AUSTIN – The Austin Aztex needed a furious two-goal rally to force a 2-2 tie versus the Midland/Odessa Sockers in front of a season-high crowd of 2,380 Friday evening at House Park.
Aztex defender Marshall Tucker scored the equalizer in the final seconds of the game.
“It is bittersweet,” Tucker said. “I mean, it was great to come back, but we wanted the three points at the beginning. If you told us we’d get a tie, I’d be disappointed.”
With the result, the Mid South playoff scenarios take better shape as the division champion Aztex (10-1-2) improve to a league-leading 32 points in the season. The Sockers had to settle for one point to stand at a 6-4-3 record and 21 points. The result also helped increase the playoff chances for the Laredo Heat, who are now only three points behind the Sockers at 5-4-3 and own the playoff tie breaker with one game in hand. The two teams are battling for the valuable second place spot in the division, which advances to the Southern Conference Championships.
Even though the Aztex were named the host of the Southern Conference playoffs earlier Friday afternoon, the team wanted to regain the dominant form they enjoyed at House Park. Prior to today’s game, the Laredo Heat snapped a USL PDL home game winning streak for the Aztex which lasted for nearly two years.
However, the Sockers had other plans as they dictated the game through the first half. Aztex goalkeeper Devin Perales was forced to step up and make two point-blank saves in the opening ten minutes as the Sockers forced turnovers and stifled the Aztex attack.
The Aztex nearly took momentum of the game after the first 20 minutes once Sito Seoane started to pepper the goal with shots. Yet, the shot attempts were just wide of the goal.
The Sockers would seize the upper hand in the 28th minute when Conrod Goulbourne threaded a through ball that split the Aztex backline. Forward Rory Knibbs raced to the ball and beat Perales with a low, driven shot for the opening goal of the game.
The goal also continued a troubling streak for the Aztex, who have conceded the opening goal for the fifth straight home game.
The climb to get back in the game took a steeper path early in the second half once Sockers defender Walker Hume picked up a loose ball from a set play and hit a left-footed shot past Perales to give the Aztex a two-goal deficit, the first such deficit of the season for the Aztex.
Aztex Head Coach Manuel Buentello would look for the spark to reignite the Aztex offense, and sent in second half substitutions of Bubacarr Jobe, Justin Franz, Alesi Osorio, and Cruz Oronos to reestablish possession of the ball and create attacking chances for the squad. Jobe threatened Sockers goalkeeper Jason Babyak with two shots which were just off target.
The Aztex comeback started when Kalen Ryden hammered home a corner kick with a leaping header in the 78th minute. The goal was Ryden’s second goal in as many games.
After Ryden’s goal, the resurgent Aztex looked to get the equalizing goal and needed every second of the five minutes of extra time to get that goal.
Justin Franz was fouled outside of the Sockers penalty area and Adam Black lined up for a free kick. Black, a dangerous goal scorer from the position of the ball, whipped a shot that caromed off of the right goal past Babyak and across the face of the goal, where Aztex defender Marshall Tucker dove to hit the ball into the net for the equalizer.
“It felt like a game winner,” Tucker said. “We all know Adam can hit dangerous free kicks and I was just praying that the keeper would spill it out, but it hit off the post and then I didn’t know if it was going in or not so I just put a head on it.”
The Aztex close out the regular season on Thursday, July 17 at House Park versus the Houston Dutch Lions. The Aztex will host the USL PDL Southern Conference Championships during the weekend of July 26 and 27, where playoff match-ups and kickoff times will be announced at a later time.