By Jason Mack/Laredo Heat SC
The number of Laredo Heat SC alumni in the professional ranks continues to grow as the signing of defender Gabriel Claudio was announced this week by the Union Omaha Soccer Club of USL League One.
“I feel really blessed right now to have the opportunity,” Claudio said. “I’ve taken it step by step. I haven’t cheated the way or jumped any process. I went from high school to junior college to Division I and now to the first step in the pros. It just shows that if you stick to your dream and your grind and you stay honest to yourself, then it can pay off.”
Union Omaha is based in Omaha, Nebraska and plays its home matches at the Werner Park baseball stadium with a capacity of 9,023. The Owls won both the regular season and overall championships in 2021. Union Omaha opens defense of its title on Saturday, April 9 on the road against Forward Madison FC.
“They have had nothing but success,” Claudio said. “They have had success on the field and in getting guys to higher levels of competition. All my focus is with Union Omaha and I want to do my best for the fans here, but my ultimate goal is to get to the MLS. They breed success on the field and in moving guys on, so it’s a great fit.”
Claudio started his collegiate career at the junior college level with Yavapai College. He was the runner-up for the Region Player of the Year in 2019 and was named first-team All-NJCAA All-Region as he had four goals and two assists during a 15-4 run to the conference title. He also anchored a backline which allowed an average of only 0.61 goals while posting 10 shutouts.
He achieved one of his career goals by making the jump to the Division I level, and he continued his success there with UNLV. Across two seasons in 2021, Claudio recorded two goals, three assists and 22 shots while starting all 29 games for the Rebels.
“I owe a lot to my family, parents, friends, all the staff I’ve been with at Yavapai, UNLV and Laredo,” Claudio said. “All you guys helped me get to the point where I am now, and I hope I make everyone proud and have a long, successful career.”
His two-way skills were on full display during the 2021 National Premier Soccer League season as Claudio helped the Heat make a run to the Lone Star Conference championship game. Laredo featured the conference’s top defense in the regular season as it allowed only 10 goals while going 7-1-2. The Heat posted five clean sheets including a 3-0 win in the postseason opener.
Claudio also contributed to the conference’s No. 2 offense as he scored three goals. The balanced effort led to him being named a finalist for the NPSL Conference XI awards.
“We are thrilled to see Gabriel continue to thrive,” Laredo Heat SC President Shashi Vaswani said. “He is a perfect embodiment of what the Heat are all about, and he has worked hard to earn this opportunity at the next level. He will be a great role model for future Heat players as he continues to work his way up the pro ranks.”
“I get people reaching out to me all the time with players who want to go play in Laredo or who have just signed asking me how it is,” Claudio said. “I tell them the honest truth. I tell them they are going to take care of you down there. It’s going to be a different experience. It’s going to be a city you’ve never experienced being on the border and being very Mexican culture. That culture is amazing. You have to adjust, but the staff takes care of you.”
While he enjoys getting involved on the offensive end, Claudio will be focusing on his role as a center back with Union Omaha.
“That’s my main focus whenever I step on the field is to protect that goal. If I can score an occasional goal that’s a bonus,” he said. “My main focus right now is on the center back role and being a leader. Learning and developing is the biggest thing for me right now. I’m 22 years old. I’m young in the pro game and I have a lot to learn. That’s my main focus is learning that position as much as I can with the players I’m surrounded by and with the coaching staff I have.”
Claudio is following in the footsteps of Younes Boudadi and Memo Diaz who helped the Heat go 10-0-0 in the regular season during their debut in the NPSL in 2018. Both now compete in the USL Championship as Boudadi plays for the Hartford Athletic and Diaz plays for the Oakland Roots.
“Laredo was nothing but happy times other than the loss in the final which should have gone differently,” Claudio said. “I owe a lot to the Laredo staff, the players I played with, the coaching staff and the Vaswani family and everything they did for me down there. I hope they continue to have success and breed guys and get them out like they’ve done with me and guys like Memo Diaz and Younes Boudadi. They have had a lot of quality down there, and I hope they keep doing that. They provide a big platform for young soccer players.”
Signing with Union Omaha comes after Claudio had the opportunity to try out with the USL Championship’s Phoenix Rising FC. He competed in three games with the club against the Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, and Louisville City. Claudio played 120 minutes across the three matches, and the team didn’t allow any goals during his time on the pitch.
“It was great,” Claudio said. “I like coach Rick Schantz. He had a lot of respect for me and gave me great feedback before I left. I fit with the team and was getting along with the boys. Rick and I sat down, and we thought it was better if we sent me over here to Omaha to play. It was a great experience.”
Following his time with the club, Claudio appeared on Phoenix Rising’s “The Fan Experience” podcast and discussed his time with the Heat.
“I’ll tell this to anyone, if you are a college kid and want to play summer league, Laredo is the spot to be,” he said. “It is as close to professional as you can get without being professional. They take care of their players. They have a great fan base. It is quality over there.”
Please visit laredoheatsc.com and follow @laredoheatsc on social media to stay up to date on the latest news including upcoming player announcements.
Photo Credit: Laredo Heat SC
EMBED THIS YOUTUBE VIDEO SOMEWHERE IN THE ARTICLE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXfu47PNbOI