Laredo Heat SC Defeats West Texas FC 2-0 in Lone Star Conference Play

By Laredo Heat SC

The Laredo Heat got back to their defensive ways earning their second clean sheet of the young season with a 2-0 victory over West Texas FC at PEG Energy Stadium on Saturday, June 8 to climb to the top of the table in the Lone Star Conference.

“You have to take points early,” Heat head coach John Powell said. “It’s such a competitive league.  This is the most competitive that I’ve seen it since I was first part of the Heat in 2018.  You have to take points and you need three at home.  That is a really good team, so that’s almost like a six-point game there.”

The Heat stayed unbeaten improving to 3-0-1 to take sole possession of first place in the conference.  They are one of only two unbeaten teams in the conference along with the Denton Diablos FC (3-0-2).  Denton has one more point but has also already played one more game.  West Texas fell to 2-2-1 with the loss.

“To stay undefeated is a big boost for us,” Heat midfielder Oscar Govea said. “We have two massive road games this week.  It’s good getting the win heading into that.”

In the previous season under Powell in 2022, the Heat posted nine shutouts in 15 games and allowed multiple goals only once.  After extending that run to 10 shutouts in 16 games in the season opener, Laredo had a rare stretch of multiple games with multiple goals allowed in a 2-2 draw at Austin United FC and a 4-3 victory at home over CF10 Houston FC.

On Saturday, the Heat entered with a defensive mindset both to get back to their typical style and to combat the West Texas attack which emphasizes trapping in the middle.

“We talked about it all week that we needed to be more compact, harder to break down and give up less clear-cut chances,” Powell said. “That is a team that creates the most clear-cut chances in the league that we’ve seen so far.  They rose to the challenge and they were excellent.  They executed to perfection.”

The style paid off as Laredo survived early chances from West Texas, buckled down in the second half and scored once in each half to take the 2-0 victory.

“It felt like it was needed,” Heat captain and center back Lewis Wilson said. “Last week we fell asleep in the second half.  We had a good week of training.  We knew exactly what they were going to do to us.  JP prepared us very well for it.  We just had to defend.  We did that well, and we took our chances when we needed to.”

Wilson also credited the offensive players who happily took a back seat Saturday and adopted the mindset of taking less chances to prioritize defense.  Manuel Ponce Casas entered the matchup scoring in all three games with five goals and an assist, and he was limited to adding one assist Saturday.

“It was a tough day,” Wilson said. “It was a day of sacrifice for the boys like Manu up top who want to score goals and be involved in every play.  Hat off to those boys.  It’s not an easy shift.  You don’t get the ball and you need to defend.  I take my hat off to them because that’s how we got the 2-nil.”

Throughout the week, Powell prepared Laredo for the attack they were set to see.  Powell knew the chances Laredo’s offense was accustomed to taking could be equally likely to allow goals as generate them.  Rather than take their chances in a potential shootout, they played calculated with selective risks.

“We just talked about the flows of the game,” Powell said. “They were going to have possession just as much if not more, and they ended up having more than us.  But we were making sure we weren’t going to let those spells where we were uncomfortable break us.  We were going to be OK with being uncomfortable.  Now, we have a lot to clean up on the ball.  When you play that big block and you’re a little lower, it’s hard to connect passes out of it because you don’t have a lot of options.  But that’s a really good team and an excellent result.”

The patience on offense paid off in the 26th minute. While Ponce Casas was kept out of the net for the first time, he was instrumental in getting what proved to be the winning goal. After juking by one defender, Jonathan Cardona worked his way tight along the left side of the goal line, and just before reaching the box he crossed through traffic to Ponce Casas near the penalty spot.

His shot from there to the right side of the net was narrowly deflected away by the keeper and trickled to the left corner of the net.  Govea and a defender both slid at the ball, and the Heat midfielder got their first by a fraction of a second to take the 1-0 lead.

“I think it was deserved,” Powell said. “I think we had enough looks early in the first half and even on the counter.  It was earned.  I was happy about it for sure.”

