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Laredo Hosting STX Rival FC Brownsville at PEG Energy Stadium Tonight

By Admin, 07/03/24, 1:45PM CDT


A bevy of scenarios abound in the National Premier Soccer League’s Lone Star Conference with five teams in contention heading into the final week of the regular season, but it’s a simple win-and-in scenario for the Laredo Heat SC as it faces FC Brownsville twice starting at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday in Laredo at PEG Energy Stadium.


The key Lone Star Conference battle will also be an Independence Day celebration. Following the match, there will be a fireworks display and free hot dogs.


It’s a tight grouping at the top of the table as nobody has clinched a playoff berth and the top five teams are all within four points of each other. Brownsville (5-1-2, 17 points) narrowly holds the top spot followed closely by the Heat (5-2-1, 16 points) and West Texas FC (5-2-1, 16 points). The Denton Diablos FC is matching Brownsville with 17 points but has only one game remaining with a 5-2-2 record. That match is against the Lubbock Matadors (4-3-1, 13 points) who are just outside the playoff picture.


Having Denton and Lubbock also playing Wednesday sets up Laredo to secure its postseason berth with a victory. The Heat could also qualify with only a draw if the Diablos win Wednesday.


“It speaks to the competitiveness of the league. I think it’s a good thing,” Heat head coach John Powell said. “It is going to require us to be very disciplined and very good in our execution to get what we want. That’s what you want in an environment like this. You don’t want everything given for free. We’ll have to earn the points over these next two games and see where that puts us in the league, but I do love having control of our destiny.”


While clinching a playoff berth is the first goal the Heat are attempting to check off their to-do list, the regular season title and the ability to host any conference playoff matches remains within their grasp. If Laredo or Brownsville sweep this week’s home-and-away series, that team will secure the top seed. A win and a draw could also lock up the title if Denton loses or draws Wednesday and West Texas loses either of its remaining matches.


“It is definitely a unique situation,” Powell said. “It doesn’t happen very often in our sport. It is a really good opportunity to see what we’re made of.”


Laredo earned its chance to climb back to the top of the table by snapping a rare losing streak with a commanding 3-0 win over Austin United FC on Saturday at PEG Energy Stadium. Jordan Mase earned and successfully converted a penalty kick to take the lead, Manuel Ponce Casas added insurance with his team-high ninth goal, and Laredo’s Gael Gallegos scored his first goal with the Heat late in the match to put it away.


“It's going to be pretty hard with the amount of firepower we have to keep us out of the net for an extended period of time,” Powell said. “I really like that it was three different guys on the score sheet, and we had other really dangerous moments where their keeper made massive saves. I think it could have been a few more goals to be honest, but their keeper played well. I’m hoping we can replicate some of those dangerous moments we created on Saturday.”

The Heat also recorded their third clean sheet of the season and did so without the services of captain and center back Lewis Wilson who was serving his suspension from a red card received the previous match. Gabriel Claudio slid to the middle to step up in Wilson’s absence, and Laredo’s Diego Rocha subbed in for him midway through the second half. Goalkeeper Adrian Gallardo faced few chances, but he was ready for them when he did.


“The boys played well, in the back especially. We had guys plugged in that hadn’t made starts yet, and they responded exactly how we knew they would. They are great players,” Powell said. “Any time you can add Lewis Wilson back into your starting 11, it’s no disrespect to anybody else but your team gets better. What it did was validate the recruiting we’ve done, and we know we have tremendous amounts of depth everywhere. It’s going to be called upon again tonight, again Saturday and into the playoffs.”


Brownsville and Laredo are tied for the top defense in the conference with each allowing only nine goals. The next closest is Denton at 14 goals allowed through one more match. Brownsville leads the way with a plus-11 goal differential, while Laredo and West Texas are second at plus-8.


Brownsville is coming off a 3-1 home victory over the Lubbock Matadors. Outside of its 1-0 loss to Denton, the team has scored multiple goals in every match this season. Brownsville has been successful both home and away, but it has seemingly been at its best on the road. The team is 2-0-2 at home with nine goals scored and five allowed, and on the road it is 3-1-0 with 11 scored and four allowed.

Following Wednesday’s battle, the teams clash once more Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at Lopez High School to wrap up the regular season.


“We know they are a really good team. They’ve been in the postseason the past few years. We know we’re going to have to be very disciplined and focus on doing the simple things extremely well,” Powell said. “When you play teams back to back, obviously you have to be even sharper and even more disciplined the second time because you’ve just played them. But right now we’re not even thinking about Saturday. It’s just taking care of business tonight and making sure we have a first-round playoff game, and then we can reassess for Saturday.”