The Laredo Heat SC has championship aspirations for the 2022 NPSL season as it opens on the road Friday taking on the FC Corinthians of San Antonio.
After months of anxiously awaiting a new opportunity to make a championship run, the 2022 season is finally here for the Laredo Heat SC as it travels up I-35 on Friday to open the National Premier Soccer League season against the Corinthians FC of San Antonio.
“It’s a chance to run it back. I take the job and the responsibility very seriously,” Laredo Heat SC head coach John Powell said. “I’m excited. We have unfinished business from last summer. The faith the organization is putting in me to have me back, I want to reward it tenfold. I’m just excited to be back.”
In the first season under Powell, the Heat made a run to the Lone Star Conference championship game where they were edged on the road by the Denton Diablos FC, the eventual national champion. Laredo featured the No. 1 defense in the conference with 10 goals allowed in 10 regular season games, and it had the No. 2 offense with 27 goals scored. Including the postseason, the Heat recorded five clean sheets including a stretch of four in five games.
“Last year was a very exciting season with a lot of great accomplishments and a ton of talent, but we will never be content unless the season ends with brining the national championship home to Laredo,” Laredo Heat SC President Shashi Vaswani said. “We are thrilled to welcome back John Powell for a second season. He once again has done a great job recruiting an impressive roster. We are confident he will have them ready to contend for a title, and he will continue helping players achieve their goals of going pro.”
The Heat will not be starting from scratch as they attempt to build off last year’s No. 1 defense. They return a trio of starters who were crucial to that effort in midfielder Oscar Govea and defenders Liam Morrison and Lewis Wilson.
“It’s massive. It was always something I wanted to do, but it’s not very likely most of the time,” Powell said. “It worked out this time to where we added some key guys back for the summer. Their leadership and the relationships they have with the coaching staff and the ownership group are going to go a long way in helping the team come together.”
Along with the starters, Laredo also brings back local athletes Hector Arreola, Jorge “Koke” Mares and Jose Rivera on the back line. They make up half of the local talent on the team along with three newcomers in defender Sebastian Rivera, midfielder Andres Herrera and goalkeeper Enrique Moreno.
“Laredo is not about one thing. We are about winning championships, but we are also about helping players move on to the next level and we’re about the community,” Powell said. “Having a lot of local guys in the mix is great for the community, and it’s also great for us. The level of talent in Laredo is very high, so the chance to reward that with a spot on the roster is one of the things we’re all about.”
Anchored by the pair of Aberdeen, Scotland natives Morrison and Wilson, the back line is expected to be a strength of the Heat this season. Along with Morrison, Wilson, Arreola, Mares and the Rivera brothers, the unit also features Oghenetega Agberhiere, Dimitrios Leonoglou, Bilal Olayiwola and Diego Quintana.
“We are returning guys that had starts in every game. That piece is massive when we have a short preseason,” Powell said. “Their familiarity is going to go a long way. We’ve also added some new guys in there, and the competition in the back is even better than it was last summer. That is going to cultivate development at a faster rate.”
The midfield will be led by Govea, but the newcomers will have extra opportunities at earning playing time early in the season as he recovers from a foot injury.
“We know he’s not going to be able to play right away, but we truly believe he is a professional player,” Powell said. “He’s going to go on to the professional ranks, and we’ll do anything we can to help him in his journey. In exchange, he’s going to help us compete for the championship when he gets fit.”
Joining Govea and Herrera in the midfield are Jordan Mase, Ruben Nielsen, Roberto Ordonez, Juan Romero, Masaya Sekiguchi, Colton Shafer and Daisuke Takanaka.
“The midfield is very good. We’ve done different recruiting and tried to get more dynamic in the midfield to be more dangerous going forward,” Powell said. “The boys can play simple when they are asked to, and they have a little bit of special when they need to.”
This year’s scoring attack will be led by forwards Kristian Colaci, Nozomu Kamei, Julio Trapaga and Teddy West.
“We’re very good at forward. We have guys that compliment each other really well,” Powell said. “When you talk about your forwards and your nines, are they scoring goals? We have guys that have proven to score goals at the collegiate level and the NPSL level. It’s a blessing we have options up there.”
A trio of new keepers will compete to man the net for the Heat this summer. Moreno is joined by Connor Durant and Natxo Faus.
“It is going to be a very healthy competition. We have two collegiate standouts and a very talented local goalkeeper,” Powell said. “The two collegiate guys are going to be pushing themselves, and you add someone like Kike in there who is disciplined, organized and more mature than his age would leave you to believe. That band of three brothers is going to be key for the whole summer.”
The season opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Hotchkiss Memorial Stadium in San Antonio. The Corinthians are off to a 1-0-0 start in their debut season as they picked up a 2-1 victory Sunday over fellow newcomer Austin United FC. The Heat are hoping to gel quickly on the field after practicing for the first time Monday.
“You could overthink it, and we could talk about things that don’t matter come kickoff like lack of preparation time and new guys. I don’t want to focus on that,” Powell said. “I want to focus on the fact that we have a very good team. We’re going into a bit of an unknown without a lot of film on them. We are just going to focus on ourselves. It’s a great opportunity for us. We have to view every game like it’s our final. If we can get that mentality across, we’re going to be in a great place.”
Following the season opener, the Heat will hold their home opener at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 against the FC Brownsville Explorers. Laredo also hosts games Saturday, May 21 and Tuesday, May 24. The Heat play their home matches at the TAMIU Soccer Complex. Tickets are $5 for general admission and $20 for VIP access, and children 12 and under get in free.
Visit laredoheatsc.com and follow @laredoheatsc on social media to stay up to date on the latest news. Any youth players interested in joining the academy can visit laredoheatscyouth.com for more information. To see plans announced last week for construction of the Laredo Heat Soccer Complex, visit team.laredoheatsc.com/soccercomplex.