. NSC Minnesota’s defenders played well overall, but Johnson had too much space in front of the goal and Van Oekel had no chance. Johnson’s second goal of the match was his 13th in 2010 league play. The 24 year-old Englishman is second in the USSF D2 scoring race to Portland midfielder Ryan Pore, and both should be considered strong candidates for the league’s MVP.
Starting in place for suspended veteran goalkeeper Joe Warren, Van Oekel did a good job, and showed great judgment coming way out of goal midway through the second half to disrupt a potential Aztex breakaway. Stars’ midfielder Johnny Menyongar made some nice passes throughout the match, but his work went for naught as the Aztex defenders were all over Minnesota’s forwards. The Stars played a decent game, and tied Austin with 11 shots and dominated in corner kicks, 5-1.but Mr. Johnson and Austin’s defense proved to be too much. If there is one consolation for Manny Lagos and his team, it’s that they still hold onto that last playoff spot. FC Tampa Bay, who are tied with NSC Minnesota at 28 points, don’t play again until September 11, when they travel to Rochester in what will be a tough venue to get a result. NSC Minnesota plays its next match against AC St. Louis at AB Soccer Park next Saturday. An AC St. Louis win tomorrow over Miami FC would narrow NSC Minnesota’s lead over its fellow expansion club to two points heading into their matchup.
Congratulations to Coach Heath and his team on regaining first place. But I’m sure the Rochester Rhinos won’t roll over and play dead. Rochester had won six consecutive games before losing their last match against their big rival, Montreal, and I imagine the race for the USL Conference top spot will go down to the wire.
Notes: Austin has only lost twice at home this season. Tonight’s House Park crowd was 3,744. Defender Jay Needham and midfielder Lawrence Olum remain on the sidelines with injuries for the Aztex, but midfielder Tsuyoshi Yoshitake, acquired on loan from CP Baltimore, will be eligible to play in Austin’s next match. Young Matt Van Oekel made his fifth appearance in league play for the Stars tonight. He had made one appearance for the Minnesota Thunder. The Stars haven’t won since July 10 against the Rowdies, but have come back in all three previous league games against next week’s opponent, AC St. Louis, to get a result. Both of tonight’s coaches, Adrian Heath and Manny Lagos, received suspensions in their last games played in Portland.
Austin Starting Lineup: Gallardo, Sakuda, L.Marshall, Griffon, Bernard, L.Watson, Callahan, Alvarez, J.Watson, Johnson, M.Griffin Subs Used: Patterson, Hemming, McFayden
NSC Minnesota Starting Lineup: Van Oekel, Lorenz, Clements,Arrango, Altman, Wasson, Takada, Rodriguez, Menyongar, Allen, Cvilikas Subs Used: Del Do, Bracalello,Hlavaty, Kallman