El Paso, TX — The Mid-South Division table has already been set, and both the El Paso Patriots and the Austin Aztex know their seating assignments. The Aztex (10-1-1, 31 points) are at the head of the table, having already secured the division championship. The Patriots (1-9-2, 5 points) are five seats away in last place going into the final two games of the season.
Which means all that's left for both teams to play for tonight is pride. Could be a fun game.
The weather may play a major part in this one. Austin appears to have brought South Texas to the Sun City. A storm front moved into El Paso Wednesday evening bringing downpours and cloudy weather into the Borderland. Slowing down the game may suit the Patriots controlled pace just fine, though the Aztex may be a touch more familiar playing in slick conditions.
Austin has dominated the division this season, scoring 30 times while only allowing a Premier Development League-best six goals through 12 matches.
Though the Patriots have long known this would be their final weekend of play for 2013, there are signs of life in El Paso. With no reason save pride to compete, the Patriots earned a tough point on the road with a 2-2 draw in Houston against the Dutch Lions one week ago before losing to second place Laredo the very next night, conceding the only goal of the game in the 69th minute.
Coming to the end of a frustrating season, Francisco "Paco" Chavez's youthful El Paso side has had to learn under trying circumstances without some of their more experienced players.
Defender/Assistant Coach Hugo Samano is wrapping up a multi-game suspension for an incident against West Texas last June 22nd. After being hampered by a leg injury, forward and leading scorer Naoyas Aizawa will be serving a mandatory one-game suspension tonight after being red-carded last Saturday in Laredo. Midfielder/forward Enrique "Kiki" Cervantes has been nursing a nagging hamstring injury, leaving a load that is being borne more and more ably by a number of inexperienced players in their late teens and early 20's.
It will be another opportunity to step up for players like the speedy Eric Hernandez, who has consistently challenged opposing defenders along the Patriots' right wing all season.
Against Houston, Mario Alvarez scored a gorgeous goal in the 21st minute while George Lara helped El Paso's cause with the other tally in the 35th.
Interestingly, there is still a mathematical chance for El Paso to finish the season tied for fourth place in the always-interesting Mid-South, provided the Dutch Lions and West Texas Sockers earn no points this weekend and the Patriots defeat both Austin and Laredo at Patriot Stadium.
Pride on the line with nearly everything else stripped away can be a great motivator.