After saying all summer Connor Durant was the top goalkeeper in the nation, Laredo Heat SC head coach John Powell was validated Friday as Durant was announced as the winner of the Golden Glove Award given to the top goalkeeper in the National Premier Soccer League.
“Coaches, myself included, say a lot throughout the course of the season, and I appreciate Connor backing my words up,” Powell said. “I have very strong feelings and have said it all year. Seeing him get that recognition is extremely fitting for a player who dominated all summer.”
Durant was a leader for the top defense in the nation as the Heat allowed just 0.53 goals per game. The Colorado Mesa keeper played every minute of the season and finished with more clean sheets (nine) than goals allowed (eight). He received the Golden Glove Award by being selected as the top keeper in voting for the National XI selections.
“It feels great. A lot has to do with the team, the organization and my family getting the word out and voting. The season we had as a team also helps this award go along,” Durant said. “When you have a season like we did with all the clean sheets and the defensive work we put in, it makes it easier to get an award like this. It feels good. I’m glad I could keep Laredo’s name going on throughout the season even though we weren’t able to keep playing.”
The nine shutouts included each of the final four matches this season with the regular season finale and three playoff matches. The scoreless postseason featured two overtime matches and contributed to a total scoreless streak of 467 minutes dating back to the first half of a 1-1 draw in Brownsville.
Laredo went 8-1-3 in the regular season to claim the Lone Star Conference championship. It also won the postseason conference title for the second time in four NPSL seasons. The Heat opened the postseason with a 3-1 victory in four rounds of penalty kicks following a scoreless draw with the Irving FC Gallos as Durant stopped three of the four shots faced in the shootout. Laredo rolled 3-0 against the Corinthians FC of San Antonio to secure the championship.
“Coming to Laredo was awesome. Right in the beginning there were nerves because you don’t know what to expect. The best part was as the days went on, we got closer and closer,” Durant said. “The chemistry built week in and week out. I had a great experience. I grew a lot of love for the city and a lot of love for the fans. The ownership was unbelievable. It is a very well-organized and put together team. I couldn’t be happier about it.”
Traveling for the regional semifinals, the Heat finished in another scoreless draw against the Tulsa Athletic. Durant opened the shootout with a save and made another stop in the fifth round to keep the season alive, but Tulsa edged Laredo 6-5 in eight rounds to advance. Durant stopped 5 of 12 penalty attempts in the postseason and split on a pair of attempts in the regular season giving him a 46.2% save percentage for the year.
Along with recording nine clean sheets, leading the nation in average goals allowed and yielding more than one goal only once all season, Durant also gained attention for his ability to shut down opponent’s set pieces. If a corner kick or free kick was placed into the box, Durant routinely put his skills as a former American football receiver to good use and went up to catch the ball at its highest point. He also contributed offensively helping set up breakouts and even adding an assist.
“The few times Lewis Wilson wasn’t on the pitch, the armband went directly to Connor and rightfully so. He is a natural leader,” Powell said. “That’s probably an overused phrase by a lot of coaches, but the guy came in and immediately earned everybody’s respect. He’s likeable but he pushes you. He’s jovial and has a great sense of humor. When the whistle blows and even before that when warmup begins, he turns into a fierce competitor. It has been amazing having him.”
Durant became the second player in the Heat’s four seasons in the NPSL to earn a spot on the National XI joining forward Memo Diaz from the club’s debut season in 2018. Diaz is in his fourth season in the USL Championship and is playing midfielder for the Oakland Roots SC.
Durant is heading into his final season at Colorado Mesa University before likely embarking on a professional career. The Mavericks are looking to build off a 2021 season in which they advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Durant will soon be back on the pitch he called home this summer as Colorado Mesa opens the season at the TAMIU Soccer Complex facing Midwestern State at 3 p.m. on Aug. 25 and TAMIU at 6 p.m. on Aug. 27.
Heat captain and center back Lewis Wilson was also a nominee for the National XI after anchoring the nation’s back line and adding three goals and two assists during his second season in Laredo. Wilson is returning to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio for his final collegiate season.
“As a goalkeeper you can only be as good as the 10 guys in front of you,” Durant said. “Everyone from the backline to the midfields to the forwards, it was a team effort every game. It’s a shame Lewis wasn’t able to get in there because he more than deserved a spot with the amount of goals he didn’t let in, the amount of blocked shots he had and how he won headers. The Lone Star Conference is one of the best in the nation, so being able to do that game in and game out shows what that team was capable of. I was just glad to be a part of it.”
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