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Heat Look Ahead After Eventful 2nd Round

Heat Look Ahead After Eventful 2nd Round

Laredo takes aim at next goal


LAREDO, Texas – A pair of Laredo-grown goal-poaching predators prevented a red-card reduced and exhausted Laredo Heat from enduring 30 minutes of extra time and, potentially, a penalty kick shootout on Wednesday night. With only 45 seconds remaining in regulation, Laredo’s Felix Garcia and Daniel Garza shattered a tied game with a sniper-specific service and a cold-blooded clincher, respectively, in the 2-1 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup victory.

The Heat dispelled a feisty Red Force FC in the second round and launched Laredo in to a third round rendezvous with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Just a year ago, the Strikers – of the second-division North American Soccer League – outlasted a 10-man Heat, 7-6, in a penalty kick shootout. The Heat equalized the 1-1 game in the 83rd minute, forcing extra time and the shootout and went beyond the minimum five rounds before finally being eliminated.

Laredo will travel to Fort Lauderdale to play on May 21.

With Wednesday’s win, the Heat hold an all-time Open Cup record of 3-2-1 (0-2 in PKs), but it came at a cost. The match featured a 39th minute scuffle that climaxed with four straight red-card ejections – two per team. Heat left back Yair Hernandez and midfielder Joao Montiero were removed from the game for violent conduct, thus suffering a one-game suspension – forcing them out of the match in Fort Lauderdale.

Despite the two-man reduction, Laredo entered a pair of second-half substitutes to settle the scrum. Garcia entered just before the hour mark while Garza debuted with just three minutes remaining in regulation.

Deep into the 90th minute, Garcia spun away from his marker and slid an inch-perfect and in-stride pass to Garza’s clockwork run to split the Miami-based Red Force’s center backs. Alone, with only the keeper to beat, Garza shaded toward the far post and took one touch before slotting a calm winner.

“Scoring that goal, everything that led up to it, it was like it was so well planned,” Garza said. “The run, the ball, the pass and the shot – they were all so perfect. This win is perfect – even though it may not have always looked perfect with all its events. But it was … perfect.”

The celebration was magical between the Laredo-bred duo. Garcia, the assister, boasts a bulging resume with the Texas High School single season scoring mark (70, in 2007) and a Premier Development League national championship (2007), while Garza has been a constant scoring threat since joining the Heat in 2011.

It was Garza that showed off his brilliance and experience on Wednesday.

“When coach told me to start warming up because I was going in, I knew I was going to score,” Garza said. “It’s weird, but I just had a feeling – more than confidence. It was something truly special, seeing that pass come from Felix, feeling it at my feet and seeing the keeper off his line. It was all perfect for the strike and I’m glad I was the one to help the team advance.”

This year's Open Cup champion will earn a berth into the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League, $250,000 in prize money and have its name engraved on the historic Dewar Challenge Trophy. The runner-up will take home $60,000, while the team that advances the furthest from each lower division —including the Heat’s Premier Development League, a fourth division league – will earn a $15,000 cash prize.

Before the third round, the Heat will kick off their PDL season on May 17 against the Houston Dutch Lions at the TAMIU Soccer Complex at 8 p.m.

Each home game – both in the Open Cup and the PDL – will see the Heat offer four fans a chance at winning $500. If the randomly selected fans can bury an undefended penalty kick at halftime, they will win $400 for themselves and $100 to the evening’s selected benefactor.