When it comes to the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Laredo Heat will probably be the underdog no matter the round. The Heat were just one of four of the 14 National Premier Soccer League teams participating in this year’s national tournament to advance.
Laredo opened cup play with a 1-0 victory over Brazos Valley last Tuesday at the Texas A&M International Soccer Complex. The Heat are now set to head two hours north Tuesday to compete against San Antonio FC in the second round in a 7:30 p.m. match at Toyota Field. This will be the first time the two teams have met on the pitch and it will be aired on ESPN+.
San Antonio is a representative of the USL Championship League which sits directly below the MLS and is considered the second tier within the United State Soccer Federation. Not only that, but San Antonio has been competing since early March unlike Laredo, which has only been together as a team for about two weeks.
“The USL has a huge budget. We don’t,” Heat head coach Aidan Davison said. “You look at the league that we are in with respect. You take all those things into consideration. Will we prepare correctly and go out there and give 100 percent? Of course we will.”
Despite the variables stacked against them, the Heat are embracing the underdog role.
“This a huge opportunity for everyone,” Heat goalkeeper Carlos Herrera said. “In a way, there’s no pressure on us. We are the amateur team. We are expected to lose in USL play. I think it is a perfect chance to go in there with no pressure, have fun and show what we can do.
“I believe any amateur team playing against a professional team is scheduled as the underdog. I think everyone loves an underdog story. The guys feed off that story that we can go in and beat a professional team. We believe that we can go up there and defeat those giants. Like coach Aidan said, ‘Be giant killers.’”
While Laredo has yet to beat a USL Championship League team — the league was established just last year — it has defeated a team that was considered a part of the second division within the USSF before. The Heat conquered the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, who were a part of the former North American Soccer League, in the third round of their 2014 U.S. Open Cup run.
Soccer is considered one of the most unpredictable sports in the world. Despite being dubbed a longshot in this matchup, Laredo still has a good chance to advance just like San Antonio. And if the Heat do want to make it to the third round of cup play, they will need to improve on their final thirds.
“We had 28 shots in our first game and only eight on target,” Davison said. “That tells you something is not quite right. Yet, we get into position to do the right thing. So it just needs a little bit of cleaning up. We were a little bit rusty. Our runs weren’t quite right in regard of crosses into the box. All of those needed work and we have been doing so this week.”
San Antonio has struggled through the first 10 games of the USL Championship season. San Antonio is 3-5-2, good for 16th in the Western Conference standings. There are 18 teams in the Western Conference.
San Antonio’s defense and goalkeeping could be credited for its poor start. On average, the club allows a goal per game this season as keeper Matt Cardone has conceded 14 goals on 41 shots this year. San Antonio has also received 21 yellow cards this season.
So, if Laredo can finish the final third of each play or shot, it could put itself in a position to pull off the upset.
“They have pressure,” Herrera said. “They necessarily haven’t played well in season, but they are expected to win. So they are the ones going in with pressure. I think that can be a great opportunity for us.”
The Heat can control only so much when they take the pitch against San Antonio. Laredo has been doing its best to put together a tactical solution that nullifies San Antonio’s strengths while maximizing its own.
At the end of the day, the team with less mistakes will likely advance in the U.S. Open Cup. And Laredo will do whatever it takes to do so because it wants to shock the world.
“We want to be giant killers,” Heat forward Johan Portales said. “We want to make a statement.
“Since we are an amateur team and they are a USL Championship team, they are obviously a great team. We want to kill the giants. We will have to give all we have to do so.”