The Laredo Heat got back into the win column for the first time in over three weeks as they defeated Katy 1895 FC 4-0 at home Tuesday. It was a crucial victory as it kept the Heat in the National Premier Soccer League playoff picture.
“It feels good to get the win,” Heat forward Ivan Sakou said. “The team effort today was outstanding. We played well and we deserved the win.”
In the NPSL, only the top four teams from each division make the postseason. Laredo entered Tuesday’s matchup on a four-match winless streak, it was 0-3-1 in its last four contests, which made it slip all the way to fourth place in the Lone Star Conference with 10 points. Fifth-place Dallas City FC also has 10 points, but the Heat hold the tiebreaker due to conference goal differential. However, Dallas City defeated Laredo last Friday 1-0. The Heat now have 13 points on the year with three games remaining.
While Laredo (4-4-1) saw its first victory since it defeated Tyler FC 2-0 on June 2 on the road, the game marked the debut of Julian Gaines. The 16-year-old midfielder and Austin native has been a fixture on United States youth national teams since he was 12. Before joining the Heat, Gaines was training with the USL Championship League’s Austin Bold FC, which is a part of the second tier of the United States Soccer Federation.
“I thought at the beginning, I was trying to find my way a bit,” Gaines said. “After I got through and played the game a bit, I felt I played well.”
Though Gaines has been with the team for only a few days now, his performance impressed his teammates such as Sakou Tuesday.
Laredo scored early as Sakou buried his fourth goal of the year in the third minute to take a 1-0 lead. The Heat stayed aggressive as Sakou almost scored once again in the ninth minute. But his shot was blocked as Katy’s goalkeeper dove to punch the ball out of bounds.
Although Laredo had chances to go up big early, Katy had opportunities to tie the game early as well. Heat goalkeeper Carlos Herrera dove in the 13th minute to block Katy from tying the game at one apiece.
The Heat were the aggressors throughout the first half. Players such as Gaines, Ryan Birchfield and Sebastian Pages Leon all had quality chances to score for Laredo. Yet they couldn’t find the back of the net as the Heat entered halftime up 1-0.
Laredo continued its aggressive behavior in the second half. The Heat had several chances early to extend their lead to two goals. However, all their shots either sailed wide or over the goal or went right at the goalkeeper.
Laredo’s best chance to go up two goals was in the 70th minute. Forward Daniel Rebolledo dribbled up the left side and crossed the ball into the box while Sakou attacked from the back side. Sakou slid to get a foot on the ball, but his shot was stopped right on the goal line by the goalkeeper.
The Heat finally extend their lead to 2-0 as Mikey Ortega scored in the 82nd minute. The goal marked Ortega’s first of the season. Laredo wasn’t done there as Sakou scored his second goal of the night in the 86th minute to put Katy in a three-goal deficit. Sakou leads the Heat with five goals on the year. Laredo’s final goal came in the 90th minute as Ortega scored his second goal of the night.
“The guys were ready for the game today,” Sakou said. “The Last game (against Dallas City FC) was a little unfortunate as we should have won that game but we couldn’t finish. I think we have been moving in the right direction. We just have been unlucky. But everybody was on the same page and it showed on the scoreboard.”
The Heat aim to build upon the win Saturday as they host Fort Worth for the last regular-season home match of the season. Laredo tied Fort Worth 1-1 earlier this year on the road.
“The (remaining) games are coming qucikly,” Sakou said. “We really don’t have that much time in between games. So for now on, we just have to work on finishing (shots) and making sure we get rest because time is short in between games.”