A Sight to Behold and Experience: Laredo Heat SC’s PEG Energy Stadium Sets the Standard in the NPSL

By Victor Araiza

Laredo Heat’s stadium project continues growth of soccer in South Texas

Over the course of 20 years, the Laredo Heat Soccer Club has provided tuition-free youth soccer, taken academy teams to national competitions, seen its senior team go on runs in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and hosted international friendlies bringing future stars like Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to the border city.

Now, they have a new home that could elevate the club to another level.

“We went all in,” said club owner Shashi Vaswani. “We decided to have a FIFA-certified pitch for all our youth, and we did that by building a stadium.  It is primarily used, right now, for the youth and our summer program, which is the NPSL team.”

Holding its grand opening in June, PEG Energy Stadium has already produced the NPSL club’s best-attended season.  An intimate setting has helped the team house upwards of 1,200 spectators for each of its five regular season matches.

The club christened its new field with a dramatic 4-3 victory and finished with a 3-1-1 home record.  A 5-2-3 overall record has led the team back to the NPSL Playoffs, and while the team could possibly be done hosting matches this year, the foundation has been set for the club’s future and the added growth of soccer in South Texas.

Designing a permanent home for soccer in Laredo

PEG Energy Stadium highlights a six-acre soccer complex across from the Laredo International Airport.  It is also within a mile of the town’s other major sports arenas.

A grandstand overlooks the field, with a VIP deck at the top and field-level seating at the bottom.  General admission seating was added on the opposite side to meet increasing demand, and more amenities are being considered, all focusing on enhancing the experience of witnessing the action on the field.

“We went for quality over quantity,” said Vaswani. “We made sure that every fan seated has a great view of the game and feels part of the game, feels electricity.”

“We did a lot of things to make sure that we’re almost on top of the field,” Vaswani added. “We have a deck, which I call the million-dollar deck, the VIP deck, and it’s only because we’ve made sure that it didn’t have any obstructional view with poles that would hold up a structure, our overhang structure, and that was something that I really insisted upon with the architects.”

Of course, the main attraction is a professional field measuring 115 by 75 yards, within FIFA’s recommended dimensions of 105 metres x 68 metres.  The artificial turf is filled with BrockFILL, organic wood particles, to better combat the high temperatures of a Texas summer.

The facility houses locker rooms for the home and away sides, referees and a medical staff.  Two turf mini-pitches are also at the disposal of the youth academy.

“From a fan standpoint, I think the comments have been all positive,” said General Manager Juan Jose “JJ” Vela. “The comment that I like to hear the best is, ‘Hey, this is such a neat thing for Laredo.’” 

“It’s the only soccer-specific facility,” Vela added. “We can be able to host some high school teams.  We’ll be able to host, of course, our youth teams.  And it’s nice to have a place to call home.”

A home 20 years in the making

When Laredo Heat owners Shashi and Priya Vaswani decided to start a soccer club in 2004, having a soccer stadium was a distant dream.

“Since the day we started, we’ve always said, ‘to have a stadium would be awesome,” Shashi Vaswani said. “But, never got around to do it.  Economics didn’t work.”

Their initial objective was to start a soccer academy in Laredo that would provide opportunities to the region’s youth and give back to where the Vaswani family built their American dream.

“We wanted to give opportunity, opportunity, opportunity,” Vaswani said, recalling his early years in Laredo. “To try to use soccer to either get a scholarship or a possible pro career.”

The Laredo Heat played at a baseball field, Veterans Field, in its first season before moving to the Student Activity Complex (SAC) owned by the United Independent School District.  Texas A&M International University Soccer Complex was the home of the Heat from 2008 until last season.  The club donated the lights to host nighttime matches while renting the facility.

In 2020, the Vaswani family purchased land across the Laredo International Airport with commercial space in mind.  It was at that point that the dream to have a home for the soccer club resurfaced.

“Let’s put our stadium there, let’s move our offices there, let’s do everything out of here,” Vaswani told his family. “Make this our base for until we’re no longer on this earth.  So, everybody jumped on board.”

“I’m proud to say we did this with no public money,” Vaswani said of the $14 million project. “We did this on our own.”

An open field for continued evolution

Since joining the NPSL in the 2018 season, the team has placed first in its conference twice.  The club recently clinched its fourth appearance in the NPSL Playoffs in six seasons.

The team’s longest playoff run has been reaching the regional semifinals in 2018 and 2022, though they hope to change that this postseason.  They will also look to return to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, in which they last took part in the 2019 campaign, and hope for a run like that of fellow NPSL side El Farolito.

“We definitely want to qualify,” Vaswani said. “But we got to win on the field here.”

The club has also previously hosted Liga MX youth sides like Club America, Chivas of Guadalajara, and Tigres UANL.  In one of those friendlies, fans saw a rising star in Javier Hernandez, a few years before his move to Manchester United.

The Heat wants to bring those types of matches to Gateway City to add to the palette that includes the annual NPSL schedule.  With a new stadium, the club can showcase its own rising stars on home turf.

“This is part of giving back Laredo, something, this is part of us providing family entertainment,” Vaswani said. “We weren’t able to concentrate on any games this year for some of these types of events because we were trying to get the stadium finished, but we definitely want that to be a part of our staple.”

 

Photo Credit: Tim McCarty/TVCommando Media

 

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