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PREVIEW: Heat Stand on Cusp of History vs. Houston

PREVIEW: Heat Stand on Cusp of History vs. Houston

Laredo soars to new heights against floundering Dynamo

LAREDO, Texas – The Laredo Heat enter unchartered territory on Wednesday night, riding the crest of last-gasp triumph and a home rout of a regional rival. A new challenge arises in Houston, though, as the two-time Major League Soccer champion Houston Dynamo host Laredo at BBVA Compass Stadium in front of more than 20,000 supporters.

The Dynamo (5-9-2) enter the Open Cup fray floundering in a four-match losing skid, allowing 10 goals within the slide. Compounding their challenges, the Dynamo haven’t successfully struck a goal since a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 17. They are currently on a three-week break for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, in which regular captain Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia are featuring for the U.S. and Honduras national teams, respectively. 

“We know their style,” Heat captain and veteran midfielder Juan de Dios Ibarra said. “We know they are one of the best MLS sides and that they will come fast and with aggression. They play and compete at a different level. They are match fit and they’ve already played more than 15 games. But we have played them before (a 2-1 defeat in a friendly in 2010), and we competed well in that match.

“They are beatable, just like the (Fort Lauderdale) Strikers were (in the third round) and just like any team is. We know the first 25 minutes will be important, as far as finding our balance in the game, but we are confident in our ability to play like the Laredo Heat are supposed to.”

Laredo (2-1-2) sails into the unknown suspense of the nation’s highest level of professional soccer, captained by Ibarra. Pressure-cooked veterans Greg Mulamba, Esteban Bayona and Miguel Fernandez stand beside him the midfield as a primarily under-23-years-old roster flanks them on the backline and in the attacking third. The Premier Development League lives up to its name, focusing on the development, with a limit on foreign-born players (8) and over-23 players.

“You know, in this game it always starts 11 versus 11,” Ibarra said. “Yes, we are excited, and yes we are young. But everybody on this team knows how to play very well. We are human and will be nervous, but after 9 p.m. on Wednesday, it will just be 11 of us playing the same game we’ve played for our whole lives.

“The most beautiful part of this beautiful game is that anything can happen at any time.”

The high-flying Heat have dominated possession and shots on opponent’s goal all season, leveraging 54 shots in just five PDL matches, but the shots didn’t regularly strike their target until the third round of the Open Cup – thus opening the floodgates with the Heat scoring seven goals in three games. Before the May 28 showdown, Laredo scored only three goals; it mirrored that mark on that day alone.

“It’s always important to create opportunities and that’s something we are good at,” Ibarra said. “But now they are starting to go in – which is what really matters. We, as a team, know how to play Laredo Heat soccer and that’s what we’ve stuck too.

“Now we have seven goals in just three games and are entering the biggest games of our season, so we have to keep up what we’re doing. Scoring those goals leads to winning games.”

The Heat advanced to the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after exorcising the demons of a 2013 heartbreak against the Strikers. The professional North American Soccer League side eliminated the Heat in the 2013 third round, 7-6 in a penalty kick shootout, after the Heat were reduced a man via a red card, but a rematch in this year’s Open Cup saw Laredo shine.

The match would have bested any Hollywood script with the Heat plummeting into a two-goal deficit with nearly 80 minutes to play. Ten minutes later, the momentum saw a monumental shift. Bayona forced the Strikers goalkeeper into an ill-timed save – two yards outside of the penalty box – that saw him ejected with a red card. With a man advantage, Laredo punched above its weight with three unanswered strikes – including Bayona’s stoppage-time game-winning penalty on the last kick of the match.

Laredo crunched into a scoreless draw just three days later, then rebounded in resounding fashion with a 4-0 silencing of the Houston Dutch Lions. The youthful Heat are cascading confidence, having peppered 34 shots on goal while limiting opponents to just seven since May 31.

“We know we are young, but the other veterans and I are talking with the younger guys about keeping their confidence,” Ibarra said. “They are ready, everyone will be nervous but this game is just kicking a ball like we’ve done our whole lives.”

The Heat are just the 11th PDL team to advance beyond the third round, while none has advanced beyond the fourth round in the modern professional era. The stage is set as the Heat travel to play in the Dynamo’s two-year-old soccer-specific BBVA Compass Stadium with a capacity of 22,000.

The Heat face Houston on June 11 at 9 p.m. at the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston in the fourth round. The draw for the fifth round decided the winner of the Dynamo-Heat match up will host the winner between FC Dallas (MLS) and the San Antonio Scorpions (NASL).

The fourth round match will be streamed live and for free atwww.YouTube.com/LaredoHeatSC and 8:55 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.