The Laredo Heat SC has several scenarios on the line Saturday, but its sole focus is on taking care of business against an FC Brownsville squad sure to be out for revenge.
Several scenarios are in play for the Laredo Heat SC on Saturday including securing a playoff berth and vaulting into first place, but the team’s sole focus is set on taking care of business in the immediate rematch with a 7:30 p.m. road game against the FC Brownsville Explorers.
Amid the numerous scenarios for the Heat (4-1-2, 14 points), the simplest is that if they win out they are guaranteed to host their postseason opener. Laredo narrowly trails the Denton Diablos FC (5-1-1, 16 points) and the Midland-Odessa Sockers FC (4-0-3, 15 points) atop the Lone Star Conference.
With the Diablos and Sockers meeting in the regular-season finale, the Heat would finish second if either of them also won out. If those two tied in the finale, Laredo would earn the No. 1 seed by winning out thanks to holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Denton. The 3-2 victory over Denton on June 3 started the Heat’s 3-0-1 stretch over the past four games to position themselves near the top of the table.
“We’ve done well the last four games to create some separation between us and the rest of the guys on the table,” Laredo Heat SC head coach John Powell said. “That continues to be the mission: get the three points and keep people behind us for the rest of the season.”
If the Diablos and Sockers both slipped up with losses or draws Saturday, Laredo would take over control of first place with a victory at Brownsville. Denton hosts the Coyotes FC (3-4-0, 9 points) and Midland travels to face the Irving FC (2-4-1, 7 points).
A draw from the Diablos would be ideal for the Heat as they can clinch a playoff berth if the Coyotes lose or draw or if Katy 1895 FC (2-3-1, 7 points) loses at home against the Fort Worth Vaqueros FC (0-6-1, 1 point). If Laredo wins Saturday, Katy would need to go at least 3-0-1 down the stretch and the Coyotes would have to win out to prevent the Heat from securing one of the four playoff spots.
Before worrying about any scenarios, Laredo is focused on an Explorers squad out for revenge. The Heat handed Brownsville its only lopsided loss of the season with Wednesday’s 4-0 victory at the TAMIU Soccer Complex. The Explorers had averaged 3.2 goals during a 2-2-1 start to the season, and their previous two losses had come by only one goal each.
“I expect them to come out really hard from the first whistle and very physical. They will play very direct. They will try to cause us problems,” Powell said. “They are a quality team that gives everybody in the league games. On Wednesday our quality showed a little better than theirs on the day. But we know in football what we did on Wednesday night has nothing to do with Saturday until we go and repeat our performance.”
Wednesday was the most goals the Heat have scored this season as they reached three goals in two of their first six matches. The first goal of the season from Adrian Yepez sparked the effort in the first half, and that was followed by second-half goals from Hector Rodriguez, Nadav Datner and Gabriel Claudio. Laredo’s 2.42 goals per game now ranks third in the conference just behind Brownsville’s 2.67 goals.
The Heat also lowered their average to only 1.14 goals allowed per game with eight given up through seven matches including four off penalty kicks. Gage Rogers made a couple big saves behind a defense that largely limited scoring chances to post the clean sheet. Laredo trails only Midland which is allowing a goal per game.
“When a team performs like we did, it’s hard to replicate,” Powell said. “But with the ability to inject some fresh legs into the team and by remaining focused on our goals we set at the beginning of the season, I think the boys will react and respond to the challenge.”
Following Saturday’s road trip, the Heat return home for a pair of 8 p.m. matches to close out the regular season. They host Katy 1895 FC on Wednesday, June 30 to cap a stretch of five games in two weeks, and they close out with a Friday, July 9 matchup against the Coyotes.