By Duke Keith

(PATRIOT STADIUM, El Paso, TX) — Naoyas Aizawa sandwiched an assist between two goals, and while it wasn’t quite a feast for the El Paso Patriots, a 3-1 win over the North Texas Rayados was satisfying enough to whet their appetite for more in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

They’ll get all they can handle next Tuesday, May 22nd, when the Charlotte Eagles of the USL Pro division come calling.

Until then, Patriots’ fans can feel satisfied after watching Aizawa and fellow forwards David Salas and Michael Griego take bite after bite of the North Texas defense.

If there was disappointment, it was in squandered opportunities for more offense. Consistent in possession and dominant in midfield, El Paso found itself on the Rayados’ doorstep time-after-time Tuesday night, only to be turned away by the solid goalkeeping of Raul Herrera or by its own errant shots.

Griego has only been able to practice with the team twice, once again donning his hometown side’s jersey after completing the season as coach of his own young club team. The rust showed at times Tuesday night, but so did the solid positioning and passing.

Perhaps it was head coach Hugo Samano’s decision to go at North Texas with a 3-4-3 lineup, but it always seems El Paso’s offensive anemia is cured by the transfusion Griego brings. A team that scored only twice in its first two Premier Development League games suddenly scores three times.

It has been the same the last few years, as well.

Aizawa had a lot to do with the end result Tuesday, but Griego’s presence as a holding forward provides a fulcrum on which the rest of El Paso’s offense swings.

It was that solid build-up and some hard work on the wings by Aizawa’s fellow former CF Indios teammate, Sergio Villasenor, that put El Paso on the board in the 26th minute.

From Griego to Villasenor to the nimble feet of Salas to Aizawa, the Patriots danced into the Rayados area; Aizawa taking the final few steps that got him past his marker and got Herrera diving for the shot the forward didn’t take until the goalie was in the dirt.

As pretty as the first goal was, the second may have been the ugliest Griego has scored in his Patriots career. Stretching North Texas on the counter, Aizawa lasered a beautiful cross from the right wing. Griego only clipped the ball. Perhaps Herrera was surprised the ball actually kept moving…but it did, all the way into the net in the 61st minute.

Halftime substitute Raul Rodriguez got Rayados on the board in the 78th minute, blasting a 22-yard direct kick bomb past the Patriots’ wall and goalie Victor Rodriguez.

But as North Texas pushed for the equalizer, El Paso’s counterattack finished the game. No dancing from Aizawa this time, only a 20-yard blast from the top of the box that beat Herrera in the 84th.

The Patriots will hit the road this weekend for a pair of PDL away games against arch-rival Laredo Friday and Austin Saturday before returning home next Tuesday for the Open Cup’s second round against Charlotte.

After that much road food, the Patriots can only hope the home cooking is just as good next week.

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