Laredo Heat SC Wins 2024 NPSL Home Opener

Dramatic Defensive Stand Seals Victory for the Gateway City Club

By Laredo Heat SC

The Laredo Heat SC debuted PEG Energy Stadium in dramatic fashion Saturday surviving an added time penalty kick and winning 4-3 over CF10 Houston FC in front of a sold-out crowd.

“There are so many things that could go wrong on the first night, but we had it all,” Laredo Heat co-owner Shashi Vaswani said. “We had the weather, we had the fans show up, we had everything. I didn’t want it to be exciting at the end, but we had an exciting game.”

“I just had a lot of positive words from all the fans and gratitude from them about doing this,”Vaswani said. “We’re very happy, but back to the drawing board and making sure we don’t slip up again and become vulnerable again in the back.”

The entire 1,200 capacity of PEG Energy Stadium was filled to witness history as Laredo officially opened its own dedicated stadium.

“The only word I can think of is special,” Heat head coach John Powell said. “Not a lot of clubs in the country have something like this. The fans showed out. Obviously, we know the commitment of the owners and everyone that is involved with that. It truly was special.”

Heat midfielder Jordan Mase witnessed the stadium go from concept to construction as he played several seasons for Laredo while attending Texas A&M International University. After years of Heat games played on his college field, he was excited to see the fans enjoy their own facility.

“It is incredible,” Mase said. “Luckily, I was able to be in Laredo and watch this grow from the ground up. Finally seeing these people enjoy the stadium, it’s incredible.”

Mase became a footnote in Laredo Heat history Saturday as he scored the first goal in the history of PEG Energy Stadium in the 10th minute.

“I had a feeling, I’m not going to lie,” Mase said. “I had a feeling I was going to score that goal. I’m very happy with that goal to be honest.”

After getting on the score sheet, Mase also set up Miguel Ponce Casas later in the first half to pick up an assist. It was the fourth goal of the season for Ponce Casas, and he added a fifth in the second half.

Heat co-owners Shashi and Priya Vaswani have aimed to build up local talent and get Laredo athletes into the lineup since they started the club and the Laredo Heat Youth Academy 20years ago. Saturday saw that goal begin to pay off as four Laredo athletes were on the field in the crucial closing moments.

Diego Rocha started on the back line and went the distance, and he was joined by three local substitutions in Gael Gallegos, Andres Herrera and Jorge “Koke” Mares.

“That has always been our plan. It has taken longer than we’ve wanted, but the Laredo kids have to be at the level where we want them to be in order to compete, and we have to push them,” Shashi Vaswani said. “I don’t want them to think, ‘Just because I’m a Laredo kid I’m going on.’ No. We have to put them out of their comfort zone and pressure them a little bit. That’s what makes a good soccer player.”

Powell echoed that the playing time was earned from the local athletes, and he said they showed that on Saturday.

“It is unique,” Powell said. “I haven’t been in that position in the past couple summers I was out here. The challenge to the local guys was to compete. That’s what they have done. They helped us. They saw that game out for sure. Their impact was massive.”

The Heat stayed unbeaten with the victory improving to 2-0-1 to sit at the top of the table in the Lone Star Conference.

Mase’s opening goal came in the 10th minute. Amaya took a pass from Ponce Casas at the top right of the box and centered a pass to Mase. Then Mase one-timed it from 18 yards out, ripping it hard into the top right corner of the net for an early 1-0 lead.

“Jordan is my guy,” Powell said. “Any team I coach, I want a Jordan Mase on my team. He is coachable and works harder than anyone else. He is key to our team.”

Seven minutes later, the Heat added to the lead after securing a corner kick. Jonathan Cardona placed the cross dead center in the goal area, and Gabriel Claudio followed Mase’s lead directing his header into the top right corner to put Laredo up 2-0 early in the 17th minute.

Houston briefly halted the momentum in the 21 st  minute after a pass in the defensive end was intercepted. The intercepting player beat his defender into the right side of the box then sent a centering pass through traffic which was redirected into the lower right corner.

It took less than six minutes for the Heat to steal the momentum right back. Early in the 27th minute, Oscar Govea drove up the middle after a turnover and sent a long through ball to Mase finding him in stride as he reached the top right of the box. After Mase juked around the first defender, he had another one crashing in quickly. Rather than firing a quick shot, he tapped over to Ponce Casas who shot into the lower left corner for a 3-1 advantage.
“The whole point of playing soccer is to win games and share the game with your teammates,” Mase said. “If I see my teammate in a better position, I’m more than happy to do that for him.”

The Heat expanded their lead to three in the 58th minute after securing a corner kick. The cross was punched away from the keeper and was corralled by Govea. His quick shot deflected off a player, but an attempted clear out also deflected off a defender’s leg and toward the net. Like several times before this season, Ponce Casas was in the right place at the right time and beat the keeper to the inside to go ahead 4-1.

Houston started its comeback attempt in the 63rd minute off another turnover near midfield. A through ball up the right side connected, and the forward scored from 10 yards out before the two defenders closing in could reach him.

The pressure on the Heat ratcheted up in the 74th minute after Adrian Gallardo made a slide tackle to stop a forward who broke free up the middle before he could get the shot off. The forward slipped up battling with Claudio for the ball on the left side, and a penalty kick was awarded. Houston shot dead center from the spot and scored, making it a one-goal game with plenty of time remaining.

Gallegos nearly added some insurance with an acrobatic play in the 88th minute. Off a cross from the far left, Gallegos put a header on target despite his back facing the net. However, the keeper made a diving grab to keep the game within reach.

Houston was awarded a second penalty kick in the 90th minute on a tackle just inside the right corner of the box. An attempted panenka went just over the crossbar to keep the Heat ahead.

“I was nervous all the way to the end to be honest,” Mase said. “It was a little bit scrappy at the end, but when it’s your home and you have all these lovely people behind you, it’s impossible to put in a bad performance of them.”

Houston had a last-ditch effort in the 97th minute as the keeper took a free kick from midfield, but the Heat cleared away his service to close out the victory.

“We definitely made it way more dramatic than we needed, but at the end of the day it is three points, and that’s what we needed to have,” Powell said. “There were a lot of moments of brilliance. Our breakdowns were few, but they cost us. We have to work on how we take our chances better and not put ourselves in that position. We have to learn how to win. The team is new still, together less than a month, and we have to keep learning. I love learning lessons when we win.”

Following the anxiety of the dramatic finish, fans were treated to a drone show after the game which featured the Heat logos, soccer animations, and more.
The Heat are back at PEG Energy Stadium for a second straight home game at 7:45 pm on Saturday, June 8 against West Texas FC (2-1-0, 6 points). West Texas FC is coming off a 3-2 victory over Austin United FC. It will travel to face FC Brownsville on Thursday, June 6 before heading to Laredo.

“We have to work toward June 8,” Vaswani said. “We have to work like we’ve worked all preseason and all season to make sure the June 8 games goes well and make sure we fill up the stands.”

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