By Jason Mack/Laredo Heat SC
It was déjà vu for the Laredo Heat on Friday as for the second straight match a 1-0 second-half lead became a 2-1 deficit. Unfortunately for the Heat, history stopped repeating itself from there as the equalizer never came in a 2-1 loss in their home opener against Irving FC at the TAMIU Soccer Complex.
Laredo (1-1-1, 4 points) was coming off a 2-2 draw at Katy 1895 FC where it held a 1-0 lead for nearly half the match before two penalty kicks put it into a hole. It bounced back by generating consistent pressure late and converting just before extra time expired to salvage a draw. Friday’s match also featured a late flurry of scoring chances, but Irving FC avoided the equalizer.
“Irving is a good side,” Heat forward Nadav Datner said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. I’m not going to lie, our potential is much, much higher than what we showed today. We’ll fix that and we’ll show Laredo the real Laredo Heat.”
Coming off the draw, the Heat aimed to learn from their mistakes and put their opponent away early. However, it was a slow moving first half on both sides Friday. There were only three corner kicks in the opening half with two for Irving FC and one for the Heat, and all three chances were quickly squandered. It was the first time in the three games the Heat were kept off the scoreboard in the opening half and the first time they did not hold the lead at halftime.
“We started slow,” Heat head coach John Powell said. “Tactically we were a bit off. The coaching staff made adjustments, and I felt like it was better. You could see it by the start of the second half. For me it stems from lack of concentration on a couple key moments. We’ve been unlucky, but we are putting ourselves in situations like that, and we need to prevent doing that.”
The Heat got their first scoring chance in the 13th minute as Datner got a shot on goal despite being draped by two defenders, but the goalkeeper was in position for the save. It was Laredo’s turn for an easy save a couple minutes later as the Gallos put a shot in the dead center of the net.
After sending one shot high and another wide left in the 20th and 22nd minutes, respectively, the Heat had some close calls with a shot in the 35th minute going just left of the net and another two minutes later hitting the right side of the goal.
The action picked up almost immediately in the second half with Datner refusing to be denied on his next scoring chance. In the second minute of the second half, midfielder Oscar Govea intercepted a deflection off an Irving FC throw-in. He sprinted up the left side and fed a through ball to Datner at the top left corner of the box. With two defenders rapidly closing in again, Datner dribbled a few steps then sent a high shot over the goalkeeper and into the top right corner of the net 1:48 into the half firing up the estimated crowd of 800.
“I told my teammates that in the first half I had a couple chances staying between the defenders, and if they can just find me, I know I can finish it,” Datner said. “That’s what happened. I was between the center back and the right back. I just put it away and went to celebrate with my boys.”
The lead lasted less than five minutes as the Gallos capitalized on a throw-in from near the left corner. Juan Ramirez fired a cross from deep and to the left through two defenders to find Mark Alvarado waiting near the right post. All alone, Alvarado played a shot past the outstretched leg of Heat goalkeeper Ross Dalton into the lower right corner to tie the game at 1-1.
“It was a great finish by Datner,” Powell said. “I believe he is a pro. It was a great individual effort from him, and it was a great play from Govea in the middle with the assist. But the response was giving up a lackadaisical goal. You could split offsides or not offsides, but we weren’t sharp enough there in the defensive area. That is going to be a focus moving forward.”
Irving FC’s Adam Conway and Govea drew the first yellow cards of the match just three minutes apart in the 66th and 69th minutes, but neither team capitalized on the free kick.
After being undone by penalty kicks in last week’s draw, Friday was more of the same for Laredo. Off a cross from the far right, Joe Conway chased a deflection toward the left post. Dalton dove to deflect the ball out, but Conway tripped over him to draw a penalty kick. Dalton guessed correctly diving toward the lower right corner, but Conway’s shot just got by him for the 2-1 lead.
“I don’t have the best angle,” Powell said. “It looked to me like Ross took the ball into his legs and got it. The referee told me he got the ball then followed through and got the legs. It’s unlucky. Hopefully some of those start going our way, but we’re putting ourselves in that position. Penalties are always tough. I thought Ross did the best he could. He was there. It could have been a save.”
Datner nearly secured his second brace of the season in the 90th minute, but his shot from point-blank range was stopped by a sliding kick save from Gallos goalkeeper Noah Fazekas. A minute later, Datner instead looked to pass as he got open on the left side of the box off a quick throw-in. His cross lingered dangerously in front of the net, but with a man on him, Riccardo Turcis couldn’t do more than redirect it right to the keeper.
“We definitely need to be more focused on the final third and have a little more composure,” Datner said. “We need to be more encouraged to go and shoot. We will get there. I know the potential of the team can be much higher.”
After a couple light shots directly to the goalie, the Heat generated two more corner kicks in the final minute. The first was deflected away by the keeper, and the second was headed away by a defender to end the match.
“When our backs are up against the wall, they are showing fight,” Powell said. “We have to go back to why we are in that position. If we can take care of our chances in the first half and manage control of the ball and dominate possession – which is one of our keys – I don’t think we get to that point.”
Irving FC (2-0-0, 6 points) moved into a tie with Denton Diablos FC (2-0-0) for first place in the eight-team Lone Star Conference two games into its inaugural season. The Gallos face a rapid turnaround, traveling for a Saturday night game at FC Brownsville (1-0-1).
The Heat are excited to have their own quick turnaround as they continue their homestand next week welcoming Denton to the TAMIU Soccer Complex at 8:00 pm on Thursday, June 3. The Diablos are off to a strong start with a steady stream of offense, winning 2-0 over Katy 1895 FC and 5-3 over Fort Worth Vaqueros FC. Before heading to Laredo, Denton faces a rematch with the Vaqueros at 7:30 pm on Saturday, May 29.
“That is the great thing about soccer is your next game is always right in front of you,” Powell said. “We are lucky the next game comes on Thursday. We don’t have to wait so long to get this taste out of our mouth.”
Photo Credit: Laredo Heat SC