After four contests against teams from the MLS in the exhibition season, the Austin Aztex FC turned its attention to one of its foes from the First Division of the USL in the Puerto Rico Islanders. The Islanders, who used the match as a tune-up before its CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals match on Tuesday against Cruz Azul, played a defensive-minded contest against the Aztex and managed to leave town with a scoreless draw.
In the first half both teams managed limited scoring opportunities, the first for Austin coming in the 38th minute when forward Sullivan Silva dazzled the crowd with what has become his trademark crossover moves before sending a cross into the middle to fellow forward Gifton Noel Williams. Williams managed to get up and above the traffic in the middle in front of the goalkeeper but the ball just sailed over his head and past the goal.
The Aztex continued attacking the next few minutes but were unable to get any clean shots on goal. Puerto Rico fared somewhat better in the first half getting off a total of four shots, but none that seriously challenged Aztex goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo.
In the second half the Islanders threatened in the 59th minute when Kendall Jagdeosingh fired a shot from 30 yards out into a stiff south wind, which backup Aztex keeper Sam Reynolds just managed to get a hand on and send over the crossbar.
Following a liberal number of substitutions in the 61st minute by both sides, it was the Islanders’ backups that managed to penetrate the opposing defense first when an unmarked Sean Fraser received the ball in the middle of the field before firing a shot at Reynolds. Reynolds didn’t have much time to react as Fraser’s shot flew just a couple feet wide of the left post.
In the closing minutes of regulation time there was an obvious sense of urgency from both teams. One team would attack only to be followed by the opposing team going on a counterattack. Of the Aztex five shots in the second half, the best opportunity came in the 83rd minute when midfielder Alex Tapp delivered a deft pass to forward Kyle Brown. As Brown leaped for a header, Islanders backup keeper Justin Myers snatched it out of the air to end the threat.
Just moments later and in the closing minutes, the Islanders had several threats of their own, only to be denied by Reynolds.
While the scoreless draw didn’t provide a clear-cut victor, it did coincide well with the pre-arranged agreement between both teams’ head coaches to have a penalty shootout at the game’s conclusion.
In the shootout, Austin’s Wes Allen, Jarius Holmes and Alex Tapp all successfully hit the back of the net on their respective attempts. It was, however, Austin’s Reynolds who stole the show. Following an initial errant shot wide right from Puerto Rico’s Cristian Arrieta, Reynolds managed to make two spectacular diving saves to keep the Islanders off the board and secure a 3-0 total on penalty kicks.
“I am very pleased with the way we played tonight with what is the benchmark of our division in Puerto Rico,” Aztex head coach Adrian Heath said.
While happy, Heath mentioned there were some mistakes made that will be addressed. “We kept patient during the game, which is hard. When we were impatient, they got the ball. The last thing we want to do is give them opportunities for openings with our mistakes.”
When asked about the players that saw most of the action, Heath said the roster was definitely a preview of what fans can expect in a couple weeks on opening night, April 18, against the Minnesota Thunder. “I am 80 percent certain of what the lineup will be for the opener.”