By Anthony Mannino
Regardless of what happens this weekend, the Austin Aztex have been successful in their first season on and off the field.
It really didn’t matter that the team made it into playoffs – what is important is staying in Texas’ capital with the Aztex. Austinites proved this season that soccer is a component of the city’s sports culture with the top atmosphere in the Mid South Division, and the fifth best attendance in the USL Premier Development League.
The product on the field matched the support it received off, and Austin finished the season scoring the fourth most goals in the PDL, while giving up the fewest in the Southern Conference. Eventually, the Aztex earned a spot in the playoffs that begins this weekend in Ocala, Fla.
With everything that happened this season, it is hard to narrow down the top moments in the season, but here is my Top 5.
5. Austin’s Opening Game of 2012
The pain that endured Austin soccer fans since Oct. 25, 2010 (when the previous Aztex organization announced their plans to move to Orlando) ended with the new Aztex stepping on the pitch in the Woodlands on May 5, 2012. A band of 20-or-so Eberly’s Army supporters rode a van to WoodForest Stadium so they could sing their hearts out, joyfully praising the new Aztex. For them, the 4-0 beat down Austin put on the Texas Dutch Lions was the icing on the cake. Zack Pope, who previously played for Austin’s PDL team, captained the team, and Beto Papadrea, the 2008 PDL defender of the year, scored the second goal. The super talented youngster Kekuta Manneh put the Lions to sleep when he faked out two Texas Dutch defenders on his way to scoring the final goal. Maybe all of Austin didn’t get to witness it, but this game was a sign of what was to come.
4. Final Regular Season Home Game
Almost 2,000 fans showed up in the Aztex final regular season home game, and they were entertained to the beat of a 7-0 Austin win. I almost want to call this the “thank you game.” The supporters came out to thank the Aztex for their season, and the team replied by thanking the fans with a 7-0 win. The hometown hero, Kris Tyrpak, scored another hat trick in front of the fans, and Khiry Shelton, who played high school soccer for Vista Ridge, added a brace. It was a spectacle to see that the fans were always there to support the club. The added cherry on top was that the win meant the Aztex were only a victory away from making the playoffs.
3. Come from Behind Win Over Laredo
Looking back on the season, the Aztex players could point to their 2-1 comeback win in Laredo as the most important game in the season. Austin had never won a match in the previous six games when the other team had scored first, but in Laredo that changed. Horacio Leal gave the Heat the lead in the first half, however the Aztex would mount a comeback in the second 45 minutes with Tyrpak and Manneh scoring. The win placed the Aztex in first place, putting the pressure back on Laredo to pick up points to win the division. It also tied the season series at 2-2, and the win gave the Aztex confidence that they could comeback in a game.
2. Riley to Morse to Secure a Playoff Berth
While the win in Laredo is the defining game, Will Morse’s goal off an assist from Callum Riley that clinched a playoff berth for Austin is the play of the year. The game was heading into the 89th minute, and head coach Paul Dalglish had already decided to play for the tie with the substitutes he had made. Daglish knew that a tie against the El Paso Patriots and a win the next weekend versus the New Orleans Jesters would be good enough to send Austin into the playoffs. What Dalglish didn’t know is what two of his substitutes would do in the waning moments of the game in El Paso. Riley stole the ball from a Patriots player in the box, and the Englishman dribbled past two defenders before laying the ball off to Morse. The humble forward, Morse, gave all the credit to Riley, but he hammered the ball into the top of the net where no one could reach it. The El Paso crowd was silent and everyone knew that one play ended the Patriots season and added at least a weekend in the playoffs for the Aztex.
1. The Opening Game at House Park
Although the Aztex played their first official game two weeks early, the first home game against El Paso in front of 2,500 fans marked the real return of soccer in Austin. The master plan of David Markley came together with the crowd and the dominating 6-1 win by the Aztex. The owner had called this club “Austin’s team,” and it was the Austin born Tyrpak who led the Aztex to victory with a hat trick. Everyone who went to that game will always remember the day soccer returned in Austin with the beautiful backdrop of downtown Austin. Even if this team hadn’t been successful, it was nice for Austinites to be able to sit down with their family and finally cheer for the local soccer team. It also helped seeing Markley’s smile and knowing the owner was 100 percent behind this team.