AUSTIN – The Austin Aztex title defense came to an end Saturday evening when they lost 2-0 to the Ocala Stampede in the Southern Conference Championship in front of 2,228 fans at House Park.
Fireworks started early, as the Aztex displayed an aggressive style of play with a sense of urgency to set the tempo. Just four minutes into the game, Jeff Harwell and Eddie Campbell had consecutive shots inside the goal area, with the first one deflected by a defender and the second one going wide right. The first ten minutes, Austin controlled the middle of the field but they were unable to find holes in Ocala’s defense.
In the 11th minute, the Stampede took advantage of a misstep in the Aztex defense. Speedy forward Karamba Janneh out ran an Aztex defender through the left side and took the ball all the way to the goal, where he was able to beat Aztex goalkeeper Devin Perales for the opening goal.
Ocala continued to play the counterattack game very efficiently, defending well against consistent Aztex pressure and using their speed to create separation. The Aztex got a hold of the time of possession and went all out against the Stampede trying to find the equalizer. In the 22nd minute, Sito Seoane was fouled outside the box and was awarded a free kick. Chuy Cortes shot a blast that kissed the upper post, missing by an inch.
However, the best chance for the Aztex to break through the Stampede came on a perfectly executed play by Eddie Campbell on the 27th minute. Campbell sent a through ball to Aztex forward Adam Black to set him up for a one on one with Ocala’s goalkeeper Lex Craggs. Black handled the ball well, but couldn’t finish the play with a score. The Aztex were still able to create to more chances in the half, with Campbell and Cortes leading the offense evading defenders and shooting for goal, but Ocala’s defense was able to hold them off.
Aztex Head Coach Manuel Buentello decided to change up the pace of the game by Cruz Oronos and young star Bubacarr Jobe. The gamble nearly paid off quickly when in the 46th minute Buba broke away through the right side and fired a shot that bounced into the goalkeeper. Three minutes later, Jobe wrestled the ball away from a defender deep in Ocala’s territory. He quickly spotted Eddie Campbell and passed the ball to him, but as Campbell blasted the shot, Ocala’s goalkeeper decisively closed the shooting angle and deflected the ball away.
After intense pressure from Austin in the opening five minutes of the second half, Ocala responded by taking control of the possession game in midfield and not conceding spaces to the Aztex. The building pressure ended up forcing a mistake in the Aztex back end in the 55th minute as attacker Ilija Ilic took the ball to get possession and firde a shot that found the back of the net to put the score 2-0.
Devin Perales kept the Aztex in the game three minutes later with a point-blank save from five yards away from goal.
Despite being down by two scores, the Aztex kept fighting, leaving everything on the field. By the 65th minute, the tables turned and Austin regained possession and began spreading the ball around looking for spaces to pierce through the defense. Chuy Cortes was able to do so with an opportunity to shoot in space, but the keeper was able to keep to ball under control. On the 73rd minute, Campbell again flew up the left side of the goal to connect a header, but he couldn’t direct his attempt towards goal.
In a last attempt to revitalize the Aztex attack, head coach Manuel Buentello sent forward Andrew Fox to the field to add an additional attacking option in 74th minute. The Aztex immediately dictated the tempo with these changes as Buba Jobe registered a shot that the keeper saved, and two minutes later he served a great cross all the way to the right side to Andrew Fox, who juked a defender and then fired a fierce shot that the keeper was opportunistically able to deflect.
With the last seconds of the game winding down, the Aztex weren’t going out without a fight, were unable to break past the Stampede’s backline and eventually fell to the Ocala Stampede.