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Fourth Consecutive Division Championship

Fourth Consecutive Division Championship

Heat to head to Florida for playoffs

By Matthew Goricki
Laredo Morning Times
Published: Sunday, July 15, 2012 3:29 AM CDT

 

Despite a rocky start and several injuries to key players, the Laredo Heat still managed to end the Premier Development League regular season heading toward familiar territory — the Southern Conference playoffs.

Though Laredo will not host a playoff game, the Heat will still have a better than average shot of advancing in the PDL playoffs.

The Heat, which began the season with a 2-0 loss to the Texas Dutch Lions, came into Saturday’s game at El Paso with a 9-3-3 record, one point ahead of the Austin Aztex in the race for the Mid-South Division title.

The Ocala Stampede, who will host the Southern Conference championship, will play either Laredo or Austin in the semifinals.

 The Stampede (11-3-2, 35 points) finished with a better record than both Mid-South teams, but they are also more prone to allowing goals.

Through 15 games, Laredo allowed only 14 goals, compared to 20 given up by Ocala in 16 games.

Of course, a major reason for the Heat’s success in keeping the ball out of the net throughout the season has been the stout back line.

Venezuela native Adan Villavicencio began the season as the Heat’s centerback, the most important position on the back line.

He was lost for the rest of the regular season when he separated his shoulder in game in early June.

Villavicencio’s injury could have proved to be devastating to lesser teams, but the Heat never suffered.

In fact, the Heat defense was statistically stronger without Villavicencio, though that isn’t a knock on his play.

It was the superb play of Martin Moreno that drove the burgeoning success of the Heat defense, especially during Laredo’s streak of five consecutive shutouts in the middle of the season.

Moreno was a stark contrast to the tall and rangy Villavicencio, a star defenseman on the Texas A&M International team.

Moreno, who stands about 5-feet-3 inches tall, used his exceptional speed and instincts to pester opponents after Villavicencio went down with an injury.

Moreno had a lot of help on the back line too, particularly from fellow Monterrey native Carlos Ordaz, who also has a keen sense of where he should be when opposing teams go on the attack.

Right back Max Gunderson generally had his side of the field locked down and he was also able to facilitate the attack from the back.

He led all Heat defenseman with two assists in 15 games.

The man the defense was playing in front of also had more than a little bit to do with Laredo’s success.

Goalkeeper Emmanuel Frias allowed only 13 goals in 14 games, giving him an incredible mark of 0.93 goals allowed per game.

Frias tallied 52 saves, some of them spectacular diving stops, though many were routine saves because the defense rarely allowed clear shots on goal.

While the defense was rock solid, Laredo’s forwards struggled to score, particularly because injuries affected the group’s consistency.

Horacio Leal, Irving Villanueva and Juan Nava were each bothered by minor injuries and forced to miss playing time.

Hilario Tristan, who was added before the season started to provide instant offense, never got a chance to get going.

After sparsely playing, a nagging injury ended his season before it really started.

Leal, Villanueva and Nava finished with three goals apiece, far below the number veteran midfielder Juan de Dios Ibarra put in the net.

Through 15 games, Ibarra scored 10 goals and assisted on three others, making him the team’s most potent offensive weapon despite playing from midfield.

A good number of Ibarra’s goals came courtesy of free kicks, some from well over 30 yards away.

More than any other player on the Heat, Ibarra specializes in the art of the free kick and it particularly showed during the second half of the season.

The only other player besides Ibarra to score more than three goals was attacker Daniel Garza, who had four in nine games.

With Ibarra and Greg Mulamba manning the midfield, Laredo often controlled that part of the field.

Mulamba tallied no goals or assists in 12 games, but his numbers hardly reflect his impact on each game.

Heading into the Southern Conference playoffs in Florida, the numbers no longer matter.

It is now a new season, the season the Heat strive to excel in from day one.