Along with being relieved to give the team a lead to work with as it emphasized defense, Govea was also thrilled to score for the first time in a storied history with the Heat.

“Even though it was a tap-in, I was excited.  I think I’ve played about 25 games and never got a goal, so it was a big deal,” Govea said. “All the other games, I’ve had chances but there have been deflections or I mishit.  It’s crazy because I train and I hit those like ABC.  In college I would score all the time.  It was a big release, especially because it put us ahead.  It was good to calm the nerves down with that goal.”

The goal helped Laredo settle in after facing several scares in the opening 25 minutes.  After West Texas had a few chances to strike first, the Heat wound up with the 1-0 lead.

“The first 20 minutes felt a little odd because we sat back and we’re not accustomed to that, but it made sense with the formation they play,” Govea said. “It is chaotic.  We could have done a little better on certain things, but at the end of the day we got the two and the win.  I’d rather have a win than play pretty and lose.”

One of the early scares came in the eighth minute as West Texas took a corner kick from the right side. The cross was placed in the penalty area toward the right post, and Heat keeper Adrian Gallardo made a leaping punch to send the ball away.

“I stand by it, Adrian is one of the top goalies in the country at the collegiate level,” Powell said. “He has been great for us.  Maybe the early five goals against out of three games, maybe people thought differently, but he was fantastic tonight.”

Gallardo came up big again in the 13th minute as a through ball into the box put a West Texas forward one-on-one with the 5-foot-11 Heat goalkeeper while two defenders crashed in from behind.  With the shot coming from just outside the right edge of the penalty area, Gallardo made a sliding kick save.

“Don’t judge him by his height, he’s a great goalie,” Wilson said. “He’s a good guy, and he’s a brilliant goalie.  The way he can move and his distribution are big for us.”

Gallardo was excited to get back to a clean sheet and was equally as appreciative of Wilson and the rest of the back line in front of him.

“I’m honored to play with the back line that we have,” Gallardo said. “They are very competitive and very good.  We were trained at practice on how they were going to attack us and we defended well.  I like that they trust me when I have to make a big save.”

In the 61st minute, Govea went from being in the right place at the right time in the first half to setting up a teammate for the same opportunity with a well-placed cross.  Following a throw-in, he raced up the right side of the box toward the goal line.  Just before he reached it, he fired a cross through heavy traffic toward the left post.  Cordona perfectly timed his crash of the net and one-timed the cross for a 2-0 lead.

“We focused on playing in the wide areas,” Powell said. “Coaches are always going to tell you that we didn’t do it enough, but we did it when we needed to, and we were dangerous in those pockets.  The players listened. The boys were excellent tonight.”

Laredo continued keeping West Texas at bay the remainder of the half to cruise to the victory.

Following the early scares and Govea’s goal, Heat owner Shashi Vaswani was happy having a 1-0 lead heading into the break Saturday.  However, the improvement in shutting down West Texas throughout the entire second half left him excited.

“JP is the best halftime adjuster we have ever had at coach,” Vaswani said. “The performance tonight in the second half was incredible.  When you can strategize and adjust like that, you’ll be in every game at the break no matter what the score.”

Powell’s halftime adjustments could be crucial during the upcoming road trip as the Heat’s spot atop the table will be put to the test.  First up is a Thursday, June 13 match with the Fort Worth Vaqueros (0-3-2) at 7:30 pm.  Then it’s a quick turnaround for a Saturday, June 15 match at 7:30 pm against the Denton Diablos which will likely determine who sits atop the table starting the second half of the season.

Please visit youtube.com/LaredoHeatSC for live streams of the Heat’s matches.  The team will be home at PEG Energy Stadium on Wednesday, June 19.

For ticket information and to stay up to date on all things Laredo Heat, please visit laredoheatsc.com and follow @laredoheatsc on all major social media platforms.

Photo Credit: Laredo Heat SC

 

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