On July 24, Sounders FC 2 sat perched at the top of the USL Western Conference table looking down. Having completed the season-sweep of Portland Timbers 2, the club was in fine form looking toward the final third of the season.
Now, should S2 advance to the postseason in its inaugural campaign, the Rave Green will have left it for late, as the club needs one point in its regular season finale this Thursday against Austin Aztex. The Aztex have struggled this season and sit close to the bottom of the table, but had S2’s number on September 5 in Austin where they notched a 2-1 victory.
S2’s loss in Austin was just one of a four-match slide in the last month where S2 has had multiple opportunities to clinch a position, but has fallen one goal short in four straight matches.
“The guys know what we are playing for and there is a serious excitement to this game,” said Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson. “It’s our job as coaches to settle it down because there are going to be some nerves because of the magnitude of what’s at stake.”
The points needed to clinch have been dangling tantalizingly in front of the Rave Green for nearly a month, with results from around the conference reducing the number of points down to the one needed from this Thursday’s match.
Hendrickson’s side is confident going into the season finale, though, according to defender Aaron Long.
“We dominated the game [against Orange County Blues FC],” said Long. “We had our chances and haven’t been able to put them away. The result doesn’t change, we still need one win and it’s still possible.”
Despite the recent stretch, Hendrickson still has faith in his squad to perform against the Aztex, citing the club’s most recent match in Austin as a high point regardless of the result.
“We look back at this stretch and we think our game against Austin is one of the better games we played, we just came up short,” said Hendrickson. “They are a tough team and don’t have anything to lose so we just need to match their effort. We have been giving up soft goals, goals that we know we shouldn’t give up. If we keep a clean sheet this week, we’re in so we are focused on that.”
Looking forward to the finale, the coach is planning on a rejuvenation of the lineup with the addition of fellow countryman Oalex Anderson, who went 45 minutes for the club in the 1-0 loss to OC Blues FC after returning from international duty just days before.
“This is the first time in a long time that we’ll have Oalex Anderson for a full match and we plan on starting him out from minute one,” Hendrickson added. “He brings an excitement and an energy to the field that the rest of the guys feed off. Players love to have that work ethic on the field.”
Also returning to the lineup will be Amadou Sanyang and Sam Garza, who both served a one-match suspension last week. The duo of Sanyang and Sérgio Mota is highly regarded by the S2 coaching staff, even though they have only started together as central midfielders four times, a stretch in which the club is 3-0-1. Both players will be at the disposal of Hendrickson on Thursday.
Kickoff from Starfire Stadium for the regular season finale is slated for 7:30 p.m. PT. Tickets for the match are available here.