By Jason Mack/Laredo Heat SC
After racking up eight goals in two games last week, the Laredo Heat SC took a different approach Wednesday at the TAMIU Soccer Complex posting their third clean sheet of the season in a 1-0 victory over the Katy 1895 FC.
“It was a real scrappy game,” Laredo Heat SC head coach John Powell said. “We fancy ourselves as a team that is going to play attractive football, move the ball extremely well and break teams down with our passing. Today we showed we are capable of winning in multiple ways. I’m proud of the boys. If you can’t win a game like that, you can’t be a championship team. The ability to win that match will go a long way in what we end up doing.”
The victory keeps the Heat (6-1-2, 20 points) on track to earn a home playoff game and keeps them alive for a shot at the No. 1 seed in the Lone Star Conference. Laredo needs to win its finale on July 9 and needs the Denton Diablos FC (6-1-1, 19 points) to lose or draw once down the stretch as it holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Diablos are on the road for their final two games with rematches of tight home matchups playing the Irving FC (3-4-1, 10 points) on Friday and the Midland-Odessa Sockers FC (4-1-3, 15 points) on July 10. Denton edged Irving 1-0 on June 19 and played to a 1-1 draw with Midland on June 10. With Denton and Midland playing in the finale, Laredo is guaranteed at least the No. 2 seed if it wins its final game.
Wednesday’s 1-0 battle pitted a Heat team playing for the fifth time in two weeks against Katy (3-4-2, 11 points) which was playing for the second straight night and the third time in five days. It was a rematch of a heated game early in the season in which the Heat scored on the final play of the match to salvage a 2-2 draw.
In the past two weeks, the Heat opened with a draw before rolling off four straight victories. Following a 1-1-1 start to the season, they have racked up 16 points over the past six games.
“This is a very good, strong mental team,” Laredo Heat SC defender Gabriel Claudio said. “It is good to tough games out like this. We were the better team. It’s hard to compete with us on our best days, but teams like this give you tough challenges. They are a good side. It’s good to get the three points.”
The third shutout of the season for Laredo moved it into first in the conference with just 1.11 goals allowed per game, a narrow margin better than the 1.13 mark from Midland. Ross Dalton faced minimal chances but came through with a big save in the first half. He was helped off the field in the 83rd minute with a leg injury and Gage Rogers closed out the game.
The first quality scoring chance for the Heat came in the 18th minute as Nadav Datner was knocked down twice inside the box but didn’t get a call either time. The first time he tripped over a defender that dove after the ball, and the second time he was knocked over in a collision with a defender.
A corner kick from Oscar Govea created the next chance in the 28th minute. Claudio put a header on target to the lower left corner of the net, but the keeper made a diving save.
Claudio was not deterred as he came up with the breakthrough goal in the 36th minute. It was fitting for Claudio to get the decisive goal as it was his header on the final play which secured the 2-2 draw on May 22.
“I can’t talk enough about G,” Powell said. “He is a fantastic human being off the pitch and he’s got quality. He is a great defender. He has never shied away from a header. His goal was class, and I can’t wait to watch it again. He won three or four tough headers defensively. He went the 90 for us. He was absolutely the man of the match.”
Claudio broke free down the right side executing a give-and-go with Erwin Regules. He took the chipped-in through ball from Regules off his chest on the right edge of the box. With a defender crashing hard, the right-footed defender stopped abruptly and cut left before firing a curving shot with his left foot just inside the left post for a 1-0 lead. It was Claudio’s third goal of the season but his first off a kick as his other two came on headers.
“Sometimes you have to have an arsenal of stuff,” Claudio said. “You have to have the trio of left foot, right foot and header. If you want to be a pro, you have to use both feet.”
Dalton came up with a key save on a hard shot in the 41st minute, and the attempt off the rebound was deflected away by a defender to preserve the one-goal advantage at the half.
The Heat controlled possession throughout the majority of the second half as they came up empty on multiple chances but also kept Katy out of the net. Govea put a deep pass on target into the box to Claudio, and his header toward the center of the net was stopped by the keeper.
Regules and Adrian Yepez nearly connected for goals twice late. A header from Yepez in the 82nd minute from the right side of the box on a cross from Regules went wide to the left. In the 90th minute, Regules dribbled around two defenders just staying in, and he again connected with Yepez whose shot went over the net.
“When you have the quality of guys we have and look at the chances we left on the table or missed, you can attribute it to fatigue, both tired legs and mentally,” Powell said. “They are exhausted. We’ve had them going and going the whole summer, but the stretch of five games in two weeks has been very difficult on them. I can’t credit them enough for what they did in that stretch. The missed chances are just missed chances. We got the three points and we move on. The guys will bury those chances as we move forward.”
With the loss, Katy now trails Irving FC (3-4-1, 10 points) for the fourth and final playoff spot.
After playing five games in two weeks, the Heat have eight days off before closing out the regular season hosting the Coyotes FC (3-5-0, 9 points) at 8:00 pm on July 9 at the TAMIU Soccer Complex.
“The guys deserve it so much,” Powell said. “It’s going to be huge for this final home game and the playoffs. The rest is going to go a long way.”
“It is nice,” Claudio said. “Me, the boys, the coaches, the staff and the owners, we will have a nice Fourth of July together as a family. We’ll get our energy back up then we’ll be back at it. July 9 we’ll be ready.”
Photo Credit: Laredo Heat SC