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Heat Stand 2nd in Cramped Mid-South

PHOTO BY KIARA RIOJAS | LAREDO HEAT SC
PHOTO BY KIARA RIOJAS | LAREDO HEAT SC

Top of the table becomes crowded

LAREDO, Texas – A wild week leading into the Laredo Heat’s historic fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has seen everything transform in a span of two 90-minute contests. The Heat entered June after a seismic stunning of the North American Soccer League’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers via a stoppage time penalty kick and a frighteningly bland scoreless draw against the Albuquerque Sol in Premier Development League play. Despite the domestic cup success, the Heat – a team that’s never failed to qualify for the PDL postseason tournament and appeared in four finals in 10 years – found themselves on the outside looking in, handcuffed in a tie for third place with just five points through four games. 

But now, in a new month with unchanged goals, the Heat find themselves soaring up the table past the previous second-best team. The Heat sit second in the table, leading the Mississippi Brilla (2-1-2, 8 points) graciously though a plus-5 goal differential that was almost entirely constructed in Tuesday’s 4-0 poaching of the Houston Dutch Lions.

The Brilla earned a difficult home point on Thursday, clean sheeting the defending Mid-South Division and national champion Austin Aztex (4-0-1, 13 points). Despite silencing the PDL’s second highest-scoring team, the Brilla built no offense of their own to draw 0-0. Thursday’s point-sharing result puts the Heat just five points behind the Aztex with nine matches to play. Austin plays four home and five away, while Laredo will experience a slightly more grueling amount of ground transportation.

The Heat will hold just three more matches at the Texas A&M International University Soccer Complex, with the next falling on July 1. Their six away contests will feature a round-trip total of 5,494 miles with visits to Albuquerque, N.M., Jackson, Miss., Houston, Odessa and twice to Austin. Those league matches don’t include the Heat’s highly anticipated Open Cup fourth round meeting with Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston on June 11.

Head-to-head, the Heat and Aztex offer different daggers that can decide any given match.

Austin has seven different goal scorers – four already holding more than one goal – while Laredo has only five scorers. But Laredo’s strike force bulges the net in bunches, with former professionals Felix Garcia (Houston Dynamo, MLS) and Esteban Bayona (San Antonio Scorpions, NASL) co-leading the squad with a pair of goals apiece.

If it does come down to a Laredo-Austin Southern Conference final – identical to last season, which saw Austin escape the victor – then it may feature a classic offense versus defense theme.

The Heat and first-choice goalkeeper Jorge Ortega – a 20-year-old Monterrey, Mexico, native – already has two shutouts through five matches, polishing off a .411 goals-allowed average. His backline – a revolving door featuring Brazilian Kaique Fernandes, Frenchman Matthieu Braem, Americans Frank Lara and Adan Villavicencio, and Mexicans Alan Reyna, Yair Hernandez and Salvador “Chava” Luna – has allowed just nine shots on goal with Ortega gloving seven saves.

Before the Heat can look toward Austin – their next PDL opponent in Austin on June 14 – they must return to the domestic cup against the Dynamo. Houston (5-8-2, 17 points) sits fourth in the MLS Eastern Conference, playing Sporting Kansas City on June 9 before a three week break during the FIFA World Cup. The Dynamo’s only action during that span will be in the Open Cup, first against the Heat.

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 will travel to play in the Dynamo’s two-year-old soccer-specific BBVA Compass Stadium with a capacity of 22,000 screaming supporters.

The Heat face Houston on June 11 at 9 p.m. at the BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston in the fourth round. Tuesday saw the draw for the fifth round, as 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 at www.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.