By Jason Mack/Laredo Heat SC
Playing for the third time in seven days and adjusting the lineup accordingly, the Laredo Heat SC played its most complete game of the season Wednesday posting its first shutout and scoring its most goals of the season in a 4-0 victory over the FC Brownsville Explorers at the TAMIU Soccer Complex to inch closer to securing a playoff berth.
Brownsville (2-3-1, 7 points) entered the matchup averaging 3.2 goals per game to lead the Lone Star Conference, but it was blanked for the first team as the Heat (4-1-2, 14 points) picked up their first shutout. With the shutout, the Heat lowered their average to 1.14 goals per game which ranks just behind Midland-Odessa’s 1.0 average. Gage Rogers posted the clean sheet in net, including a crucial one-on-one save late in the first half.
Laredo raised its average to 2.42 goals scored per game, which ranks third in the conference, by besting its previous season high of three goals. The Heat spread the wealth Adrian Yepez, Hector Rodriguez, Nadav Datner, and Gabriel Claudio all scoring. Datner has scored in five of the seven matches as he leads the team with seven goals.
“We were preparing all week for this game,” Rodriguez said. “We knew how important it would be to get three points. Things started a little bit slow, but we started doing our thing and the goals came eventually.”
The Explorers entered the matchup just behind the Heat in fourth place, and Laredo strengthened its control on third place in the conference with the win. The Heat now have a chance to potentially secure a playoff berth and climb in the standings if they win Saturday’s rematch at Brownsville. A win paired with a loss by Katy 1895 FC (2-3-1, 7 points) or a loss or draw by Coyotes FC (3-4-0, 9 points) would secure a spot in the postseason. Laredo could also climb as high as first place if the Denton Diablos FC (5-1-1, 16 points) and Midland-Odessa Sockers FC (4-0-3, 15 points) both lost Saturday.
“It was much needed for the team to build some confidence because the playoffs are coming up,” Yepez said. “This was a big win here for us. It puts us in a good spot for Saturday, and we’ll keep it rolling for the playoffs.”
The Heat dominated possession early in the match to generate several scoring chances. A point-blank shot by Datner from the right of the box was ripped just over the left corner of the net. Datner tested the keeper from deep a couple minutes later, and in the 13th minute a give-and-go with Gabriel Gacovicaj got Datner open on the right side again, but his shot went just wide to the lower left this time.
Laredo’s consistent pressure paid off a minute later. Rodriguez passed ahead to Yepez as he crossed into the center of the box, and Yepez hesitated to freeze the defender then burned past him. From the far left of the box, Yepez beat the keeper to the short side and buried it into the deep top corner of the net for his first goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.
“It was something I’ve been working on,” Yepez said. “It felt great getting that goal. I had the player one-on-one and I told myself I had to take him on and bury it to put us up 1-nil.”
It nearly became a 2-0 lead in the 33rd minute, but a goal from Gacovicaj was waved off with the official ruling his crash into the box to be too aggressive.
Brownsville had its best scoring chance – one of few in the first half – in the 41st minute on the counterattack. A deep through ball left an Explorers attacker with only the keeper beat as two defenders trailed him. With the defenders right on his tail limiting his options, Rogers followed his cut to the right and deflected away the point-blank shot from less than two yards away.
The Heat kept up the same pressure in the second half, but it paid bigger dividends starting in the 52nd minute. Rodriguez crashed hard to prevent the ball from being cleared out of the box after a long cross from Claudio. A deflection from Datner left the ball bouncing in front of the right side of the net, and Rodriguez kicked it out of midair with his left foot for a 2-0 lead.
“It is always good to score,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a good feeling. When I saw the ball coming to me, I just thought of putting it on the net. That’s what happened, and I’m really happy about it.”
It was Datner’s turn just five minutes later as he scored his seventh goal of the season in the 57th minute. After corralling a service inside from Claudio, Datner split a pair of defenders then passed through a defender’s legs to Tatsuma Yuki who immediately tapped it back to him. After splitting through two more defenders, Datner shot from the far right of the box to the lower left corner to extend the lead.
Laredo added one more insurance goal in the 68th minute on a corner kick from captain Erwin Regules. He crossed deep toward the right and Claudio rose above everyone to place his high-arching header far from the keeper to the left of the net and over the head of a leaping defender.
The Heat play their final road game of the regular season Saturday traveling for a 7:30 pm rematch with Brownsville.
Photo Credit: Laredo Heat SC