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Fort Worth's only goal in 3-1 loss came from the penalty spot.

Perhaps you can tell from the photo accompanying this post that I found a higher vantage point for the Fort Worth Vaqueros’ game against the Laredo Heat. The box above the field was where the team’s videography crew was filming the match, and I managed to squeeze in. When you’re looking down on the pitch, you have a much better idea of a team’s shape and tactics than you do at ground level, or watching it on TV. While the visitors worked with a back three, the Vaqueros went with a 4-2-1-3 with the ball and a densely packed 4-5-1 without it.

The opening 20 minutes were pretty stultifying before the referee called for a water break. After that, it got eventful in a hurry, as a Vaqueros’ tackle in the 21st minute on the Heat’s No. 14 (an Asian guy with nice technique and hair that made him look like an auditioner for a K-pop band) resulted in a penalty. The kick was saved by the home side’s keeper, who dove low to his right to palm the shot out for a corner. Despite the packed midfield, Laredo’s central guys were playing diagonal passes to the wingers that gave the home defense trouble. After the keeper had to smother a close-range shot and watch the follow-up attempt bounce off the crossbar, the Vaqueros’ coach screamed, “Come on, midfield! Help them out!” The dam finally broke when an attack down Fort Worth’s left side (which was a weak spot all game) resulted in a shot being scrambled into the net.

That was in the 28th minute, but Laredo’s lead didn’t last into the 29th, because Fort Worth was immediately awarded a penalty of its own after the officials spotted a Laredo defender handling a corner kick, which No. 20 coolly slotted home. Fort Worth then almost took the lead a few minutes later when a shot from distance flashed just wide of Laredo’s goal. The visitors’ keeper almost spilled a nice, easy cross into his own net, but the half ended 1-1.

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At first, I thought the coach was yelling “Get your shit!”, which made me wonder if he didn’t know that the word “together” is supposed to be on the end of that. Eventually, I realized he was yelling, “Get your shape!”, meaning for his defense and midfield to space themselves properly. Things went pear-shaped in the second half, when Laredo received another penalty early after a tackle from behind in the box. This one wasn’t missed, and the Heat added a third goal on a breakaway. The Vaqueros managed a few shots, but nothing to test that shaky-looking keeper, and a (harsh) straight red card on No. 11 in the 87th minute effectively ended any chance of pulling back a consolation goal. The home side seems to struggle creating any kind of consistent offense to pressure opposing defenses, and they’re not solid enough at the back to grit out low-scoring results.

The visitors had a cadre of red-clad supporters traveling with them from West Texas, while the Vaqueros had two drummers playing a beat when the home team had the ball, which is a nice touch. It would be even nicer if the Vaqueros could give their fans a home win before the season ends. They’ll have one more chance.

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