By Kim DeRaedt
Somehow the calendar changed.
One moment, Regals FC was strategically preparing for its season-opener scheduled for the end of October. In an instant, those plans were scratched, and Reglas FC learned it would be starting its season as is on the road against Texas Lonestrikers Saturday.
The story doesn’t exactly pan out like a surprise birthday party. It’s more like a pop quiz, or, better yet, a pop test. This game is the real deal. Regals FC boasts a 54-20-4 record in 2010, but now the slate is wiped clean as the Southern Premier Soccer League winter season gets underway.
Original plans called for Regals FC to compete in the National Premier Soccer League, the fourth tier of American soccer, this winter alongside Galveston Pirate SC, Corpus Christi Fuel and FC Tulsa. When FC Tulsa bowed out at the last minute, however, there weren’t enough teams to sustain the league.
Plan B was conjured up and implemented within a week thanks to some quick thinking and concerted efforts by Regals FC general manger Stephen Heisler and Galveston Pirate general manager Brendan Keyes.
Plan B took the shape of the Southern Premier Soccer League. The regional league is sanctioned by United States Club Soccer and affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation.
The three remaining NPSL teams will be joined by Texas Lonestrikers, Tulsa Lobos FC and Houston-based Club America USA. All teams from the Southern United States are eligible to apply for acceptance into the SPSL. Memphis Rogues and Houston Santos FC appear to be two early frontrunners for 2011 expansion franchises.
For now, the focus is on today’s games. While Galveston will trek down the coast to Corpus Christi in other league action, it’s Regals FC’s northerly journey to Nacogdoches that coach Miguel Landaverde is more concerned about. Regals FC met Texas Lonestrikers in a home friendly two months ago and emerged victorious in a tightly-contested 1-0 match.
Since then, the two teams have parted paths. Regals FC has continued its jam-packed schedule, while Texas Lonestrikers have only benefited from a handful more games together. Still, Landaverde isn’t about to underestimate his opponent, especially when all teams are sitting with a fresh 0-0 record.
“The Lonestrikers were a great team last time we faced them,” Landaverde said. “We expect the same from them this time around, but we’re playing really well too. I am confident that we can win.”
As for the early starting date, Landaverde believes it will play to his team’ss advantage.
“It’s tough to replace experience,” Landaverde said. “We’ve been training hard every day. We’re really prepared,very ready to get the league going.”
Nonetheless, small doubt creeps into the minds of loyal Regals FC fans considering the team?s history of road woes, including a franchise-worst 7-0 thumping at New Orleans Jesters and last month’s disappointing 4-2 loss at Texas A&M.
Landaverde asserts that this time things will be different.
“In the past, we haven’t traveled with our first team,” Landaverde said. “We have our 20 players this time–that’s it. There are no more reserves, no more excuses. We’re in it to win.”
Texas Lonestrikers coach Gerardo Romero knows that a very talented Regals FC squad will invade the Expo Soccer Center in Nacogdoches for Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff. Up against a tall task, Romero expects a lot out of his team nonetheless.
“We have enough competitive players to go .500 this season,” Romero said. “We practice hard, and I know we are capable of pulling out on top.”
One can almost sense the different mentality that the two teams bring into the season. Landaverde isn’t about to settle for anything shy of near perfection.
“I expect to win,” Landaverde said. “I expect to be league champions.”
Regals FC has a 20-game regular season schedule ahead, a long road for a team that has already endured almost 80 games this year. All of that’s in the past, however.
Saturday’s match represents a new beginning. It’s step one in Regals FC’s quest to be crowned the inaugural Southern Premier Soccer League champion.