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Consistent success

July 22, 2009

Things are not getting any easier for the Laredo Heat, and yet they're finding ways to succeed.


Another season has gone by and the club finds itself amongst the cream of the PDL crop once again. The Heat's success since their inception in 2004 as a provisional team has placed them as one of the top clubs in the nation.


"The credit has to go to hard work, which exists at all levels of the organization," Heat owner and president Shashi Vaswani said. "The players and coaches know how seriously we take our team and at any point if there seems to be a lack of attention or work ethic by anybody we are quick to address and fix.


"The other thing I have always said is that we have been fortunate, and we thank God for that also." In five short years the Heat has already claimed one title and finished runner-up for two more. That consistency hasn't come easily for the club, but year after year, it has found ways to succeed.


"To me this has been the team's best season, since every team we play comes out and gives us their best game," Heat midfielder Juan De Dios Ibarra said. To many of the Heat's personnel, the 2009 regular season was also the toughest yet.


"Honestly, I thought this year would be the easiest to make the playoffs, because of the format (three teams getting in) but once again we struggled until the end," Vaswani said. "With a lot of issues with injuries this year and suspensions at inopportune times, the regular season division title was like a godsend.


However, we will not be satisfied until we actually win Saturday and represent our division in the quarterfinal." Their years of surprising anyone are in the past and with their accolades has come a brightly painted target on their backs.


What has made their ability to stay afloat atop the top-tier waters of the league has been their ability to find players who compliment the returning core of the team.

The Heat is faced with constant challenges in the offseason, especially after having quite a successful year. The problem begins in that the club has the odds stacked against them in being able to carry the same team into the following season. With the PDL being a developmental league, the emphasis is on the younger players, and the league places age limits and restricts the number of foreign player s a club can carry.


Therefore, the Heat is adding new players year after year; what has offset that this year is that more and more the added players are quite familiar to the club because they have gone through their Heat youth program or are a member of the Texas A&M International University soccer team. "We are always striving to have a deep team - in all honesty, this has been our deepest team thus far in our franchise history," Vaswani said.


"It helps a little to recruit players with a winning tradition. I think they understand that the owners are always looking to compete at the highest level and will do what it takes to try to win championships - in other words we are not just going through the motions."


Making the transition of the newer players even tougher is that they don't have a lot of time to find their place with the team. "It's a short season, so it takes a little time to gel, especially this season where we have so many new players," Heat goalie Ryan Cooper said. "It took a while for them to adjust, but they're all clicking right now. We are clicking at the perfect time."


De Dios Ibarra added, "The young players get a lot of opportunity to succeed with the club, which is a good thing." Making the club's success tougher is the fact that expansion teams entering the league are rarely years away from being competitive. The Austin Aztex proved to be a professionally run club, winning the division in its first year and making the playoffs again.


The West Texas Sockers and Rio Grande Valley Bravos have also proven to be formidable foes. The teams that were moved to the other division to make space for the newest franchises have improved as well. The Mississippi Brilla and New Orleans Jesters made the playoffs, the Brilla as the top seed. The clubs owners have shown that they are serious about their venture and they can provide the adequate ingredients to find success.


It can be said that behind every good club lies a good and dedicated owner. The Heat has had the luxury of having a hands-on president in Vaswani and a more than competent front office spearheaded by J.J. Vela. The only organization to have struggled from its inception is the Houston Leones, which went winless this season.


"To be honest we feel that we are one organization that puts more energy into our program than others," Vaswani said. "Thus, when we start the season we basically talk to coaches and give them all the ingredients necessary with the stipulation that they must make the playoffs.


With 16 games to work with and the 'ingredients' that are given to them, we expect a very delicious meal."


Playoff success is something different. Success in the regular season doesn't necessary translate into the postseason as the Heat found out in their first championship game against the lower-seeded Michigan Bucks.


The Bucks became the lowest-seeded team to ever win a PDL title.


"I think the playoffs are difficult because it's a one game season and as we know anything can happen in one game," Vaswani said.


"But as far as the season is concerned there should be no excuses."