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Awaiting a postseason fate

July 16, 2009

The Laredo Heat's recipe for success lies in the quality of players it puts on the pitch year in and year out. Though the Heat (6-1-8, 26 points) has lost several integral parts of its success due to roster changes, the club hasn't missed a beat, finding replacements to fill departed stars' cleats nicely.


More importantly, the team retains a core group of players deemed necessary for continued success. That core group of players includes Dionisio Infante, Juan De Dios Ibarra, Danny Galvan, Carlos Ordaz, Raul Quiñones, Ryan Cooper, Greg Mulamba and Pedro Ramos.


"They're an extremely important part of this team," Heat head coach Israel Collazo said. "They're as important as the accomplishments we have garnered. Everything we have accomplished is due to them."

Whether or not this year's team can add to that success depends on what happens tonight when the Heat faces the West Texas Sockers (7-4-3, 21) at the Texas A&M International University Soccer Complex.


"This is it," Collazo said. "We know what we need to do. We know a win gives us the Mid South Division title. A loss and we might be left out. So it's a weird mix of feelings." A win would give the club its third division title, a tie would move it into the playoffs as an unknown seed, and a loss would keep everything up in the air.


"This is tough to take, being that we are the team with the least defeats in the division," Ibarra said. "But this is a league rule, and we know that a victory or tie is all we need. We're not looking to tie this game; we're not looking to take the easy way out. "We know we need to be ready and focused, especially since everybody brings their best game against us."


The Heat cannot afford to take this game lightly, as the Sockers were the only club to come up with a win against it this season. Making things even more difficult, the Heat is going to be without several of its key players tonight. Infante is suspended for yellow card accumulation, Galvan is limited with a leg injury and might not be available, and Mulamba is definitely out with an injury.

 

Also out is the Heat's top scorer in Esteban Bayona, who is serving his one-game suspension for the red card he received in their last game. "We are going to be missing several players, but that has been the story of this season so far," Collazo said. "We still expect to play some great football." The Sockers can help their own cause by winning their first division title if they beat the Heat again. This is not the first time that the Heat has had to win their final game of the season to qualify for postseason play.


Last year the club had to beat the New Orleans Shell Shockers. "Fortunately this is not unfamiliar territory for our players, coaching staff and organization in terms of game day pressure because we do take each game one at a time, we prepare well and give each opponent the respect they deserve," Heat General Manager, J.J. Vela said. "We need our fans to come out and support us.


If we have people in Laredo that have been thinking of coming out to a Heat game this season and they have not, all I have to say is that they could not have waited for a better match." The Heat is looking to add to the Premiere Development League record books, earning its fifth straight playoff appearance tonight. It is the only team to make the postseason in their first four years of existence and are the only team to have made it to the championship game three years in a row.


"They (the players) have shouldered the burden of welcoming in new players and making them fit in and get better," Collazo said. "They have been here for the good and the bad and know what is expected of them."


The usual suspects


Infante is the only leftover from the team's provisional year in 2004. The following season, Ibarra played with the club a couple of games before returning to play in Mexico. In 2006, Ibarra returned for 11 games along side Galvan, Ordaz and Quiñones. Also in 2006 current Heat players Raul Quiñones and Adam Kelemet were members of the team for a brief period, each playing just one game.


"I have been fortunate enough to have formed part in most of the team's successes and accomplishments," Ibarra said. "What we have done has been fantastic. "We gained valuable experience every year and we expect to only add to our success (tonight)." More pieces to the current puzzle were brought in the following season (2007) when Mulamba and Cooper joined the club.


By then, Ibarra was here for good. Only Cooper was asked to provide immediate help that season, as he became the team's starting goalkeeper. "Thankfully we have been able to maintain a core group of players for the past season's," Ibarra said. "That has been the reason why we have been successful along with the bond we have formed." That bond hasn't been limited to just the veteran players. "What has also helped this team succeed is that we all get along," Ibarra said.


"We have had great team chemistry, which keeps the team moving along. Of course, it hasn't all been roses, but for the most part it has been good and we have ironed out the rough spots that have come our way." The next generation of players in 2008 included Alex Hergert, Alex de la Fuente, Frank Lara, Pedro Ramos and Theo Browne. These players are already being counted on for another potential playoff run.


"I try and be vocal and supportive of the younger members of the team," Ibarra said.


"I get along really well with them and I try to motivate them and pass on some of my experiences.


"It's something that I have been conscious of doing since I started playing soccer."


Ibarra's approach has prepared him for his coaching duties in the Heat's youth clubs.