With All Star Week in the rearview mirror, the top teams in Liga HEB are looking at a crucial stretch run. Stallions FC, who recently moved into second place on Goal Differential, came into Week 6 with championship aspirations. They had their work cut out for them, with neither Hurst squads showing any sign that they'll slow down. And in the background, lost in the thick of a brutal opening schedule, Atlético Central is poised to make their own run at the cup.

With three fixtures remaining for each club, only two teams have been completely eliminated from the decisive playoff match. Spartans FC and Real Euless, both in the midst of a rebuilding year, have yet to find their first win and cannot possibly catch the league leaders at Hurst. Stallions FC stumbled in a potential championship preview this week, surrendering the second seed to Hurst City. But they'll get the chance to play their rivals twice in the next three matches, so their destiny is in their hands.

Atlético, on the other hand, has some work to do in their final matchups. They're six points out of first and playing nothing but top-notch opponents for the rest of 2017. The good news? They've got two shots at league leaders RUFC and one final chance to leapfrog in front of Hurst City. If they can steal points in those games, there's a chance that they become an unlikely Cinderella story after starting 1-2-0.

Raiders United Wear Down Stallions FC

Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

We billed the showdown between Raiders and Stallions as a potential Championship preview, and for 40 minutes it felt like one. The boys in red jumped out to their traditional early lead, but the Horsemen fought back with vigor. Stallions grabbed a goal on a clever through ball that sprung their striker behind RUFC's disciplined back line in the waning moments of the first half. He beat the league's best statistical goaltender to send the match into break with a 2-1 line.

Euless didn't let up after the half, pushing for an equalizer from the first whistle. Twice in the span of 5 minutes, they missed their second tally by inches at the far post; once on the ground and once on a screaming ball that sailed over Hurst's ‘keeper but couldn't find the back of the net. They even had a goal robbed by the stellar play of United's outstanding center back, who bolstered his case for the first ever Liga HEB Golden Ball Award.

The Stallion counterattack failed to finish on their chances, however, and Raiders ground out a series of momentum-killing goals that broke their foes' resolve like a gathering storm: slowly, then all at once. Hurst's right wing found its groove in the second half, combining for some exquisite pass play that tore apart a formerly respectable Euless defense. A few botched clearances and opportunistic volleys put the game away, and the aforementioned center back put a final nail in the coffin with a corner kick that curled into the far post.

Atlético Central Back in Form Against Real Euless

Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

Atlético had one match to find their form, and they took full advantage. It was 4-nil by the half, and probably not as close as that on the field. Real Euless have been at the bottom of the table all season, and they continued to struggle with their spacing and movement off the ball in their matchup with Central's top team.

The Royal Blue scored early and often, applying steady pressure to a group of defenders that have struggled to clear the 18-yard box all year. Real's defense has a tendency to sag back while their midfield presses forward, leaving a vast expanse of open turf for their opponents. Even when they win the ball, there's nowhere to send it. Euless forwards and midfielders are too preoccupied with scoring to move in support of their haggard back line, and they've seen the wrong end of a blowout every week because of it.

On the other side of the pitch, Atlético got stunning performances from a pair of talented forwards and a hungry central midfield. There are some chemistry problems brewing for Central, but it's easy to forget about those problems when you watch their right forward carve through three defenders, shake of a fullback, and bury a ball top shelf. Still, there's a lot of fine tuning in order if Central's hopes of a title run are to stay alive.

Spartans Smothered as Hurst City Reclaims Second Place

Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

The good news for Spartans FC is that they're competing and scoring goals of late. The bad news is that they remain undisciplined in the face of talented opponents. They'll get their shot at a win in Week 8 and during the inclement weather make-up games on March 22, but they face a tall order against Stallions next week.

Hurst City, on the other hand, are back to their winning ways after a slight hiccup before the All Star break. HCFC found the net three times in the first half — twice on cleverly taken set pieces that caught their opponents off guard — and sagged defensively only when the game was well in hand. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the White and Red is the way they win 50/50 balls, even in the air, despite being a relatively small team. They run more on finesse than physicality, and they've got the skill to get away with it.

Central will need to look long and hard at their defensive game plan after this one. HCFC set out to score in droves, letting fly with a barrage of long-range shots and pinning their opponents into the final third of the field for most of the match. There's some tactical know-how in the ranks for Spartans, but they're struggling to put the pieces together. The frustration that comes with lopsided score lines won't help.

Uniforms and equipment for Liga HEB are furnished by sponsorships from Ideal Impact Inc, Elite Fitness HQ, BB&T, The Soccer Corner, 89.7 Way FM, and Parra Car Care. Additional expenses this season were covered by the Thomas M, Helen McKee, and John P. Ryan Foundation. For more on the league, drop by the Schedule & Standings page or check out the weekly Power Rankings published on the news hub.

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