By Laredo Heat SC
The Laredo Heat SC’s attempt to hand an unbeaten opponent its first loss for the second straight match fell short Thursday, but it salvaged a point on the road against the Midland-Odessa Sockers FC with a 1-1 draw.
Drawing kept the Heat (2-1-2, 8 points) in the thick of the Lone Star Conference race, but they no longer control their destiny in the push for the No. 1 seed as this was their only match against the Sockers (4-0-3, 15 points). Averaging 1.6 points per game, Laredo trails only Midland and the Denton Diablos FC (4-1-1, 13 points) in the conference, and the top four teams qualify for the playoffs. However, it remains a tight race with FC Brownsville and Katy 1895 FC both lurking just behind at 1.4 points per match.
“I think it was great,” Laredo Heat SC head coach John Powell said. “The point was definitely well earned. I thought we were the better side. There were moments in the game where both teams had chances and neither team finished. I think we could have put the game to rest early, but we didn’t. At the end of the day, taking a point against the first-place team is a positive, and we know what we need to do heading into Saturday.”
Thursday’s draw leaves a looming score left to be settled later. The clubs exchanged sweeps the previous two seasons with the Heat winning twice in 2018 and Midland returning the favor in 2019.
Despite being unbeaten with only three matches left to play in the regular season, the Sockers have been in tight battles throughout with a 2-0 victory over the Coyotes FC being their most lopsided outcome. Their other two draws were both 2-2 scores, and their other two victories were both 2-1 as they have not given up or scored more than two goals in a game all season.
The Heat were coming off their second three-goal performance of the season two weeks ago in a 3-2 win over Denton, but they were held to just one goal for only the second time this year. Thursday also marked just the second time forward Nadav Datner was kept out of the back of the net despite several scoring chances. He leads Laredo with five of its 10 goals at the midway point of the regular season.
The Heat capitalized on miscues early in the match starting in the ninth minute. Laredo midfielder David Martinez sprinted up to pressure the center back and was right in his face as soon as he looked up after receiving the ball. A frantic attempt to pass back to the right back was intercepted by Datner at the top of the box near the center, and he quickly got a shot off which went just to the right.
Datner helped take advantage of another miscue four minutes later as he applied high pressure to the keeper. He deflected a pass attempt right to Gabriel Gacovicaj, and he shot from about 15 yards out into the lower right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead at the 12:21 mark.
“I thought our press was great,” Powell said. “Also, when we had the ball I felt that Midland was chasing that whole first half. I thought the boys were exceptional. It was probably the best half of football we have played. It’s unfortunate for us not to be 2- or 3-nil up based on that pressure and the turnovers. It was a fantastic first half.”
Datner had a couple more shots throughout the first half as one from deep was on target but saved in the 27th minute, and another was deflected wide in the 43rd minute to set up a corner kick.
Midland generated its most pressure late as it had a pair of shot attempts deflected away by Heat defenders.
The Sockers got the equalizer early in the second half with a corner kick in the 54th minute. Heat keeper Ross Dalton attempted to catch the cross from Cian Foley, but Kenan Ersoy got his head on it first sending it past Dalton to even the score.
“We spent so much time talking about set pieces and repping them out,” Powell said. “We didn’t track a runner there. It was a space I feel like we should have occupied. I always think we should do better there. To give them credit, it was a really good whipped in ball and a good finish. We need to be a little more disciplined there to make sure we come away with all three points.”
Laredo halted the Sockers’ momentum in the 60th minute with a quality scoring chance. A through ball from Tatsuma Yuki found Gabriel Claudio open wide to the right, and he passed through two defenders to Datner in the middle. Datner continued his run of close calls with his shot going just to the right.
Midland got a shot from point blank deflecting a long cross from far to the right in the 63rd minute, but Dalton was in position for the save.
A deep through ball in the 66th minute from Oscar Govea connected with Gacovicaj just right of the net. He passed toward the center to Claudio, and his shot was knocked away on a diving save by the keeper at the center of the net.
Laredo nearly emptied its bench late making five substitutions starting in the 72nd minute, but its push to go ahead for three points fell short. The Heat generated a pair of corner kicks late but could not get anything on net.
The Heat have a quick turnaround traveling Saturday for a 7:30 pm game against Fort Worth Vaqueros FC (0-5-1, 1 point). The reigning conference champions had a rough start to the year getting outscored a combined 19-7 during an 0-4-0 start, but their past two games were a 1-1 draw with Irving FC and a 1-0 loss to the Sockers. Midland has an extended break before traveling to face Irving on Saturday, July 26.
“It is definitely a big one, but every one is a big one when you only play 10 games,” Powell said. “The objective is the same as always. We’ll take care of the boys and make sure they get their bodies right on Friday. We have a little bit more of a travel, then we’ll prepare like we know how and handle business on Saturday.”
Photo Credit: Laredo Heat SC