By Jason Mack/Laredo Heat SC
The Laredo Heat SC continued to dominate on its home field as it bounced back from its lone loss of the season in a big way rolling 3-0 Thursday in the first-ever meeting with the Lubbock Matadors at the TAMIU Soccer Complex.
“It was a huge impact coming off a loss in Austin,” Heat forward Roberto Ordonez said. “The team picked up, and you can see the result.”
After playing the first half of the season in a span of just 20 days, the Heat had seven full off days to reflect on their only loss as they fell 3-1 on the road against the Austin United FC with two goals allowed in added time on Wednesday, June 1. The team capitalized on the lengthy layoff and trained hard to prepare for the second half of the year.
“Sitting on that loss for over a week was eating at the boys,” Heat head coach John Powell said. “You could see it in how they showed up to training. They kept that consistency, intensity and energy at every session. It was so competitive that sometimes I was like, ‘Oh man, we might have to pull back a little bit.’ But the coaching staff trusted it and let them keep going. Sometimes there is a drop off from training to the match, but not a chance today.”
Thursday’s victory allowed the Heat (5-1-1, 16 points) to maintain control of their destiny in the Lone Star Conference as they pulled within a point of the Corinthians FC of San Antonio (5-0-2, 17 points). San Antonio plays Saturday against the Austin United FC and Wednesday against FC Brownsville. The Heat will move back to the top of the table if the Corinthians lose either match or draw Saturday.
Regardless of San Antonio’s results, the Heat control their destiny as the teams meet in Laredo in the season finale. The Heat continue to lead the conference with a plus-15 goal differential which is five ahead of the Corinthians.
Laredo has been dominant all season at the TAMIU Soccer Complex with four wins in four tries. It has outscored opponents 14-1 with the lone goal allowed coming off a penalty kick. Thursday marked the third clean sheet at home and the fourth overall in seven games this season for the Heat and goalkeeper Connor Durant. In Laredo’s past four victories, it has conceded just three total corner kicks.
“We did a very good job. Lubbock was well organized,” Heat defender Dimitrios Leonoglou said. “They were a very good team, but we defended and played with passion. It was perfect. Getting clean sheets is my job. I have to prevent goals, and I scored one, so that was fun today.”
A center back from Greece, Leonoglou was joined on the back line by captain Lewis Wilson and fellow Aberdeen, Scotland native Liam Morrison along with Laredo native Sebastian Rivera. Rivera returned for his fifth start after missing the past two matches with a partial tear in his quadriceps.
“They had so few clean looks, I don’t even know if they had one,” Powell said. “Connor is fantastic. While he is not necessarily being forced to make a great deal of saves right now, his leadership and his organization are invaluable. His voice is heard non-stop on the film. We also have the best central defender in the whole country right now in Lewis Wilson wearing the armband and leading the team. Leo was massive today. Sebas being back was big. Everyone was pure class.”
The Heat put their intense preparation from the week to quick use as they jumped ahead late in the fifth minute. A long cross into the box from Morrison was headed away by a defender before Kristian Colaci could get to it, but Jordan Mase picked it up on the right edge of the box. Mase passed back to Ordonez, and he took two steps to the left before firing a low left-footed shot and hugging the right post for a 1-0 lead.
“The start was exactly what we talked about,” Powell said. “There was no drop from the locker room talk to the warmup to the first five minutes. We got a goal we deserved. The first 15 minutes was some of the best football we’ve played all year.”
“It always feels good to score,” Ordonez said. “There is not a better feeling than getting a shot to go in. Being able to celebrate with your teammates and then getting an assist as well, what more can you ask for? It feels good to help out the team.”
The goal was the third of the season for Ordonez. He also picked up his team-leading fifth assist, but that didn’t come for another 68 minutes as the Heat consistently generated chances throughout the half but failed to convert any of them, keeping the advantage at 1-0 heading into halftime.
“I was okay with it,” Powell said. “I was fully confident the boys could win that 1-nil. I think it would have been a misleading score with the domination we had. Lubbock is a very good side, but they had a very hard time breaking us down defensively. The three goals up on the scoreboard are lovely and you enjoy them, but the job we did defensively was phenomenal.”
Ordonez picked up his assist in the 73rd minute off a free kick from deep on the left side. Leading the charge up front were Wilson seeking his fourth header of the season and Colaci looking for a sixth goal, but the ball bounced back to Leonoglou. Given the rare opportunity to get a shot off, he left nothing to doubt as he crushed it into the far side of the net.
“I trust the kid, and he told me before the game the trust is mutual and he was going to go and deliver a performance. He definitely did just that,” Powell said.
“It had been almost four years since the last time I scored,” Leonoglou said. “ I forgot how to celebrate. It was fun. I feel like a kid again, and I liked that I helped the team.”
While Leonoglou may have felt rusty in his celebration, the fans would have never known the difference. He was so energized in his sprint around the back of the net that he initially ran past a Heat youth academy player who was serving as a ball boy and was trying to get in on the celebration. Laredo midfielder Ruben Nielsen noticed the missed connection and brought the player over to Leonoglou who proceeded to lift him up and toss him into the air four times.
“That kid came to me and I was throwing him into the air,” Leonoglou said. “What a feeling. I love when the kids come and see us play. I love when they celebrate with us, and I love when they come and ask for autographs.”
Another set piece set up the final goal in the 88th minute as Rivera lined up for a free kick from deep on the right side. Nielsen, who subbed in during the 62nd minute, timed his run perfectly to put a hard header into the short side of the net for his second goal of the season.
“It was just a quality ball from Sebas,” Powell said. “I think so highly of that kid. Ruben did what he does. He is a goal scorer. He is dangerous. He probably wasn’t thrilled to start on the bench, but we had a plan, and he did exactly what we wanted him to do. It was so good for him. I love to see him get on the score sheet.”
Coming off the long break to stew on their first loss, the Heat now get another long layoff to reflect on their victory. Laredo has eight days off before traveling on Saturday, June 18 for a 7:15 pm match against FC Brownsville (4-2-0, 12 points). The Heat won 2-0 at home over Brownsville in their first meeting.
“It is perfect,” Powell said. “. We’ll be able to recover and get some rest. We can have a proper week of training when we go to Brownsville. They are a very good team, so we’ll need that full week of training.”
Please visit laredoheatsc.com and follow @laredoheatsc on social media to stay up to date on the latest news. Any youth players interested in joining the academy can visit laredoheatscyouth.com for more information.
Photos Courtesy of Laredo Heat SC