Soccer Watch

Aztex release 14 players after failing to reach the playoffs, and more

After falling short of the playoffs in their first year, the Austin Aztex announced Friday that they've released 14 players from their 2009 squad, including popular locals Zack Pope, A.J. Godbolt, Wes Allen, and Josh Alcala. That leaves goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo as the only roster player with local ties. Other notable drops: English striker Gifton Noel-Williams, hailed as a franchise player when he was the team's second-ever signee last year, and defender Michael Dello-Russo, who had signed to a two-year contract right before the end of this season... Monday was the first day on the job for the Aztex's new CEO, Djorn Buchholz, former general manager of the Minnesota Thunder.

The UT Longhorn season ended last Friday with a 5-1 loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament; a 9-9-3 final record wasn't nearly enough to earn a ninth straight NCAA bid. All in all, it was a down year for the Big 12, as only Texas A&M and tourney champ Oklahoma State made the 64-team NCAA field.

St. Edward's women are in the Division II NCAAs this weekend, facing Central Oklahoma at 7pm Friday, at Benson Stadium in San Antonio. The winner plays Incarnate Word Sunday for a chance to be one of the final eight. That would be a rubber match for the Hilltoppers, who split a pair with their Heartland Conference rivals this year. The St. Ed's men again failed to earn a bid, despite winning the Heartland title for the first time since 2000.

World Cup Qualifying this Saturday and Wednesday, Nov. 14 & 18, with four spots in Europe, three in Africa, and two intercontinental playoffs still to be decided. Most games are pay-per-view only, on Setanta. Fadó Irish Pub (214 W. Fourth) will show several of them; check for details.

I predicted last week that cooler heads would prevail in the rift between factions of the United Soccer Leagues. That hasn't been the trend so far.

On one side is the USL, now with strategic partner Nike, which has six loyal returning franchises in the Aztex, Cleveland, Puerto Rico, Rochester, Charleston, and Portland, plus expansion teams in New York and Tampa Bay. Last week, Nike hosted the first team owners meeting in Oregon with just five of last year's 11 teams in attendance, but they are nonetheless "thrilled to be creating a new road map for a sophisticated future at new heights moving forward to 2010 and beyond with the current and future great, quality owners."

On the other side is the Team Owners Association, which includes the other five returning USL-1 teams – Carolina, Minnesota, Vancouver, Montreal, and Miami – along with the revived Atlanta Silverbacks and expansion St. Louis. This Tuesday, the association announced that they've formed a new pro league to begin play in April, although Vancouver is moving to the MLS after next year, Montreal is said to be right behind them, Minnesota has suspended operations, Atlanta did the same a year ago, Miami almost the same six months ago, and St. Louis doesn't exist yet. Why the Carolina RailHawks are hanging around in this company is beyond me.

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Austin Aztex, Miguel Gallardo, Djorn Buchholz, Gifton Noel-Williams, Michael Dello-Russo

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