A season of intrigue is brewing in Liga HEB. Hurst Junior High maintains their claim as the dominant force in the league, fielding a top contender every year. But for the first time in recent memory, it's hard to tell which school stands between them and the Champions Cup. Three teams from three different schools are tied for the second slot in the playoff. Two of them have yet to face Raiders United.
The standings might settle out in the next week or two, with the schedule setting most of those squads up for an important showdown sooner than later. But for now, it's anyone's guess as to who gets a shot at the championship come April.
Raiders United Bury Stallions FC 3-1 After Strong Start
Stallions FC stumbled early in their biggest match of the year, falling behind Raiders United by a brace in the first five minutes. With one of their key starters out this week in compliance to league eligibility rules, the Horsemen looked disorganized on defense. Raiders got their first on a breakaway down the left wing, finishing top shelf at the near post. The Reds scored again minutes later when two Euless defenders miscommunicated on a clearance. Hurst's right forward pounced on the loose ball and slipped it underneath a diving keeper.
It was 3-0 by the half, Stallions choked out by a relentless and well-organized opponent who controlled every inch of the pitch. While Raiders were carefully spaced and clinical with their passing, Euless had to depend on long balls over the top of the defense to generate their chances. Stallions have speed and talent, but chemistry beats individual skill every time.
To their credit, the Horsemen did win the second half, snagging the only goal in the frame when Hurst's goalkeeper lost control of a shot that fell to the waiting boots of a man in black. But a 3-1 loss to their biggest rival won't go over well at Euless, regardless of silver linings.
Shorthanded Spartans Outlast Real Euless 3-1
Both clubs at Central have struggled to field a complete team this year, losing players for various reasons since Week 1. But even without substitutes, Spartans had more than enough firepower to put Real Euless away. It took longer than they might have liked, and it got a little hairy at the end, but the boys in silver bagged all three points on Wednesday night.
Central jumped ahead early, finishing a through-ball low and tight at the edge of the 6-yard box to go up one. They nearly doubled their lead moments later when a Euless defender fell down while contesting a pass, his arm dragging across the ball in the box. The referee ignored shouts for a Penalty, however, ruling that any contact was incidental. Real Euless snuck a goal of their own to enter the break in position to win their first point of the season.
But the Spartans offense started to click after that; players working to move off the ball and finding each other with clever inside passes to open up the Euless defense. With the wind at their backs, Central piled on the pressure until they led 3-1. The result in hand and their stamina waning, Spartans parked the bus and worked to contain a resilient Euless attack. Central ventured forward a few more times, but their last true counter-attack fizzled out when Real's keeper laid out to push a low shot out of danger with only his fingertips. The damage was done, however, and Spartans came away with a chance to take control of the league in a pivotal matchup against Raiders next week.
Bedford United Grind Out 1-0 Result Over Atlético Central
For about twenty minutes, it looked like Atlético would steal their first point of the season. They moved the ball well, containing a potent Bedford attack and finding space to push back. But then, late in the first half, a loose ball fell to their Right Fullback. With pressure coming, Central's defense played a weak pass back to their goalie. The Broncos jumped on it. Their striker collided with Central's goalie in the box, keeping his feet as the ball caromed away toward the left post. With no one between him and the goal, Bedford's top athlete closed the gap and played a smooth shot into the open net to give the Hoops the only lead they would need.
Having taken the lead, Bedford set out to work their game-plan: absorb pressure, push the ball forward when possible, and let their most skilled players dissect the Central defense. Atlético put every ounce of energy they could into the attack, hustling to each loose ball and battling for possession against a team that should have put them away easily. Without anyone on their bench, the boys in blue hung tough for the full length of the match.
But in the end, the Broncos just had the better squad. In a game of inches and lucky bounces, the side with the most skill usually wins the day. Bedford seems to be counting on that fact for the time being, grinding out one-goal wins week after week. Atlético, on the other, can focus on building a culture that will compete in 2020. And it looks like they just might.