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The Gateway to a title

July 31, 2009

Four of the Premier Development League's best teams will put on a show for Laredo tonight as the PDL Quarterfinals will be played at the Texas A&M International University Soccer Complex.

The hometown Heat will host the Bradenton Academics in the later of tonight's games, following a contest between the Kitsap Pumas and Ventura County Fusion at 5:30 p.m.

On Saturday, the winners of the quarterfinal matchups will square off with a trip to the PDL Championship on the line.

Laredo is looking for its fourth straight championship game appearance and hoping that earning that spot could lead to the team's second PDL title.

"It would be tremendous," Heat Owner/President Shashi Vaswani said.

"I think this year would be sweeter than any other year. A lot of people wrote us off because (former star forward) Felix Garcia wouldn't be playing with us.

These guys want to prove they can get it done.

"We will never be a one-man team, and we need to prove that."

Helping the Heat in its title quest is a strong core of players, including three who were named to the PDL's All-Southern Conference team on Thursday.

Goalkeeper Ryan Cooper and midfielders Daniel Galvan and Greg Mulamba earned the honors for their play during Laredo's 7-1-8 regular season.

"They have been tremendous for us," Vaswani said.

"We've worked very hard to keep this core intact, and the guys are gelling year after year.

We know that will stop eventually, and we might have a rebuilding season next year.

That would make winning this season even sweeter because it might be a few years before we can get back here."

Though the team is hoping to make the best of this season, the Heat is not writing off its first opponent.

"We've been watching tape of Bradenton," Vaswani said.

"They are a very, very strong, quick and technical team.

Our players know that, our coaches know that, and I know they're going to give it 110 percent."

Tonight's other game also promises to be very competitive, and Vaswani expects his team to be challenged if it advances to Saturday's semifinal.

"Kitsap is a pro PDL team with tremendous talent," he said.

"They are one of the top-echelon teams in the league this season.

The team from Ventura County was not on the radar, and that's what scares us the most.

"It's going to be a tough match for whoever makes it through."

As can be expected at this time of year, the Heat is dealing with some injury issues.

Laredo will be without the services of midfielder Alex Hergert, who tore his ACL in the team's 1-0 extra time victory over the West Texas United Sockers last weekend.

Mulamba will be a game-time decision, while Galvan and Pedro Ramos are expected to play through their pain.

"They can start resting it up in two weeks," General Manager J.J. Vela joked in reference to the PDL title game on Aug. 8.

Note: Tickets for all three of this weekend's games can be purchased for $8 on the general admission side and $20 in the VIP area.