With just one week remaining in the regular season, the playoff picture is coming into focus. Raiders United were able to clinch the top of the table with a decisive win over their rivals at Central, securing a place in the Champions Cup. Their opponent is still uncertain, however. Despite their loss, Atlético retains an outside shot at a rematch with RUFC in the final. With a large enough win in the season finale, they could leapfrog over Stallions and Hurst City on Goal Differential or even the GPA tiebreaker.

Euless, on the other hand, will enter their own March 22 rematch with tiebreakers in hand. A win, a draw, or even a one-goal loss should be enough to make them the runners-up for 2017. The Horsemen beat Atlético head-to-head, and only need to fear the boys in blue if they drop a game against Hurst City and find themselves in a three-way tie for second.

At that point, the regular season results become less conclusive and Goal Differential figures more heavily into the standings. The picture is even more clear for Hurst City: win by two or more, and they almost certainly secure an all-Hurst final. With that result, only an unlikely lopsided win for Atlético could drop the Other Hurst Team out of the championship game.

Suffice it to say that the last week of the 2017 campaign is going to get interesting.

Raiders United Seal Regular Season Title

Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

We expected Raiders United to lock up the number one seed at some point in the next few weeks. It was the most likely scenario; they only needed a point to put the regular season title on ice and qualify for the Champions Cup. On Wednesday, they got three. But Atlético Central made them work for those points.

RUFC came out firing from the opening kick, applying steady pressure to a vastly improved Central defense. Raiders were almost too aggressive, finding themselves either offside or on the wrong end of a free kick throughout the first half. They did finally break the stalemate about ten minutes in, and found the insurance goal moments after when Atlético's keeper mishandled a ball that fell to the feet of a waiting Hurst striker. RUFC struck again in the second half, curling a perfect corner kick into the far post.

For their part, the boys in blue fought back even when the game seemed out of hand. Their counterattack was missing a few key pieces on Wednesday, and the offense struggled for most of the match. They did salvage a late tally with a clever backheel to make the score respectable, however. The importance of that strike cannot be understated, as Goal Differential is going to mean a lot in the race to the Champions Cup. ACFC's late tally kept them theoretically alive in a tight battle for second place. To qualify for a shot at the title, they'll need a big win in their rematch with Raiders on March 22, coupled with a Stallions FC loss. A big enough swing in Goal Differential could see Central into the final for another rematch with the men at the top of the table.

Spartans FC Stake First Win of 2017 Over Real Euless

Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

In their first meeting of the year, Spartans FC took advantage of a shorthanded Real Euless side to offset some of their more painful losses with a blowout of their own. The Euless squad, racked with illness that swept through the locker room, had to play the full match with only eleven men. Coach Spells spent most of the match substituting Spartan players in and out to keep legs fresh. The tactic paid off, to say the least.

The final result may have been ugly for Real, but they showed signs of life. Euless netted the first goal of the match when a poor clearance left their striker open for a far-post finish, and celebrated with their patented world-beating enthusiasm. For the first time this year, the boys in white got to play end-to-end, pushing the ball into the attacking third with a revitalized midfield. If not for the physical strain of playing without substitutes, they very well could have earned their first point on Wednesday.

Spartans wouldn't allow that. They equalized shortly after falling behind, with a deep throw-in that fell to their winger, who chipped a gorgeous ball into the center of the box. His striker was ready for the chance, pulling a standing bicycle kick to flick the ball over himself and the oncoming keeper. The Navy and Grey couldn't be stopped after that, jumping out to a 3-1 lead at the half. The final score will help to ease the pain of a difficult season, especially if they can repeat this performance in the final week.

Stallions FC Shock Hurst City with Late Strike

Photo by Steven A Jones, 6 Stones

Another week, another classic for the favorites to finish behind Raiders United. Both Hurst City and Stallions FC have mounted impressive campaigns this season, but the former seems to be losing steam while the latter is gaining it. The clubs played a hard fought but clean match that felt like a championship game in an of itself.

Stallions got their first real chance at a goal after a foul at the edge of the box, but the resulting free kick drifted over the wall and into the waiting hands of Hurst's goaltender. The White and Red conceded shortly after that, falling behind 1-0 and nearly losing control of the game before the break when City's keeper punched a shot into the near post. The ball caromed off the bar, but a Hurst defender cleared it off the line before it could be counted as a goal.

That luck ran out in the second half, when the Horsemen played a perfect free kick over the defense for their striker to run down. He juggled the ball over his man to cut inside, then fired a shot that was deflected and cleared off the line only to be tapped in by the right forward.

Hurst City climbed back into the game when Euless misplayed a pass back to the keeper, who handled the ball just outside the 6 yard box. Stallions packed in between the posts, but Hurst handled the kick perfectly, passing back to an open man who chipped the defense as they rushed out to challenge it. Euless lost composure and gave up the equalizer moments later. They salvaged the match, however, with an incredible right-footed volley that sailed 20 yards into the net, just over the outstretched arms of a diving goalkeeper.

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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