The Laredo Heat opened the National Premier Soccer League regular season Saturday against the Tyler FC Kings at the Texas A&M International Soccer Complex. Entering the contest, the Heat had never lost an NPSL regular-season game. And it took a quick response by Laredo to keep the streak alive.
The Heat, who are the defending Lone Star Conference champion, began league play with a 2-1 win over Tyler — a team they defeated 6- 1 last year. Laredo’s Jeremiah Egujie scored the winning goal in the 69th minute just minutes after the Kings converted on a penalty kick to tie the game.
With the win, Laredo has now won 11 straight NPSL regular-season games — dating back to last year when the club joined the league. The club had an assertive 10-0-0 run through its debut regular season never trailing while outscoring opponents 37-4 to earn the No. 1 seed in the 98-team NPSL. However, the Heat were eliminated with a 2-1 loss to the Little Rock Rangers in the South Region semifinals last season, finishing three games shy of the national championship.
Despite the win Saturday, Heat head coach Aidan Davison was visibly frustrated for most of the game.
“I thought (the game) was awful,” Davison said. “If I was watching it in the stands, I would have had a hot dog and a dollar beer then leave. At the end of the day you want to win and play good futbol. You want to entertain. That’s the whole point of it. Our performance tonight was ... I don’t know where that came from.”
Players were not making the necessary runs when they needed to, passes weren’t up to standard and they were making silly mistakes.
Heat did come into the game four days remove from a loss to San Antonio FC in the U.S. Open Cup. However, Davison said the quick turnaround is no excuse for the way Laredo competed Saturday.
“We have a big squad,” Davison said. “We have a squad of 20 players. That’s no excuse at all.
“Collectively, it wasn’t good enough.”
Davison showed his frustration the most with Laredo’s first-half performance. The Heat couldn’t convert anything despite controlling most of the possession through the first 45 minutes. Most of Laredo’s shots were off target.
The Heat (1-0-0) did have two quality chances to bury a shot late in the half off set pieces. The first chance came in the 36th minute off a free kick, but it sailed slightly left of the goal. The second was in the 40th off a corner kick into the box, but Tyler’s goalkeeper was in position to defend the shot.
Laredo’s Abraham Contreras and Johan Portales both received yellow cards in the first half. Contreras earned his in the 15th minute after slide tackling a Tyler player from behind while Portales collected his in the 40th.
The Heat opened the second half on the offensive. They were getting shots off but like the first half, they sailed above or to the sides of the goal. Laredo finally had an opportunity to get on the board after Tyler (0-3-0) was called for a hand ball in the box in the 56th minute. Midfielder David Godinez Chavez buried the shot attempt for the Heat’s first goal of the NPSL season.
Laredo’s lead wouldn’t last long as the Kings were awarded a PK attempt after the Heat were called for a foul in the box. Tyler would convert to tie the game up at one apiece in the 67th minute. But last than two minutes later, Egujie broke the tie for Laredo on a counterattack.
“I think the goal was going to come,” Davison said. “I don’t think we were lucky. I think we were controlling the game. We just weren’t controlling it with the way I want us to control the game in terms of quality. It was just not pleasing to watch. It just wasn’t quality.”
As the game wore on, sparks started to fly as Tyler’s Christopher Castilleja received a red card after a slide tackle and arguing with the referee. The two teams did get into a verbal spat after the card was given. But no other cards were shown during the argument.
The Kings did have a chance to tie the game in the 86th minute off a set piece. However, Laredo was in position to force Tyler into a bad shot off the rebound attempt.
“Everything was bad,” Davison said. “The tempo and energy were flat. The quality of passing, the timing of the runs, the set pieces, the lack of thinking on our feet, I mean I can go on and on.”
The Heat look to keep their perfect NPSL regular season record alive as they have six days to recover before returning to their home pitch at 8 p.m. Friday against the newly formed Denton Diablos.