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NATIONAL PREMIER SOCCER LEAGUE: Sockers on doorstep of division title after shutout of Laredo - Odessa American: Sports

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NATIONAL PREMIER SOCCER LEAGUE: Sockers on doorstep of division title after shutout of Laredo

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Posted: Thursday, July 4, 2019 11:03 pm

One of the goals that Sockers FC head coach Johnny Clifford had for this year’s team was to win a regular-season Lone Star Conference Division title.

That goal is one result away from becoming reality after the Sockers defeated the Laredo Heat 2-0 Thursday at Grande Communications Stadium.

“I felt that this result was thoroughly deserved,” Clifford said. “I thought Laredo had improved a lot from the first time we played them. I’m so proud of the guys.

“These guys are absolute warriors and they want it so bad. Every time they come out here, they inspire me to keep doing a good job.”

The Sockers (8-1-2, 26 points) got one goal in each half and held off a Laredo (4-5-2, 14 points) side looking to keep its own playoff hopes alive.

It took some time for the Sockers’ attack to break through the compact defensive back line of the Heat. But they found the big moment in the 28th minute when Erwin Regules found the back of the net off an assist from Ewan McLaughlan.

Laredo would not go away, however, as it nearly converted on a couple of close chances.

There was one more moment of drama at the end of the half.

Sockers FC goalkeeper Lucas Betz picked up the ball just outside the penalty box, creating a free kick for the Heat. The kick was blocked to end the half.

The game opened up in the second half as Laredo kept pressing but the Sockers put together a number of answers on the counter attack.

But Laredo goalkeeper Carlos Herrera kept the Heat close, finishing with 10 saves to counter Sockers’ 21 shots.

“I thought their goalkeeper was the man of the match,” Clifford said of Herrera. “Without him, I think it’s probably 4-0 like the last time we played them.”

But after firing away, the Sockers found that elusive second goal in the 83rd minute to help seal the match.

McLaughlan sent a pass towards goal on a free kick that was headed by Antony Andoyan, but hit the crossbar. But Julio Vargas was in the right spot for the rebound to make it 2-0.

“I missed a few chances early, but Coach (Clifford) trusted me to stay in the game,” Vargas said. “When that ball came, I knew it was going in and I was confident in myself. It felt great to score and it was a relief.”

Laredo had a chance to make a push with an Ivan Sakou penalty kick in the 86th minute off a handball. That chance, however, was denied by Betz and ultimately ended any hopes of a comeback.

The Sockers are now one win away from winning the regular-season division title and hosting the divisional playoffs as the top seed. They’ll get that chance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at home against Tyler FC. After getting a good result Thursday, the goal now is to simply take care of business.

“We’ve been speaking about it since the first or second game of the season,” Clifford said. “We’ve had a lot of success with this franchise, but that was the goal that we set for ourselves — to win that title — and we’re one win away from that on Saturday.”

>> Follow Tony Venegas on Twitter at @OA_TVenegas

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