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Local Youth Fuels Heat

Local Youth Fuels Heat

Mid South's Laredo contributing to PDL success

Super-20 League Feature

Friday, June 1, 2012 - The Laredo Heat reached three consecutive Premier Development League championship games from 2006-08, as well as losing the 2011 Final, and won the 2007 title. The club’s Super-20 League team is eager to recreate some of that success.

After the club won its first game of the 2012 season this past Sunday, taking a 3-1 victory against Alamo SC San Antonio, the pursuit of one of three spots to the Super-20 League Finals in mid-July is well underway for a crop of players that have grown up with the Heat as a major part of the soccer community.

“Some of the [now Super-20] players, I recall, were chasing down balls during our regular season and playoff runs as ball boys on the sidelines,” said COO and General Manager J.J. Vela.

The Heat’s PDL side has reached the playoffs in seven of the club’s eight seasons, and while some of that success has come from bringing in players from outside Laredo, the core of the club has remained based around local players, offering the opportunity to not only continue their development, but also get the chance to impress scouts from the next level.

“We enjoy having the out-of-town players on our team because of the level and experience they bring every summer,” he said. “However, when [Owner] Shashi Vaswani started the Heat back in 2004, his idea was and continues to be that we want local players exposed for their athletic talents and have those players represent their hometown on the pitch.

“The majority of our players have been part of our youth club and academy since they started to compete with our travel teams that play in the South Texas Youth Soccer Association (STYSA). We hope to see more local talent on our PDL side as we move along.”

Former head coach Israel Collazo stepped down from his successful stint with the PDL team to be a part of the Heat’s revamped youth development initiative, which could prove invaluable to the Super-20 team. The players also get the opportunity to train alongside the PDL team and work with their coaching staff.

“The Super-20 players gain valuable experience from our PDL side because not only do they practice together once a week, but they play versus each other at least once every two weeks. In addition, several of our players are dual-registered with both sides.”

With the creation of the Super-20 League’s Mid South Division, Laredo, along with the Texas Dutch Lions and Austin Aztex, will benefit from having both PDL and Super-20 teams. Most of the division’s clubs utilize local players to fill their squads, as well.

“We have made an effort to make sure that we use Super-20 as a developmental team in an effort of finding local talent and giving them the opportunity to compete at a much higher level than what they might be accustomed to.

“I certainly hope [the rivalry with Austin and Texas will translate to the Super-20 League]. They compete in the North Zone of the Division and we compete in the South Zone, [so] we will not be playing versus each other this season,” Vela said. “With the relationship that we have with David Markley in Austin, I feel we can get in a ‘scrimmage’ versus our Super-20 teams this season simply because both our clubs are very competitive and our proximity to each other as we are only four hours away from each other.”

Most Super-20 clubs have rosters filled with players coming home from college, looking for a high level of competition to fill their summer months. There are players still in high school who are also able to compete at that level, though.

“The younger players, the 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds, will be with our organization almost year-round now since they will also compete in the fall and spring STYSA tournaments."

Because of the way colleges set up their athletics schedules, the Super-20 League has a much shorter season than the Super Y-League, hoping to maximize the amount of playing time for college-bound players. For the younger athletes with the Super-20 team, it is time well-spent.

“The youngsters are very motivated at this point,” Vela said. “They actually wish that their season was a little longer so they could compete at this competitive level for more than a month-and-a-half.”

Vela said that it takes a lot of luck, along with the professional preparation the organization instills each year, in order to achieve the kind of success that the Heat have had in such a short time span. He also attributes it to the way the organization is run.

“Our organization has always taken pride in treating everyone on the staff – including coaches, players, administration, and volunteers – with the utmost professional courtesy.”

Perhaps one of the greatest consequences to result from clubs participating in the many USL leagues, other than the development of young athletes, is the effect they have on the local communities.

“With the help of our media partners, the word has gotten out that there is a good soccer team here in Laredo that provides quality family entertainment at very affordable pricing,” Vela said. “With the success we have had on the pitch and our community involvement, the support has increased at all levels.

“Our expectations for [the players are] for them to grow as soccer players and hopefully learn what is expected from them and, in turn, they will raise their level of play and commitment. At the end of the day, we also want them to become better human beings and that they learn from being exposed to other experiences through soccer.”