By Laredo Heat SC
The Laredo Heat SC has a chance to clinch a playoff berth this week if it can sweep a home-and-away series against the FC Brownsville Explorers starting with an 8:00 pm match Wednesday at the TAMIU Soccer Complex.
“Any time you play a team back-to-back is going to be difficult,” Laredo Heat SC head coach John Powell said. “It is an opportunity for us to cement ourselves in the top half of the table.”
While the Heat (3-1-2, 11 points) only missed the postseason for the second time in the club’s existence in 2019, due to the pandemic canceling last season they are trying to qualify for the first time since 2018. Last week’s road trip was a big step toward accomplishing that goal as Laredo picked up a draw against the unbeaten Midland-Odessa Sockers FC (4-0-3, 15 points) before winning 3-1 against the Fort Worth Vaqueros FC (0-6-1, 1 point).
Thanks to those four points, the Heat have control of third place in the Lone Star Conference. However, FC Brownsville (2-2-1, 7 points) lurks close behind in fourth place at 1.4 points per game. By winning both games this week, Laredo would be guaranteed to finish ahead of the Explorers, and the only other teams deeper down the table with a chance to catch up would be the Coyotes FC (3-4-0, 9 points) and Katy 1895 FC (2-3-1, 7 points). If Katy lost Saturday against Fort Worth or if the Coyotes lost or tied against Denton, the Heat would secure a playoff berth with six points this week.
While it would delay securing the playoff berth, Laredo could take control of first place this week if it wins both matches, Denton falls to the Coyotes and Midland loses against Irving FC. Even if they both win, the Heat would be within two points of first place heading into the final two games of the regular season.
Following the low-scoring draw with Midland last week, the Heat got their offense back on track with three goals against Fort Worth. Laredo ranks third in the conference at 2.17 goals per game. Tatsuma Yuki’s shot in the 27th minute caused an own goal, Gabriel Gacovicaj scored on a penalty kick in the 51st minute, and Nadav Datner scored his team-leading sixth goal in the 75th minute.
The Heat also rank second in the conference defensively with only 1.33 goals allowed per game, and half of the eight goals they have allowed have been on penalty kicks. Midland leads the Lone Star Conference allowing only a goal per game, and the next closest is a tie between the Coyotes FC and Irving FC at 1.57 per game.
FC Brownsville has allowed at least two goals per game and is tied for the second most goals allowed in the conference at 14 despite playing one or two fewer games than every other team. However, it also ranks second with 16 goals scored despite being held to one goal in their last game, and their average of 3.2 goals per game ranks first.
“They seem to be scoring almost at will, but they are also conceding goals,” Powell said. “What it comes down to for us is making sure we are disciplined in our defensive shape and we don’t gift them any opportunities. From there I believe in the quality of our team and the quality of our attack. We will create plenty of chances. It’s just the concentration levels for us when we’re in front of the goal need to improve.”
The Explorers opened the season with a 5-2 rout of the Fort Worth Vaqueros FC, but they have had nothing but close matches since. Following a 2-2 draw on the road against Midland-Odessa, they edged Irving FC 4-3 and fell 5-4 against Denton at home before losing 2-1 at Coyotes FC.
Laredo is getting ready to play for the third time in seven days, and it had minimal time to prepare as it returned around 7:00 am Sunday from its road trip. The team is expected to make some minor adjustments to Wednesday’s starting lineup to capitalize on the depth of the roster.
“It’s tough, there is no doubt,” Powell said. “The guys have a lot of bus miles on their legs and played two very tough matches against Midland and Fort Worth. It has been good. We are managing to the best of our abilities. It has been great utilizing the facilities we have and the access to the gym and everything like that. We are making the best of the situation, and we know when the whistle blows there are zero excuses.”
With all of the Heat’s players also being college students, the short preparation time is also compounded by many players handling homework and studying for summer classes. However, the players still excel academically with four local athletes recognized Tuesday as Gacovicaj, Elias Perales, Johan Portales and Dylan Rivas represented the Texas A&M International University soccer team on the Spring 2021 Lone Star Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll. Also making the list from the Heat were Eastern New Mexico’s Ross Dalton, Midwestern State’s Toi Yamaoka, and Liam Morrison from St. Mary’s.
“It’s always about more than just football,” Powell said. “It’s nice to know we have good young men and good students in the classroom. They have been super disciplined this whole summer. Half the guys are managing summer classes and other things. I am very happy with their professionalism.”
Tickets for the Laredo Heat SC home games are $5 for general admission and $20 for VIP, and children 12 and under get in free if they wear red. Due to COVID-19 precautions there are no concession sales. However, fans are permitted to bring their own food and beverages to the game. Please visit laredoheatsc.com for more information.
“We will once again be in warrior mode this Wednesday, June 23rd when Brownsville FC comes into our neighborhood,” Laredo Heat SC President Shashi Vaswani said. “Brownsville sits in fourth place right behind us and have a game in hand. We need to put distance between us and the rest of the pack, and it must start this week. So please come out Wednesday and help cheer us to victory.”
Photo Credit: Laredo Heat SC