By Kim DeRaedt
Erick Cruz pounced on a defensive mistake and sidestepped the goalkeeper before casually glancing over his shoulder and confidently walking the ball into the goal in the game’s waning seconds. The goal mirrored so much but meant so little in a sloppy Sunday of soccer as Regals FC drew 2-2 with Houston Dynamo Academy at La Escondida Park in Houston.
Call it lazy, call it overconfident or call it unlucky. Either way, Regals FC captain Jose Sibrian couldn’t find one positive to extract from the team’s subpar showing.
“There’s really not a single thing we did well today,” Sibrian said. “We weren’t our usual selves. That’s not how we play. That’s not the intensity we bring to the field. We played their game, not ours.”
Converting to Houston Dynamo Academy’s style of soccer stripped Regals FC from its flair and possession and gave way to inferior kick-and-chase soccer. This approach bypassed Regals FC’s midfield, which stands as the heart and soul that has guided the team to an 18-1 goal differential in its first two Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) matches.
“We showed no creativity today,” Sibrian said. “Everything was long balls, and we’d try to outrun them. We completely skipped our midfielders. It was simple things like that that caused us to take ourselves out of the game.”
Silly mistakes wreaked havoc on Regals FC defensively as well. The team surrendered a penalty kick in the 16th minute after a Rolando Matuce handball in the box. Luckily, Regals FC goalkeeper Jose Contreras was on the top of his game and dove to his left to parry away Bryan Celis’s ensuing attempt.
The team may have dodged an early bullet, but it pressed its luck too far when Francisco Martinez fouled an opposing attacker in the box just three minutes later. Contreras got a hand on the penalty kick opportunity, but it wasn’t enough as Houston Dynamo Academy jumped to an early 1-0 lead.
The two foes battled rather evenly for the remainder of the first half. Regals FC held a 3-2 advantage in corner kicks; Houston Dynamo Academy took a 6-5 lead in shots on goal. Two yellow cards were shown to each team as tensions began to mount heading into halftime.
The break helped Regals FC collect itself and focus on linking its midfield into the team’s typically-potent attack.
The second half no more than started before Regals FC’s captain took scoring matters into his own hands. Cruz was fouled from 20 yards out. Osama Buazza jumped on the free kick opportunity and quickly chipped the ball to an alert Sibrian. Sibrian took a touch before coolly sliding the ball under the onrushing Dynamo goalkeeper.
“The goal gave us hope,” Sibrian said. “Every goal is a big change. It helps boost the team’s morale.”
With a newfound belief, Regals FC appeared to be the stronger team in the second half. Matuce made waves offensively as he sped down the sideline and found Cruz open from short range, but the striker was unable to convert. Minutes later, Matuce launched a 20-yard blast that was well-saved by Dynamo goalkeeper Philip Blake.
However, Houston Dynamo Academy would be the next team to tally against the run of play. Regals FC defender Robert Hernandez inadvertently deflected a header that left a Dynamo attacker one-on-one with goalkeeper Joel Recinos. The striker slipped the ball under a helpless Recinos to recapture his team’s lead in the 76th minute.
It would seem as if Regals FC would be unable to rebound. Try as it might, the offense couldn’t appear to catch a break in the closing minutes. Hernandez slotted a perfect through ball to Matuce, whom was questionably called offside. Cruz had a golden attempt denied by Blake. Jorge Rivas found Matuce open inside the box, but the overly eager effort sailed high.
When all hope seemed to be lost, Cruz once again came to the team’s rescue. Following his five-goal performance last weekend against Corpus Christi Fuel, Cruz capitalized on a defensive mistake and touched the ball wide of the surging goalkeeper to give himself a wide-open net.
The draw was perhaps the lone flicker of light in a performance that was hardly characteristic of the commanding Regals FC crew.
“We were overconfident,” Sibrian said. “We think we are somebody special, but we aren’t anybody until we go out there and prove ourselves each game.”
The team will look to re-establish its dominance and identity when it takes on the Sam Houston State Bearkats in a friendly match this Friday at Legends Sports Complex. The game kicks-off at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the gate.