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RECAP: Heat Hit Historic High

RECAP: Heat Hit Historic High

Laredo advances to U.S. Open Cup 4th Round with Heroics

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Laredo Heat expelled the demons of a year ago, battling from the floor to shock the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, 3-2, on Wednesday night in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Heat trailed 2-0 to the second-tier North American Soccer League home side, but went all-in on an extra-time penalty kick capitalized on by Esteban Bayona.

It’s the first time in the decade-long history of the Heat that they’ve upset a fully professional American side, and it comes against the team that expelled Laredo from the 2013 domestic cup via a 7-6 penalty kick shootout. The Heat will advance to face Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo on June 11 at 9 p.m. in Houston.

“This is a special moment,” Heat coach Fernando Hernandez said. “As a coach, every victory is special, but this one is inspiring. It’s special for this organization and its owners (Shashi and Priya Vaswani), and for the supporters and the youth that participate in the organization.

“But these players … they deserve this and they won this special game.”

With the win, the Heat became just the 11th Premier Development League team to advance to the fourth round of the Open Cup – a 101-year-old domestic tournament similar to Spain’s Copa Del Rey.

One fifth-tier team – PSA Elite – and one other fourth-tier PDL team – Orlando City Under-23s – have advanced this year.

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 earns a $15,000 cash prize.

The Heat entered the match after a 14-hour travel day on Tuesday, arriving in Fort Lauderdale at 2 a.m., but also without midfielders Yair Hernandez and Joao Monteiro after second round red card suspensions. Captain Juan de Dios Ibarra and midfielders Marcus Watt and Adan Villavicencio were also unable to travel.

The pressure climaxed as the Strikers converted their only two shots in the match’s first 13 minutes. Fort Lauderdale’s Gonzalo de Mujica buried an 8th minute strike and Yaikel Perez finished his rocket five minutes later.

The Heat desperately chased the match, grasping for any swing of momentum – and it finally struck in the 20th minute. The Strikers’ goalkeeper Lionel Brown was baited 20 yards off his line when Bayona broke down the middle of the pitch into a 1-on-1 situation. He tried to chip Brown from about 22-yards out, and – in a moment of blunder – Brown gloved the ball outside of his 18-yard box.

For the forbidden touch, Brown was issued a red card and ejected to force the Strikers down to 10 men. They immediately subbed in Oka Nikolov. Five minutes later, Laredo took hold of its first goal off an Irving Villanueva far-post header. Salvador “Chava” Luna threaded a cross-goal throughball at the 6-yard box for the assist. The goal stands as Villanueva’s second career goal in U.S. Open Cup play.

“We knew coming in that we couldn’t afford to make mistakes against a quality team,” Villanueva said. “Unfortunately, we made those two pretty big mistakes right away and gave up goals. But the Strikers made a big mistake too, and we fought back.

“I saw the cross coming in slow motion, it felt special right away. I got to it and headed it in and everyone got so excited.”

Entering halftime, substitutions became a commodity and Fort Lauderdale was down one already. The Heat tried to maintain their breakneck pace early in the second half as Villanueva came within inches of the Strikers’ goal in the 48th and 52nd minutes, but the only recordable ongoing was a yellow card to Laredo’s Angel Hernandez.

The acceleration continued as Laredo’s pursuit of the match again grew sloppy as 62nd-minute substitute Placide Biduri was red-card ejected for a two-booted tackle in the 70th minute. With the sides even at 10-a-side, Laredo entered 19-year-old Orlando Alvarado – a product of United South High School and the Laredo Heat Youth Soccer Club and Academy – in the 85th minute.

It took him only 60 seconds to flip the match onto level terms. Streaking toward the far post and on the diving end of a cross from Bayona, Alvarado equalized with the Heat’s second goal.

With all their chips on the table and no substitutions left, Laredo maintained its pressure into stoppage time. Daniel Garza flooded the left flank and crossed a curling ball to Bayona inside the box. With his back to goal, Bayona feigned left and accelerated to the right – where he was swept by an outstretched Strikers’ leg.

With a game and history-deciding penalty kick on the line, Bayona opted to attempt his own conversion. The NASL and San Antonio Scorpions veteran coolly set the ball on his mark and lifted a missile off Nikolov’s outstretched gloves and into the back of the net.

“You know, I changed my game plan on that kick,” Bayona said. “I’ve never changed the way I take PKs before, but for some reason, my gut told me to do it then. So I lined it up and tried to calm myself; it was such a huge kick for – not just that game – but for this amazing franchise, the (Vaswanis) and all the younger players.

“Matches like this one are why this sport is great. Moments like that. I’m glad I was a part of it.”

Laredo is now 4-2-1 all time in the Open Cup.

The Heat face the Houston Dynamo on June 11 at BBVA Compass Stadium.

The match will be streamed live and for free at www.YouTube.com/LaredoHeatSC at 6:40 p.m.

The Heat’s next home and PDL match will be May 31 against the Albuquerque Sol at the Texas A&M International Soccer Complex. The match kicks off at 8 p.m.

Each home game 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.

About the PDL

The top developmental men’s league in North America, the 2014 PDL featured 64 teams within four conferences throughout the United States and Canada. The PDL season consists of 14 regular season matches for each team, seven home and seven away, and provides elite collegiate players the opportunity to taste a higher level of competition while maintaining their eligibility. In addition to league play, PDL teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various exhibitions. The PDL has proven to be an important stepping-stone for top professionals now playing throughout the world.

 

For additional information on the tryouts, sponsorship opportunities, tickets, the Heat Club Card and the Laredo Heat Soccer Club, please contact the Heat Front Office at (956) 723 – 4700; visit our website at www.laredoheatsc.com , LIKE us on Facebook www.facebook.com/laredoheatsoccer or Follow Us on Twitter @LaredoHeatSC.