The Austin Aztex's home-away-from-home opener last Saturday was a considerable success – they drew a pretty good crowd to Round Rock ISD's Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex, despite the rain and a one-hour lightning delay; they put together a nice game-day experience, in difficult circumstances; and on the field, they outplayed the Tulsa Roughnecks pretty much throughout, before what looked like a phantom penalty call in the 85th minute allowed the visitors to scratch back a 1-1 draw. After the game, coach Paul Dalglish noted that three games in six days had taken their toll; his team looked perhaps a step slow in the second half, after bowing out of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night, losing 2-0 to the Houston Dynamo.
Perhaps the coolest feature of the new venue: The Aztex struck a deal with Capital Metro to offer ticket-holders a free train ride to and from the game, including a shuttle bus between Lakeline Station, the stadium, and the League Tavern, now the official pre- and post-game location, where Aztex players will join fans for their post-game meal, and a late-night happy hour. Visit www.austinaztex.com/capmetro and print the free pass; that and a game ticket allow you to ride for free... The other very cool feature: extra width on the field. The playing surface at Kelly Reeves is a good 20 yards wider than it is at House Park – extra room which should suit the Aztex playing style well.
This Saturday the Aztex take on defending champion Sacramento Republic at 7:30pm. Just two weeks ago, the Aztex silenced a sold-out stadium in Sacramento, handing the Republic their first home shutout loss ever. See www.austinaztex.com for more info and a variety of ticket packages. Kelly Reeves is at 10211 W. Parmer, just north of Lakeline Blvd.
The quarterfinals are this Friday and Saturday, with the semifinals next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the final on Sunday, July 5. Brief previews below, but to start on the geopolitical level: By confederation, the final eight features three European nations, two Asian, and two North American. It also features England and its three most successful colonies, and it includes each of the world's six largest economies. (In fact, if you rank all the countries in the final by their gross domestic product, only No. 7 Brazil is missing from the final eight, upset by No. 9 Australia.) The remaining schedule:
Quarterfinals: June 26-27
Fri., 3pm: Germany-France (Fox, NBC Universo) Clearly the two best teams in the tournament so far, meeting in the first quarterfinal: Both play aggressive, pressing defense; both have dynamic attacking combinations. Should be the game of the year.
Fri., 6:30pm: USA-China (Fox, En Vivo Extra) The U.S. should be a heavy favorite against the only team left that's not in the top 10 in the world, but there's no flow to the American play, no combination play from anyone but Megan Rapinoe, and she's out of this game for yellow card accumulation. So's Lauren Holiday, so with two new starting midfielders, and Abby Wambach playing horribly, will coach Jill Ellis find a combination that works?
Sat., 3pm: Japan-Australia (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo) Defending champ Japan hasn't really been tested yet, and won't face another top-five team in their half of the bracket. But the Aussies are for real: They played Brazil to a standstill, and were tougher in the end.
Sat., 6:30pm: Canada-England (Fox Sports 1, NBC Universo) O Canada. The hosts have looked tight and out of sorts, but here they are, back at their home base in Vancouver, meeting a quietly competent England that's risen to sixth in the world without anyone much noticing.
Semifinals: June 30-July 1
Tue., 6pm: Friday winners (Fox, NBC Universo)
Wed., 6pm: Saturday winners (Fox Sports 1, NBC Universo)
3rd Place: July 4
Sat., 3pm: TBD (Fox Sports 1, NBC Universo)
Championship Final: July 5
Sun., 6pm: TBD (Fox Sports 1, Telemundo)
Plus... The Copa America knockout round is starting as we go to press (without Brazilian star Neymar, suspended for the rest of the tournament for violent conduct and referee abuse); it runs through July 4, live on BeIN Sports.
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