We Are the Champions!
The Aztex set a franchise attendance record for the fifth straight game; at 4,253 people, this was the biggest crowd I've seen at House for any event, and by kickoff time, the seven-story ACC parking garage was completely full. Late arrivals among the crowd were harshly punished: Within 80 seconds, the Aztex were down 1-0 (the only goal they gave up in the entire post-season), and less than two minutes later, the tables were turned completely when league MVP Kris Tyrpak got behind Chill goalie Steven Paterson and was pulled down from behind. Straight red card to Paterson; PK goal by the Aztex' Sito Seoane; and Thunder Bay had lost their lead and had to play a man down for the entire rest of the game.
In retrospect, the game was essentially decided at that point, but there remained a lot of work to be done: Seoane gave the Aztex the lead in the 22nd minute – banging in a cross from captain Zack Pope, touched on by Tyrpak – and then set up an insurance goal in first-half stoppage time, sending a lovely through ball past the Chill defense. Tyrpak was in an offside position, but wisely stayed out of the play; as the Chill defenders relaxed for a split second, Khiry Shelton raced onto the ball and was suddenly free behind the defense. With only the keeper to beat, he slotted it home calmly to make it 3-1 at halftime.
Early in the second half, a clumsy Aztex foul in the penalty area gave Thunder Bay a lifeline, but the ensuing penalty kick was skied high and wide, and the Aztex were in fairly comfortable control the rest of the way, as the singing and chants in the crowd grew louder and more confident as the minutes ticked down. The shot count ended at 21-9 for the home side; possession was probably at around the same ratio, and the trophy presentation and post-game celebrations were sweet indeed. Premiere Development League president Tim Holt referred to the Aztex as the top "pre-professional" team in the continent, and indeed, there's little doubt that we'll be seeing Tyrpak, Seoane, goalkeeper Devin Cook, and some of the others joining the pro ranks some time soon. But if you were there tonight (well, I guess it's last night by the time I've finished writing this), you can say you saw them when they became champions.