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Heat to host top teams

Heat to host top teams

July 28, 2009

The Laredo Heat Soccer Club will host the Southern/Western Conference portion of the Premier Development League's Elite Eight Tournament at the Texas A&M International University Soccer Complex this weekend.

The Northwest Division champion Kitsap Pumas will play the Southwest champion Ventura County County Fusion in the first game on Friday at 5:30, and Mid South champion Laredo will face the Southeast champion Bradenton Academics in a game to follow.

Winners of the first two games will square of on Saturday at 8:15 p.m.

Hosting these teams for the league's quarter and semifinals will give the Heat a unique chance that General Manager J.J. Vela is excited to share with local soccer fans. "We have four very contrasting styles coming into Laredo," he said.

"Bradenton is very young and fast, Ventura plays a West Coast style, and Kitsap is very European - they have a British coach, a lot of tall guys, long shots... if we play them, there will probably be a lot of hard fouls."

The Heat will display its own style, which Vela describes as "tactical and calculated," and hopes that will earn the club a spot in the PDL Championship for the fourth straight year.

"We have been very fortunate that the majority of the teams have had to adjust to us," he said. "If we move the ball three-quarters of the way up the field then get it taken away, we have no problem going right back. A lot of teams aren't used to that."

Other factors that could help the club's cause are the Laredo weather and the home crowd, as the Heat averages higher attendance than the Academics and Fusion, leaving the Pumas as their only possible competition used to the environment created by over 1,000 rowdy fans.

Hometown flare

Laredo's ownership and management have made no secret of their desire to build up the local youth soccer scene, and the Heat's efforts continued to pay dividends on Saturday.

Alfredo Ramos, a recent St. Augustine graduate, scored the lone goal to earn Laredo a 1-0 victory over the West Texas United Sockers in the Mid South Division Championship and earn the Heat its third division title in five years.

"That's what we're striving for as a team and an organization," Vela said. "We know we have the talent in Laredo; they just need coaching and guiding. We want to get to a point where we don’t depend on out-of-town talent."

Ramos is just one of many local prospects on the current Heat roster, which also includes Alexander standouts Rodrigo Avila and Eduardo Gonzalez and LBJ graduate Francisco Lara.

Scouting the Academics

Laredo has only faced its next opponent once in the past, earning a victory in the 2006 PDL Semifinals, but also got to see the Academics play during last year's conference playoffs.

"They always have very competitive teams," Vela said. "They play at the IMG Academy, which is the home to the U.S. National Youth Teams. A lot of their players have gone through the program; the majority are alumni players."

Bradenton is coached by IMG Soccer Academy Director and former Tampa Bay Mutiny Assistant Coach Tom Durkin, who takes advantage of the youth and speed that comes through his program to develop a consistently successful PDL team.

Injury updates

Several players who were injured during Laredo's victory over West Texas on Saturday have had their status updated after doctor's visits over the past few days.

Most of these players are expected to be able to play this weekend but may miss practice time this week, which Vela does not anticipate being much of a problem.

Defender Pedro Ramos has already started therapy on his injury, while forward Joel Perez and defender Soamy Bautista are feeling fine.

Midfielder Greg Mulamba, who was a game-day decision and played the majority of Saturday's game, re-aggravated his injury in doing so and is day-to-day.

One player not expected to be available on Friday is midfielder Alex Hergert, who got his cleat caught and fell to the grass during the 62nd minute of Saturday's contest and never returned.

He has been diagnosed with a severe knee sprain and will undergo an MRI to check for ligament tears.