NEW ORLEANS - Over a year ago, British singer Taio Cruz had a hit song called "Dynamite." On this night at Pan American Stadium, a man with nearly the same name had the same type of goal to give the New Orleans Jesters a 1-0 win over the Austin Aztex.
Caio Cruz sent home a driving shot in stoppage time in the 2nd half to break a scoreless game and give the Jesters (3-6-7) a high note to finish on.
Cruz displayed great control when knocking down a ball outside the box. The defender on him fell, and left Cruz one on the Aztex keeper Devin Cook. With pace and precision, Cruz drilled the ball past Cook to his right two minutes into stoppage time for the winning goal.
"Amazing. Amazing," said Cruz about the goal through broken English.
All of the odds were stacked up against the home side before the match even started. The Aztex had ridden a 5-match winning streak into the night. They were playoff bound, and had a shot to win the Mid South Division. The Jesters also were without the services of regular coach, Kenny Farrell who was suspended for the match, though he still attended and watched the match from the press box. Two normal midfielders, Oliver Hewitt-Fisher and Sam Hurrell had to play the role of central defenders.
To top it all off, Hewitt-Fisher, who was playing central defense on the night was sent off after getting a yellow card on a tackle in the 89th minute, then being shown a red card before play started back up again. Still, the grit of the entire side helped make a difference. "You talk about the ups and downs of soccer. You get a guy sent off it would be easy to fold up, but we fought. Caio got a great bounce, held the defender off and finished it," said Jones.
Continued the coach for the night, "I think it's kind of fitting how it ended."
The Aztex had handled the Jesters 6-1 the last time the two sides met at Pan American Stadium on June 19th. However, this time was a much different story as the pace on the wings made a difference in the early stages. That especially showed in youngster, Ryan Reid who made some menacing runs including one in the 13th minute. The development started with an over-lapping run from Tony Judice from his right back position. Judice swung in a cross to the back post, and Ryan Reid got a header toward goal, but it was tipped over by Cook.
Just 8 minutes later, Reid had another great run, but got himself too deep and the keeper was able to parry the ball away for a corner. Still, the speed in wide spaces from guys like Reid, Judice, and Emmanuel Yamson caused problems for a good portion of the night.
"Manny's speed and Tony's speed is awesome. It was kind of a reverse. The last time we played them at home they annihilated us on the wings, but today we really got at them. That was our mindset, let's not hold nothing back and go after them all game," said Jones.
The frustration built though when a few Jesters chances came close to finding the back of the net. Hewitt-Fisher got a great ball in on a free kick in the 34th minute, but headed it on the wrong side of the far post. In the second half, a pair of early runs from Yamson produced trouble, but no goals.
Not to be lost in the match was the performance of new keeper Jonathan Hilton. He was tentative with a couple of long balls early in the action but found his rhythm as the match progressed. When he had to come off his line, Hilton did so with confidence and stopped several Aztex opportunities. Hilton covered a through ball in the 39th minute that was being closed down on by Kris Tyrpak. The Jesters protector was big throughout and made the key plays when he had to all the while giving credit to his central defense, manned on the night by midfielders due to numerous injuries.
"Our defense did very well. They shut down a lot of quality plays that could have developed into very critical chances for them. We did our thing and made sure they didn't get those opportunities," said Hilton.
Hilton also credited being prepared by his coaching staff for how he was able to play tonight. "I was told right off the bat that they would play a lot of long through balls so being prepared is always the best thing you can do in any situation in life, and the same with playing goalkeeper."
Jones had high praise for the new keeper's performance as well. "It was absolutely great. He was a little tentative to start the game, but we told them at halftime with Sam and Ollie back there, they were going to have to play a perfect ball to get it in. So if he was aggressive and he played well then we can keep a clean sheet."
Still, Hilton revealed his honesty in the interview after the match. "I'm not gonna lie I was pretty nervous. I wasn't gonna say I was 100 percent confident, but I came out and did what I've done my whole life."
Jones instilled into the side a mentality to play with nothing to lose and attack the Aztex. With that stoppage time goal, all the frustration that built up over the previous 15 matches was seemingly gone, and a tumultuous season was forgotten for that moment when Cruz scored the winner.
With the win, the Jesters finished with 16 points in a season riddled with injuries, finishing quality that was lacking for most of the year, and goalkeeper troubles. The Aztex (9-5-2) are in the playoffs with 29 points, and will face the Ocala Stampede in the playoffs. Ocala (11-3-2) won the Southeast Division with 35 points.