Az­tex back in ac­tion, face big late-sea­son chal­lenges

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Colby White

The Austin Az­tex’s on­ce­com­fort­able lead atop the league stand­ings con­tin­ued to shrink over the past two weeks, and they couldn’t do a thing about it.

Austin’s match tonight against Mi­ami will end a two-week break that saw the team’s two clos­est ri­vals in the USSF Di­vi­sion-2 stand­ings — Rochester and Van­cou­ver — both trim the Az­tex’s lead to only two points. Rochester and Van­cou­ver each have played three matches since Austin last played, earn­ing six and four points, re­spec­tively.

“I’m more concerned with what we are go­ing to do,” Az­tex coach Adrian Heath said. “The most im­por­tant thing is the level of our play. I know with this group if we play as well as we can, we’re more than ca­pa­ble of win­ning games in this di­vi­sion.”

As the league en­ters the fi­nal two months of play, Rochester and Van­cou­ver have emerged as Austin’s clos­est, and ar­guably only, com­pe­ti­tion for the reg­u­lar-sea­son ti­tle. Af­ter those three teams, the stand­ings be­gin to bunch up. Six teams are within three points of one an­other, and no one is within eight points of the Az­tex.

Austin’s next three matches — at home against Mi­ami and Tampa Bay and on the road at Puerto Rico — come against teams in the bot­tom half of the D-2 stand­ings, but “I think that (mid­dle tier) is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult. I re­ally do,” Heath said. “Al­though it looks like we’re run­ning away in terms of that next pack, we know in two weeks when we go to Puerto Rico it’s go­ing to be a re­ally dif­fi­cult game.”

The Az­tex also face a late Au­gust trip to Van­cou­ver, and Austin’s only two losses this sea­son have come against Van­cou­ver and Rochester, both at House Park. A trip to Rochester on July 9 ended bet­ter, but Austin still had to set­tle for a score­less draw.

“That’s why I was so dis­ap­pointed when we didn’t win in Rochester,” said Heath, whose club doesn’t face the Rhi­nos again in the reg­u­lar sea­son. “We did more than enough to win the game and all of a sud­den there’s a two-point swing for us.”

Even as Van­cou­ver and Rochester close in on Austin, all three clubs are in com­fort­able po­si­tion for the play­offs, al­low­ing the Az­tex to fo­cus on their own sched­ule.

“We just got to keep our run go­ing,” said Ed­die John­son, Austin’s lead­ing scorer. “We’re just con­cen­trat­ing on our­selves. … If we can come out of Au­gust with quite a few points, we’re look­ing good go­ing into the play­offs.”

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