I missed the last Aztex home game. I can’t even tell you why. I was mad at myself for it. What made it worse was that the Austin Aztex had broken their three-game losing streak that night against the Laredo Heat. Wish I could have been there. A mid-season slump hit the Aztex hard. The midfield seemed to have lost its spark for over a month. Possession that came so easily for the Aztex began to slip through the fingers of Paul Dalglish’s team. Something changed on June 22 that carried on through the last few matches. The midfield three began clicking with the front line better. The passing was incisive again. Possession-based, attacking football was back. The swagger was back.
Friday, I sat in a smoothie shop called Food 4 Fitness before the Austin Aztex’s last home game of the regular season. The Tavern, the local bar supporters meet up in, was full somehow. Every time I had been on a Friday tables had been bountiful and the scantly clad waitstaff still found a way to ignore the patrons. This time around the women in small shorts and tight shirts were running around the pub serving the hungry and thirsty mouths filled with fried foods and beer. I was alone at a table I found in direct sunlight. I was so lucky.
My girlfriend arrived, and we decided this really wasn’t the place for us. We went across the street to the aforementioned Food 4 Fitness. I’m not a fit guy, but a dig jog to get across the street a bit. So, I earned a spot at the table. We walked in, and I was so happy to be there. The barista was rocking some sort of Noise Rock playlist, the smoothies were bomb, and the tea was delicious. I sat across the table from Nicole, and I kept thinking to myself, eventually aloud, how sort of amazing this whole experience was. It doesn’t seem like it to most people, but to me, my life is amazing and I’m really lucky to have a beautiful girlfriend that goes to matches with me, to have a salaried position at a local NPO that does good work, to have friends to share football and other things with, to have a loving family, to have a roof over my head, to not have to worry about much to be fair. Maybe it was my upbringing in a poor Houston neighborhood, but those sort of things amaze me. A lot of people I know take it for granted. I swear it had nothing to do with the Dream Syndicate song they were playing.
In that smoothie shop, I had one of those moments where the fog in your mind parts and you can see outside of yourself. You can see outside of those moments of stress, apathy, whatever. I was happy with what I saw.
They’ve been happening more often lately. Maybe it’s old age. Getting older isn’t supposed to make you happier. I mean, that’s what I hear.
I blame soccer.
For me, football offers me the opportunity to have more of those moments. With that focal point of football or love or friendship, you can pick your head up and take in the grandeur or the absurdity of life. It’s stupid to think that football does that, I guess, or maybe I’m so small-minded that I need a sport or a community event to have that happen for me. I don’t care. Fuck it. It gives me perspective.
We finished our drinks and walked across the street to House Park. The stadium filled quickly with families eager to catch the season’s last home game.
The West Texas Sockers are the worst team in the league. Watching the warm ups, you could tell they were in for a long night.  The disparity was huge. The Aztex put the Sockers (what a name) to the sword. 7-0 and the Aztex continued their march to the playoffs. Dalglish had the entire team ready for a demolition job. Kekuta Manneh was toying with West Texas defenders. Chris Tyrpak was running their defense ragged. Our captain Zach Pope played on the left, and he was just as good as he always is on the right. The Aztex midfield and defense were impenetrable. By the 20th minute, it was over.
The Aztex were probably more impressive in this match than they were in those first 6-1, 7-0 blowouts. They have grown as a team. There’s something to be said about the job Paul Dalglish has done to keep this team motivated and performing even when their opposition didn’t belong on the same field as them.
The Aztex have to mess up massively to not make the playoffs, and they have to win their next two matches and have Laredo drop points in order to host their first round playoff game at House Park.
Win, lose, draw, whatever, this has been a memorable season for me as a football fan and as an Austinite. I’m proud of what this city can accomplish and what the future holds. The Aztex can grow with this city. They can make it work. We can get that MLS club, eventually. Without looking forward too far, I just want to say thank you to the owner David Markley, Paul Dalglish, the coaches, the players, and everyone involved in the operations at the Austin Aztex.
Here’s to more home games for many years to come.
 Warmups are really exciting to me. We almost never get to see them in real life here in Central Texas, but when you do, they’re fascinating, as a non-soccer player. The disparity in talent that they can showcase before two teams can even step on the field is something I never really experienced as a Texan with few opportunities to watch professional/semi-pro soccer.