By Jason Mack/Laredo Heat SC
The Laredo Heat SC secured a playoff berth and moved up to second place in the Lone Star Conference on Saturday as it beat the FC Brownsville Explorers for the second time in four days, winning 4-2 on the road.
“Any time you play a team back-to-back like that in our sport it’s difficult, but the guys were composed, there was urgency in their play and they knew what was at stake,” Laredo Heat SC head coach John Powell said. “I’m very proud of them.”
By improving to 4-0-1 over the past five games, the Heat (5-1-2, 17 points) have continued to climb the table. The first loss of the season for the Midland-Odessa Sockers FC (4-1-3, 15 points) allowed Laredo to climb to second place, and a 6-1 win by the Denton Diablos FC (6-1-1, 19 points) over the Coyotes FC (3-5-0, 9 points) guaranteed the Heat would finish in the top four.
“That was the first goal we set for ourselves, and it feels really good,” Powell said. “From here we just want to keep rolling and taking care of the bodies. We have played an astronomical amount of games in a short period of time, and we have another one coming up Wednesday. We will take care of the boys and their bodies as best we can and keep this thing rolling.”
Laredo also remains firmly in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the conference. If it wins out in the final two games, it would only need Denton to draw once down the stretch since the Heat hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Consistent control of possession and a pair of braces paced the Heat on Saturday as they scored a season-high four goals for the second straight match. Gabriel Gacovicaj scored twice to help build a 2-0 halftime lead. He rested after halftime, and Riccardo Turcis picked up where he left off, scoring twice in the second half to protect the advantage.
“It was important to step up our game,” Turcis said. “I think we’ve done a good job. We should have done a better job defensively, but I’m really proud of the team.”
Just like in Wednesday’s win, the Heat dominated possession throughout the first half. The successful control netted a 1-0 lead in the previous matchup, and they doubled that Saturday with a pair of goals from Gacovicaj.
The first came in the 28th minute as Erwin Regules fed a through ball from mid field up to Nadav Datner alone on the left side. As three defenders attempted to course correct and close in on Datner, he crossed to Gacovicaj streaking up the middle toward the net. Gacovicaj redirected the cross into the lower right of the net to pull ahead 1-0.
The keeper came 30 yards out of the net in the 35th minute attempting to break up a deep through ball. He failed to gather his header and Gacovicaj deflected the ball toward the goal. He got around the keeper and tapped in his second goal of the half.
“There was so much work done off the ball that put him in those positions to score,” Powell said. “He’ll be the first to say all the goals were coming from the team play, but he’s a class finisher and a class forward. That’s what they do, they bury their chances.”
Brownsville had its best opportunities with a pair of free kicks in the final third in the last five minutes of the half, but Gage Rogers deflected away their only shot to protect the lead.
The Explorers threatened early in the second half putting a header on net in the 46th minute and getting a corner kick six minutes later, but Gage Rogers took care of both chances.
Shortly after in the 54th minute, Turcis pushed the lead to three goals. After a cross from Regules from the far left to the far right, Hector Rodriguez immediately fed the ball into the center of the box for Turcis. He leapt several feet in the air and knocked it in with a lunging kick reminiscent of a karate move.
“We kept going and doing our thing, and everything worked out well,” Turcis said. “I did what I could do. I know what I can bring to the table and I just stick to my role.”
The insurance goal proved essential as the Explorers broke through in the 62nd minute, sneaking in a shot from the far left. The two-goal deficit didn’t last long as Turcis scored again two minutes later to push the lead to 4-1. After feeding a deep through ball far on the left, Turcis faked left and cut right past a defender then fired into the lower right.
“Ricky has been a player for us this summer that has really been patient,” Powell said. “He has played out of position for us the first couple games due to injuries, but he is a forward and a finisher. He had trust in the team and the staff that he would get his looks. He definitely confirmed that he’s lethal in front of the goal. He was patient and was rewarded for that. I can’t say enough about his mentality.”
Brownsville got one more goal across 10 minutes later, but Laredo protected the two-goal cushion the rest of the way.
The Heat play at home for the last two games of the regular season starting with an 8:00 pm game Wednesday at the TAMIU Soccer Complex against the Katy 1895 FC to conclude a stretch of five games in two weeks. Laredo is looking to pick up its fourth straight win after being disappointed with a 2-2 draw early in the season at Katy.
“We have our eyes on the top spot, but we know it’s just one game at a time,” Powell said. “We know Katy is coming into town, and we owe them some love for sure.”
Photo Credit: Laredo Heat SC