After weeks of speculation, Raiders United have officially punched a return ticket for the Champions Cup Match. A Hurst-Euless rematch seemed likely in Week 1. With only two matches left to be played, it's all but certain now. The Reds and the Horsemen both took care of business on Wednesday night, each notching a decisive win over another potential contender. Meanwhile, two teams battling to avoid the bottom spot on the table put on a show of their own.
In one of the rare weeks that require uniform swapping, Hurst City and Real Euless — who played in Stallions colors for the day — put together an electric showing. At first glance, it appears that Liga HEB is trending toward dominance from Hurst and Euless. But the Committee of One would caution you about making assumptions regarding Central or Bedford.
This won't be their year. 2020 could be.
Raiders United Stumble Early, Break Through Late to Down Bedford United 4-1
Raiders are far and away the top team in Liga HEB this season. They've outscored their opponents by an average of 4 goals per match. Traditionally, they start hot and their matches snowball from there. It's not unusual for the Reds to get ahead by two or three, then settle in for a steady diet of short passes and possession play from the back. Bedford United came into Week 6 determined to change that pattern.
The Broncos shifted key players from their prolific attack to the Center Back position, opting to have their top scorer sit in the middle of their back line. While they did surrender one goal in the first half, the strategy paid off. They equalized soon after conceding, and Hurst struggled to mount their signature imposing offense. The teams swapped strategies; Bedford building possession while Raiders relied on the counterattack. Then, shortly before the break, the Reds found another gear.
After intercepting a throw-in on the right wing, Hurst's MVP candidate played a gorgeous, curling cross into the penalty area. Their striker rose up alongside Bedford's goalie and snuck a crafty foot onto the ball to chip the keeper and scrape the back of the net all the way down for the winning goal. That seemed to wake the Reds up, and they cruised to a pair of goals in the second half. That said, Bedford looked good for most of this match. Extra-special recognition to the Hoops goalkeeper this week; he stood on his head, despite the final tally.
Stallions Contain Spartans to Take 3-0 Decision
Week 6 presented Central's top team with an imposing challenge: defeat one of the league's most consistent squads or fall out of playoff contention. Stallions have been the Number One Contender for most of 2019, and Spartans entered their showdown aware of the stakes. After exploding onto the scene in the season opener, the Silver and Black have struggled to find their attacking identity. With their best weapons losing the majority of the season to Select Team duty, Spartans have reimagined themselves as a defensive team. In fact, their back line formed the spine of the All-Star Game defense.
But a stout defense can only take you so far without a potent counter-attacking threat. In what was maybe the most open, back-and-forth matchup we've seen all year, Stallions walked away with a lopsided win. They simply got more out of their chances than their opponents. While Central absorbed attacking pressure well for most of the first half, they found themselves trailing by a goal at the break and unable to answer the bell. A few puzzling decisions from the referee seemed to demoralize them, too, draining the power from any attacking punch they had mustered.
Content to win a close match, Stallions settled in to defend in the second half and relied on their star players to carve into the attacking third. Their discipline paid off, earning a pair of goals that put the game well out of reach. Spartans looked desperate in the waning minutes, firing off long-range volleys for fear of losing the ball before they could make their way into the penalty area. With one more marquee matchup on the schedule before they close the season in a friendly against Atlético, Spartans needs to seize the moment and lay a foundation for 2020.
Real Euless Can't Complete Comeback, Fall 3-1 to Hurst City
There tends to be a significant gap between the league's top teams the bottom of the table. But squads that finish in the four or five spots one season generally do well when they reunite for the next. So games like this one, between two clubs that have never had serious championship ambitions in 2019, have higher stakes than one might think. Out of all the struggling teams, Hurst City seems to be the most promising. And they took to the pitch looking to affirm that reputation.
City pressed the issue for most of the match, playing downhill towards the Euless goal. Real, on the other hand, looked content to defend in search of their first point. Their defense put together a respectable — if sometimes wavering — effort in the first half. Hurst's attack depends on precision passing, and Euless had them frustrated early. City very nearly stole the lead on a botched clearance late in the half, but Real's keeper charged out to deflect a shot with his chest and maintain the clean sheet.
After weathering the storm to get to halftime tied at zero, however, Euless ran out of gas. Hurst hung a pair of goals on their opponents to start the second period and seemed to be in firm control moving forward. Euless battled back, eventually winning a penalty on a handball inside the box. Their man punched a hard shot over the fingertips of the Hurst keeper to make things interesting with about 15 minutes remaining. City continued to press, missing two opportunities to an offsides trap and a desperate punchout from the Euless goalie that fell just behind two strikers charging an open net. Eventually, though, they found a third goal to put the match to bed.