After 120 minutes of scoreless, back-and-forth play, the Laredo Heat made four straight penalties to beat North Texas Rayados in the First Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Wednesday night at the Texas A&M International Soccer Complex.
Laredo took a 3-2 lead in penalties before Leon Taylor stepped up to seal the deal, but he missed his first chance. Luckily for the Heat, the referee said Rayados goalkeeper Eduardo Cortez moved forward before Taylor’s shot. He smoothly made the re-take to hand his team the win.
The Heat, who are unbeaten (3-0-1) in their last four Open Cup openers, will travel to Austin for a matchup with the Austin Aztex of the USL on May 20 in the Second Round of the win-or-go-home tournament.
“Me retaking it, I was like ‘You’ve got another chance, you better make it,’” Taylor said. “I didn’t want to put the team in jeopardy.”
It took awhile for both teams to settle in and find their footing in the first half. The first 40 or so minutes of the game were played in the middle of the field without much attacking from either side.
Rayados midfielder David Robleo missed a sitter from the middle of the 18-yard box with less than five minutes to go until halftime. And Laredo’s Angel Hernandez chested down a cross right in front of the net, but his effort was pushed over the top of the net by Cortez a minute later.
While most of the first half was played with Rayados sitting behind the ball and absorbing the Heat attack, the second half was a different story. They came out of the break aggressively, and committed six fouls in the first 20 minutes of the half.
“It was a good test for us as far as our conditioning and what we’ve been working on during the preseason,” Laredo defender Fransisco Lara said. “It went well, and it did get a little bit physical, but that’s what we expect with the American style.”
Second half substitute Salvador Luna had the best chance of the game between both teams in the 90th minute when he got behind the North Texas defense and was one-on-one with Cortez. His shot sailed just over the crossbar.
It was the first game of the season for Laredo, who will begin the PDL Season on May 23, but surprisingly the Heat were the more in shape team. NTX used all its subs before the added extra time, so when the 120th minute rolled around, they were visibly gassed.
“It’s good for us because we have more time to play and more chances in the season,” Luna said. “We only had four preseason games, so it was good that we play 120 minutes and even better that we won the game.”
Looking ahead to Round 2, Austin and Laredo have a recent history. Prior to moving to the USL, the Aztex and Heat were in the same division of the PDL. In 2013, Austin beat the Heat in the conference final before going on to win the 2013 PDL Championship.