Austin in nur­ture mode af­ter solid June

Heath must keep his play­ers at their present high level

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Colby M. White

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.”

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