The Austin Aztex (8-1-1) can clinch the USL PDL Mid South Division Title with a win on the road Saturday evening, but standing in the way is a Midland/Odessa Sockers (6-3-2) squad that is looking for a playoff berth and to avenge two losses to the Aztex earlier in the season.
Last time the top two squads from the division met, the Aztex needed a last-second strike from Chuy Cortes to defeat the Sockers 2-1 on May 31 at House Park. Since then, the Sockers are on a six game undefeated streak with five wins and a tie as they keep the pressure on the Aztex for the division crown.
The Aztex will look for the three points to repeat as division champions while holding pace to secure the top seed of the Southern Conference, as the top seed increases the likelihood of home field advantage through the conference championships.
For Midland, taking three points from the Aztex would bring them closer to their first division crown while putting an end to a six-game losing streak to the Aztex. Taking points from the Aztex would also help the Sockers secure a tighter grip on one of the two playoff spots in the division, adding pressure to the third place Laredo Heat (4-3-3).
The Aztex attack will receive reinforcements for Saturday’s game as Sito Seoane, Chuy Cortes, and Bubacarr Jobe return after they were unavailable in a midweek clash versus the Laredo Heat. The return of these players helps give Aztex head coach Manuel Buentello more attacking options alongside Tuesday’s goal scorers Andy Fox and Adam Black.
In the midfield, Jeff Harwell and Alesi Osorio have stepped in admirably for the Aztex in the absence of Andres Cuero and Tony Rocha. The midfield received a big boost with the return of Danny Frid, who returned in Tuesday’s victory after missing the previous seven games due to injury. The trio of Harwell, Osorio, and Frid brought constant pressure to opponents in the midfield while linking the ball from the defense to the attack.
The Aztex defense is led by goalkeeper Devin Perales, who is among the top two goalkeepers in the USL PDL in wins, fewest goals allowed, and goals against average. Travis Golden and Kalen Ryden have paired well to create a physical tandem in the backline while Cruz Oronos and Josh Alcala provide defensive support out wide while supplementing the attack with their overlapping runs.
Perales has added another dimension to the Aztex offense with his long kicks. Perales has two assists in the last three games. However, the Aztex face a difficult battle in the air as they face the duo of Walker and Tucker Hume.
The Sockers have enjoyed their best season in franchise history and much of the credit goes to Sockers head coach Matt Barnes.
Barnes constructed an offense that works well to utilize the attacking duo of Tucker Hume and Rory Knibbs, who lead the Sockers with 11 and 12 points, respectively.
Midfielder Conrad Goulborne leads the midfield with six points on the season and was named to this week’s USL PDL Team of the Week after scoring a goal and adding an assist for the Sockers in a 2-1 win over the Mississippi Brilla.
The last line of defense for the Sockers may be goalkeeper Jason Babyak, who started the previous three games and has allowed only two goals in four games this season.