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Heat at midway point

Heat at midway point

A look at the division

By Adam Geigerman
Laredo Morning Times

At their exact midway point, the Laredo Heat still have much to achieve but have already achieved quite a lot.

Through six of this season’s 14 Premier Development League matches — Laredo (3-2-1, 10 points) locks up with the Houston Dutch Lions tonight for Laredo’s seventh match — the Heat are alone in third place in the Mid-South Division, behind the perfect Austin Aztex (7-0-0, 21 points) and the expansion side Oklahoma City FC (5-3-0, 15 points). Laredo is three points clear of Houston (2-5-1, 7 points) and Midland-Odessa.

El Paso is virtually out of the postseason — for which the top two teams qualify — with only four points taken from eight matches.

Laredo’s positive standing comes as good news for a team that showed very well in non-PDL matches, raising the Copa LareDOS with a 2-0 dispatching of the professional Mexican Nuevo Laredo Bravos and pushing the North American Soccer League’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers to penalty kicks before falling in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s second round.

The three-time defending Mid-South champions still have a long road ahead of them to make the postseason, with their hopes of unseating the table-topping Aztex.

Austin’s remaining fixtures feature four road games — with challenges against Oklahoma City and Laredo before more favorable closeouts at Midland-Odessa and El Paso — and only three home games.

The Aztex will host a gritty Dutch Lions team before a walkabout against Midland-Odessa and Oklahoma City.

If Austin stays true to form, it will at least score positive results in three of its final seven matches, including arguably the league’s easiest closing twopiece against Midland-Odessa and El Paso.

Oklahoma City only faces one of the table’s bottom teams, Midland-Odessa, in its remaining six games — granting glimmers of hope to Laredo, which closes with five matches against either Midland-Odessa or El Paso.

If Laredo can steal points at home against Austin on July 3 and again at the Texas A&M International Soccer Complex on July 11 against Oklahoma City, the second playoff berth will be comfortably in reach.

All in all, a strong Laredo side that boasts an intimidating plus-8 goal differential on its home pitch stands in the most favorable position for an eighth-straight playoff qualification.

But it begins tonight at TAMIU when Laredo hosts Houston at 8 p.m.

Houston comes in having drawn 1-1 against Laredo in Houston on May 11 in the pair’s only previous meeting this year. In that meeting, a stoppage-time equalizer by 76th-minute substitute Alejandro De La Garza was enough to grant the Heat a 1-point escape. De La Garza plays his NCAA soccer at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.

The Dutch Lions charged into the lead with a first-half strike in the 31st minute.

Ten minutes before that goal, a Heat goal was waved off after an official raised the offsides flag.

A lot of soccer has been played since then, though, and Houston boasts several potent weapons in its team.

Dutch national Jelle Van Kruijssen paces his team with five goals scored, including the only Houston tally against Laredo.

Van Kruijssen’s scoring resume features all of the Mid-South’s most serious scalps.

He scored once against Laredo, two against Oklahoma City in a 5-4 victory on June 15 and Houston’s only goal against Austin in a 2-1 defeat on June 8.

Right behind Van Kruijssen, Dutch forward Thomas Verhaar and Texan Walter Kromholz have a pair of goals each. Verhaar is the team’s biggest helper, notching five assits — including the aid on Van Kruijessen’s netter against Laredo. Three other Dutch Lions have scored once this season.

Laredo’s scoresheet stands with a little more balance, led by United High alumnus Daniel Garza’s four goals and one assist.

The former Longhorn and TAMIU forward has converted exactly 50 percent of his shots on frame in 493 minutes while appearing in all six of Laredo’s matches.

He also scored a non-PDL goal against PSA Elite in the Open Cup’s first round.

Behind his four goals, Brazilians Joao Monteiro and Felipe de Souza have scored twice apiece. Alejandro de la Garza has also netted two goals, while team captain Juan de dios Ibarra’s two assists lead Laredo.

With tonight’s match kicking off the second half of the season, Laredo’s playoff pressure is at stake.

A loss would certainly crank it up to incredible proportions, while a victory would award the Heat with some breathing room in its quest for the postseason.

Houston would drop six points behind Laredo, and Laredo would crawl within two points of OKC — depending on its result against the visiting Aztex — who has two games in hand.

All in all, tonight’s midseason match doesn’t decide much by itself but it does set the stage for the season’s final push