Following a false start 2 weeks ago due to the chaotic weather, the Lonestars finally ventured west to Austin to take on the 2013 USAFL Div 1 Champs and current Top 3 Ranked US team.
Storms have played havoc all spring in South Texas and did so again in the lead up to the weekend, resulting in a venue change from North Metro Soccer Park to Zilker Park the morning of the game. Downtown Zilker Park turned on a spectacular day, if not a little steamy. The field was a picture of luscious green, with a few added obstacles including a one or two man-hole covers and a few minor lakes on the outer side of the field...snorkels could have been useful!
The Lonestars were going in a little undermanned with some key players unavailable whilst a few others seemly unable to find the field... Nonetheless, 23 spirited chargers eventually made it to Zilker Park for a 4 quarter battle against our highly regarded rival. Amongst the Lonestars squad were 3 first-time Aussies - Max Boland, Matt Pay and Damian Antonio looking to don the red, white and blue jersey and make an impact..Damo landing in the USA 1 week prior and making contact with the club the day before!!
The team warm up was somewhat subdued - it felt like an eternity since the boys had played a USAFL game with this being the team's first away game for the year. The team lined up with Tommy D in the ruck, Power, Mash (tagging the silky Ben May) and Perham supporting him in the middle. CDG and Jordan were assigned the wings. New Aussie and Ballarat legend Matt Pay was the focal point at CHF forward, Hodson and DB flanking him with Rick the main target at full forward. Mueller and Matt L the other lead-up options. The defense looked solid with Scotty and Sean holding the key positions, ably assisted by Matt Stevens, Trigger, Berky and Art down back. Max adding some real muscle to the line up on the bench alongside Josh Devlin, Mark McClaine, and Damo in his first outing. The first objective for each player to lay a tackle and a shepherd in the opening quarter.
If anyone said the recent storms in South Texas had finally abated, they didn't tell Austin as they came out thundering at the first bounce. Despite Tommy dominating the center bounce, the Crows won the early midfield battle showing hunger and poise as they convincingly moved the ball forward with swift, clean possession. Their forwards made the most of their early dominance piling on 4 goals to nothing 10 minutes into the first term. The Lonestars had slept-in and unless they jolted themselves awake, this was going to be a very long day at the office... The boys responded with Tommy leading the charge in the air and at ground level with Perham also thrusting himself into the game as the Austin surge was arrested. The Lonestars started getting more of the ball but were unable to attack potently with Austin applying suffocating pressure and the Lonestars rushing disposal. Austin took their chances and kicked truly to take a 6 goal lead into quarter time, the Lonestars held goalless.
The mood in the huddle remained positive as the last part of the quarter was very even. Austin clearly had more composure and confidence kicking some easy goals whilst the Lonestars failed to penetrate the Austin defense in the first term. Coach Dan kept the tone upbeat reinforcing the need to attack the ball harder, play more accountable football and pick up the voice.
The second quarter saw a more even contest, with new players Damo and Max getting their first chance. Tommy continued winning the ruck contests with Benny Power, Mash and Perham waging a real arm wrestle in the middle. CDG provided good run around the outer side and Blake pushing up the ground and getting into the game. Trig had his hands full against a talented new Aussie Crow CHF and likewise Sean was being tested down back, although the move of Matt Stevens to loose man in defense helped stabilize the situation (Ass.Coach Sonni).
The Lonestars matched the home team for much of the 2nd quarter, though Austin gained the ascendancy with a couple of easy goals midway through the term. Perham provided the spark for the Lonestars with their only goal coming from a close range snap across his body showing the agility we have all become accosted to. A couple of other chances came through Blake and Rick resulting in minor scores. When the half time whistle blew it was Austin 8.4 to Houston 1.3, a fairly even quarter in terms of possession and control.
Coach Dan’s appraisal of the situation at half time was simple – other than the complete lapse in the first 10 minutes of the first quarter, this was pretty much an even game. The objective in the 2nd half was to keep the pressure on, fight in the midfield, quick clean disposal around the ground and back yourself. If only we had a bit more run in through the middle... Low and behold, just before the boys took the field for the 3rd quarter prayers were answered as Nick Maass turned up out of the blue! Straight into the game he went, racking up touches and getting involved in the clinches the minute he took the field.
The third quarter saw the Lonestars get more system going and start moving the ball forward more cleanly. Blake, Matt Pay, Rick all getting on the end of some good ball movement through the midfield by Perham, Damo, CDG and Mash all marshalled by Tommy as a prime target and playmaker. Trig and Sean started getting on top of their opponents after a tough first half and Matt Stevens despite sustaining a shoulder injury, showed courage to play on and support them. With a good percentage of the play, the Lonestars only managed a single chance goal off the back of a pack by DB, missing several more opportunities to bring more balance to the scoreboard. Instead, the Crows snuck 3 goals to 1 and slightly extended their lead. At the end of the quarter the scoreboard read Austin 11.3, Lonestars 2.8.
The 4th quarter was a chance for the Lonestars to salvage some pride and show they were able to match the Crows for 3 quarters. Matt Pay, Rick, Blake and Matt L all found themselves on the end of some good, flowing football from the Lonestars mids. The defense held firm providing good rebound out of defense and CDG, Tommy, Mash, Perham and Damo combining at various times through the middle. Josh Devlin gave Tommy a much deserved break in the ruck and worked hard to prevent any easy ball out of the middle. Goals started to flow with Matt Pay bagging an easy set shot followed by goals to an injured Rick and Blake making the most of some clean footy up the field. The final quarter showing that the Lonestars were developing the stamina and mental ability to compete with one there best teams in the country. The final score didn't reflect the balance of the game with Austin running out somewhat comfortable winners 13.4 to 5.8.
The boys were satisfied with their finish to the game, as too was Coach Dan admiring the all round effort and fight to play the game out. Whilst singing the song was not on the cards, there was a general feeling of redemption after the onslaught at the opening bounce. The standout player was Tommy Donnelly who marshaled the center bounce and was a constant target around the ground. Perham showed why he is heading to the US Revolution National Team training camp in Nashville this weekend with a physical midfield performance. Strong performances also by CDG, Ben Power and Mash against a premier Austin midfield, and Blake and Matt Pay being a strong targets up forward. The defense were challenged heavily all day but held resolute after the opening term.
Special mentions to the 3 first time players Matt Pay, Damo, and Max for solid contributions in a Baptism of fire!!
Coming up, the Lonestars now play a 3 game Metro Series the next 3 Sundays which will sharpen our skills and fitness before returning to Austin on June 27 for the deferred Texas Cup against Austin and Dallas. After a promising final 3 quarters, the Lonestars will be looking to assemble its strongest line-up this year to serve it up to their Texas rivals. All players are being called upon to be available for this game before we head to the first ever USAFL Central Tournament being held in Racine, Wisconsin.
Match Details: Houston Lonestars 5.10.40 vs Austin Crows 13.4.82
Goals: DB, Perham, Matt Pay, Rick, Blake
Best: Tommy D, Perham, Power, Blake, CDG, Mash