The 2018 season is off and running, giving us all the joy and drama we expected in Week 1. The defending champions at Hurst started the year with a big win over their rivals from Central. Real Euless put on a show that spoiled Bedford United's league premiere. Perhaps most surprisingly, Hurst City waltzed past Atlético Central to give Hurst Junior High an undefeated start. But don't let the scorelines fool you. Quality soccer abounds on the pitch in Liga HEB.
More importantly, we're off on the right foot again this year. The 2016 campaign started on a sour note, and tensions ran high around the league. We flipped that pattern on its head in 2017 and continued to push for unity and parity this year. So after their matches, Liga players got together to celebrate the new season with a block party.
Way FM provided music and QuickTrip helped to furnish meals for all 136 players and a crowd of families who came out to watch the games. All in all, it was exactly the jubilant kickoff we hoped it would be.
Here's a look at the on-field action.
The heated rivalry continues. Central and Hurst have been dominant powers in Liga HEB since its launch, with the boys in red getting the better of the series recently. Raiders United launched their title defense with a stellar performance against the Silver and Navy.
Spartans struggled mightily last year, but seem to have solidified their team identity during the offseason. They play a much more calm, controlling brand of football than in years past; a big leap for a club once marked by physicality and grit. The defense is much-improved here, but they struggled to get much done in the final third. All credit goes to Raiders on that count, of course.
As is the standard at Hurst, United stifled their opponents in the midfield by concentrating their talent in the center and working the ball outside and back in. Spartans spent too much of the match chasing passes and not enough connecting them, and the end result was a few tallies that could've been avoided in the first half and a stalemate in the second.
Real Euless Dominate as Bedford United Struggles in Debut
We knew it would be tough to walk into Liga HEB, but we didn't realize just how tough. Bedford United have their work cut out in the coming weeks. For their part, though, Real Euless grew by leaps and bounds during the break. This is a team with incredible talent on the wings and a staunch back line. Don't be shocked if they make a run at the Champions Cup after finishing near the bottom of the table last year.
Real swarmed the pitch from the opening whistle, closing down loose balls and creating opportunities by pressuring their opponents at every turn. They showed individual skill in spades and a strong tactical presence on top of it, never giving their opponents even a second to catch their breath. It was one of those rare days where even a stray volley seemed destined for the upper-90 and goals came in waves.
As for Bedford, all hope is not lost. While it's going to be tough to recover, they bagged an essential goal to restore their confidence in the closing minutes. That spectacular chip sums up the day for BUFC: plenty of skill, but nowhere to put it. Yet. The Broncos boast a talented Goalkeeper who had the misfortune of continually making a save only to see the rebound put away seconds later. Most of these boys play in the streets, so they've got the skill to make waves. It's just going to take time to gel as a team and grasp the game at full size and speed.
Hurst City Pounces on Flustered Atlético Central
It was a closer-than-the-score 2-nil after the opening period, but Hurst City jumped on Atlético Central to net a back-breaking goal early in the second half and coasted from there. After a scrum in front of the goal, the ball squirted through a baffled defense and found the back of the net. Central lost sight of the game after that, putting together a lackluster twenty minutes of play to close the game.
For Atlético, the woes seem to stay consistent every year. Their defense holds, their midfield pushes to counter, and the attack fizzles out before they cross the halfway line. While the Blues got a strong performance from their goalkeeper in the first half, they granted a talented Hurst City team too many chances overall. But if we learned anything last season, it's that Central only gets better as the year goes on.
Hurst City, on the other hand, played like men possessed. After narrowly missing the Champions Cup last year — largely because of season-ending losses to Euless — City is hungry for a chance to reclaim the title they won in 2016. With a wealth of familiar names on the roster and a mastery of the Through Ball, that goal might not be as lofty as it seems.