How Sweet It Is
Leading up to their USL-PDL national championship final, neither the Austin Aztex nor the Thunder Bay Chill had allowed a goal in the entire playoffs, so it would've been hard to predict the wild opening minutes of Sunday night's final at House Park.
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 late arrivals were harshly punished: Within 80 seconds, the Aztex were down 1-0, and less than two minutes later, the tables were turned completely when league MVP Kris Tyrpak was pulled down from behind by Chill goalie Steven Paterson. 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 the rest of the way.
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, with a lovely through ball for Khiry Shelton. The singing and chants in the crowd grew louder and more confident as the minutes ticked down on the second half, and the trophy presentation and postgame celebrations were sweet indeed. There's little doubt that we'll be seeing Tyrpak, Seoane, goalkeeper Devin Cook, and others joining the pro ranks some time soon. But if you were there this night, you can say you saw them when they became champions. And what's next for the Aztex? Let's talk about that next week.
Meanwhile, out in the wider world, the big national news was Clint Dempsey's move back to the U.S., to play for the Seattle Sounders in MLS... Meanwhile, the 2013-14 European season gets underway across most of the continent... even as national teams get ready for the final World Cup qualifying push starting the first week of September. Catch the U.S. trying to extend their record 11-game win streak in a friendly with Bosnia-Herzegovina this Wednesday, Aug. 14, 1:30pm on ESPN2.