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Garcia leads Heat in home finale

Garcia leads Heat in home finale

Tuesday July 12, 2011 - Garcia leads Heat in home finale

Stars return for Rewarding win


Published: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 2:19 AM CDT

Laredo Heat forward Felix Garcia loudly announced his return from a three-game injury absence on Tuesday night, scoring two goals in the first 10 minutes against the Rio Grande Valley Grandes to lead the Heat to a 3-0 win in their home regular season finale at the Texas A&M International Soccer Complex.

Laredo improved to 9-3-1 (28 points) on the season, just four points behind Mid-South Division leaders Chivas El Paso (32 points).

“This was a great team win for us,” Heat coach Israel Collazo said.

“We were able to score early and take charge of the field.

Our midfielders opened the field and put opportunities at our feet.

It was an important three points to win tonight.”

Garcia’s pair of goals came within three minutes of each other and he missed a second-minute chip shot that soared just over the crossbar.

His first goal, a seventh-minute give-and-go from fellow forward Esteban Bayona, buried itself at the bottom of the near-post corner, giving the Heat an early lead.

Garcia’s second score came off a 10th minute cross from midfielder Max Gunderson.

“It felt so good to come back like that,” Garcia said.

“I missed three or four weeks and knew I was ready to play. It’s all from our team, though; they opened things up and gave me chances.

“I thank both (Gunderson and Bayona) for the passes that I was then able to put in.”

The former LBJ scoring sensation, responsible for setting the state’s single-season goals record in Class 5A as a junior, powered the Heat’s pressing offense to 10 shots on goal in the first half alone, playing most of the half a man down after a Edward Estrada red card in the 24th minute.

“It was just some rough play,” Garcia said.

“It was on a corner kick and there was some pushing and shoving, and (Galvan) fought back a little.

That’s soccer, and (the Grandes) maybe tried to get some penalties from us.”

The Grandes, already eliminated from the Mid-South Division’s playoff race, provocatively played with nothing to lose and tried to prod Laredo’s temper.

They got the rise they searched for inside their own box on a Heat attack, resulting in a RGV one-man advantage.

Despite the 10-on-11, the Grandes failed to hold possession and played four defenders in their half to stall the Bayona-Garcia barrage.

Bayona, the Heat’s leading scorer and points leader, wore a black band around his left arm to honor his brother, Diego, who died of leukemia 19 years ago on July 13.

He saw chances to score throughout the game as Laredo’s midfielders Greg Mulamba and Gunderson spread open the pitch, but Bayona’s blasts went wide of the net in the 16th, 32nd, 38th, 44th, 45th and 71st minutes.

Bayona finally found the nylon in the 86th minute on Gunderson’s second assist of the night. Gunderson again penetrated deep along the Grandes sideline, crossing the ball to Bayona’s feet for the final goal.

He celebrated with spread arms and an upward gaze, no doubt honoring his brother.

“(Tuesday night) was very emotional for me,” Bayona said.

“I had a lot of nerves coming into the game and had a tough time finding the net.

When I finally did toward the end of the match, it was something special.

“We still have more games to win, though, and I’m going to dedicate the rest of this month to my brother and work hard to make the playoffs.”

The final half of the match was much more a midfield skirmish than the back-and-forth first.

Both sides sought counter attacks, and Laredo only took two total shots on goal in the half.

Garcia exited the match in the 78th minute after being shaken up. Former LBJ Wolf Frank Lara replaced him.

“I think I was just more tired than anything,” Garcia said.

“I spent a lot of time fixing my hamstring and haven’t played full time in a while.

“I’ll be fine for the next games.”

The Heat could successfully defend their division title by running the table and winning their next three games, all on the road against Rio Grande on Sunday, West Texas and finally Chivas El Paso.