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The smart gift

The smart gift

The "Soccernomics" of Laredo's Heat explored in book

Adam Geigerman
Published: Thursday, December 29, 2011 8:34 AM CST
Every Christmas seems to turn out the same for me.

That’s not a particularly bad thing, especially if you’re like me and just ask for gifts that fall inside the classifications of a specific genre rather than requesting certain items.

When I answered my mom’s question of what I wanted, all that came out were my favorite teams (the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Manchester United Football Club) and my favorite sports (baseball, soccer, golf and then all the rest).

From there, her job – and the rest of my gift-buying family and friends – either sprouted an idea or stood at an impasse.

I got the goods: a Braves koozie, United’s replica practice jersey and Hawks game tickets for Friday’s affair against the New Jersey Nets.

But there’s always that one gift that was never expected, asked for or initially appreciated.

This year’s sleeper was a subtle stocking-stuffing paperback book – “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanksi.

The 306-page equivalent to baseball’s “Moneyball” discussed the commonly practiced fallacies within the business of international soccer and provided more logical, but less enacted, policies to purify the game and business.

If it sounds boring, then you think much the same as I do, but like “Moneyball,” the read is quick, painless and, most shocking of all, interesting.

The bold subtitle, “Why England loses, why Germany and Brazil win, and why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey – and even Iraq – are destined to become the kings of the world’s most popular sport,” is fixed atop the cover along with a quote by “Moneyball’s” Billy Beane.

That’s all the convincing needed to at least thumb through the first chapter.

Once the first chapter stretched into the first 100 pages and eventually the entirety of the book in a matter of days, the vexing styling of the book engaged its connection to my Laredo life.

The book stood out in my mind as the point-by-point manual used by soccer-sorcerers J.J. Vela and Shashi Vaswani of the hometown Heat.

Vela, the team’s general manager, and Vaswani, president and owner, must find the most economic and viable solutions to the effervescent quandary of sports at any level: how to win?

As the heads of a developmental team and soccer academy, the Heat became consistent fixtures in the Premier Development League playoffs by appearing in every season but their first – an exploratory endeavor in 2004 – and winning a championship in 2007.

The white hot Heat have appeared in four finals along the way, lining up in championship matches in four of seven competitive seasons.

These on-pitch attacks are mounted without the superstars needed for continual success in other sports; Laredo has done it without a specific David Beckham, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan.

As in any minor or developmental league, player turnover can be constant and merciless.

But Vela has a precious ability to fill holes and maintain high, quality chemistry while the outside environment swirls in a state of change.

All the while, he and Vaswani prod and provoke their players to pursue next-level opportunities.

Since the Heat fell in the PDL final in Kitsap, Wash., on Aug. 6, three standouts – team goals-leader (tied for third in the PDL with 13) Esteban Bayona, and midfielders Gregory Mulamba and Juan Ibarra – enlisted an official FIFA agent and tried out for professional clubs.

All three auditioned for South Texas’ newest team, the North American Soccer League’s San Antonio Scorpions, on Dec. 17 in an invitation-only combine with hopes of advancing onto the next stage of their careers. Bayona has received an invitation to the Scorpions preseason workouts.

All three impacted and undoubtedly led the Heat to certain success as veterans on the Heat through their years, and their losses will be felt in the future.

But as Vela and Vaswani continue to educate the soccer world on the pitch and in the field of Soccernomics, the three-fold loss won’t shake Laredo’s success.