Austin in nurture mode after solid June
Heath must keep his players at their present high level
Head coach Adrian Heath’s job with the Austin Aztex has changed.
After spending the first half of the season molding his squad into the league’s team to beat, Heath now becomes a motivator, determined not to let Austin slip in form.
“What we have to make sure of is that we are good enough to stay as high (in the standings) as possible,” Heath said. “That’s my job now, to drive it home until the end of the season and not let the players take their foot off the pedal at any stage.”
Austin will play Puerto Rico tonight to mark the midway point of the USSF Division-2 season. The Aztex come into the match atop the league standings for the seventh consecutive week, and their successful navigation of a challenging June schedule erased any doubt that they are a legitimate title contender.
At the beginning of June, the Aztex held a two-point lead over Tampa Bay. Both teams earned points early by winning games against the league’s lower teams, but the match-filled June schedule challenged both clubs.
U.S. Open Cup play meant both teams faced several weeks with multiple games, and in league play, Austin and Tampa Bay both faced traditional powerhouses.
Heath said beforehand that the month would be a “fair reflection” of where the two teams stood. Austin came out of the rough stretch with a 31-1 mark and held onto first place in the standings, while Tampa Bay scored only one goal in league play the entire month. The Rowdies lost all four of their matches in June and dropped to sixth in the league standings.
“We did start out with the teams that have, so far, faded toward the bottom,” Aztex forward Jamie Watson said, “but we knew when June came … this was the point when we needed to get clear.”
Austin has done just that, proving it can be the league’s best club for at least half of the season.
“We’ve set ourselves a standard and we’ve got to keep maintaining that standard,” Heath said.
It won’t get any easier for the Aztex. After tonight’s home match against Puerto Rico, nine of Austin’s remaining 15 games will be on the road, including trips to the league’s three MLS-bound teams, Montreal, Vancouver and Portland.
“It doesn’t worry me because … we’ve gone on the road and won,” Watson said, referring to Austin’s unbeaten record on the road this season in league matches.
“Maybe it wasn’t Portland in front of 15,000 people, but it was still a road game, nonetheless.”
Seeing the wins rack up as they did in the first half has given the Aztex confidence. Now, Heath said, it’s a matter of staying the course.
“If we can come through (June) … that’s proof to me that we can compete with anybody in the league. That’s a given now,” he said. “More importantly, not only can we compete, we can win. That’s what we have to do now. We have to maintain that level of performance.”