By Kim DeRaedt
A large crowd of Texas Lonestrikers supporters must’ve known something that the rest of Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) followers couldn’t have predicted as they flooded into the Expo Soccer Complex on Saturday afternoon. After two bleak losses to open the season, the Lonestrikers edged Corpus Christi Fuel 2-1 to grab their first three points in league action.
Those fans in attendance witnessed arguably the first upset of the SPSL 2010 winter season. Lonestrikers fans and coach Gerardo Romero were hardly surprised by the result, however.
“I knew we had the players and are capable of competing with any team in the SPSL,” Romero said. “Our first two losses are in the past, and I feel really positive about where the team is headed. In a month from now, we’ll be a completely new team. We are going to surprise a lot of teams the second time around.”
Romero noted fitness and teamwork as the team’s Achilles’ heel in its previous matches and centered the week’s practices on improving these weaknesses. Romero credits this diligent focus with lifting his team above Corpus Christi and out of the SPSL basement.
“We really honed in on fitness in training this week,” Romero said. “The guys have been pushing each other and playing together more and more. All of our hard work finally paid off. We looked a lot better, controlled portions of the game and minimized our mistakes.”
Corpus Christi goalkeeper Marco Messina echoed Romero’s words. In fact, he found the new-and-improved Lonestrikers to be even ‘flawless’ at times.
“The Lonestrikers worked so well together,” Messina said. “They let the ball do the work. Their forwards did a great job of creating space, and I don’t think their midfielders mishit one ball through to them the whole afternoon. They played a very simple, very consistent game and it got to us.”
It didn’t take very long for the Lonestrikers to get the best of Corpus Christi. Fifteen minutes into the game, Nikki Wiggins made history by recording the club’s first goal. Diego Coronado dribbled down the line and slotted the ball across the top of the six-yard box to the onrushing Wiggins, who composedly pushed the ball in the back of the net.
The goal provided an enormous boost for the Lonestrikers and helped foreshadow good things to come for the home squad.
“Our guys definitely picked up the tempo after that first goal,” Romero said. “I knew if we scored first, we could come out with the win.”
Easier said than done, however. The Lonestrikers’ slim half time lead was quickly erased when the Fuel salvaged an equalizer 10 minutes into the second half. The play started when Ryan Mohr pressed a defensive mistake. Mohr then fed the ball to Omar Ramos, whom flicked it to Brandon Edwards for a one-on-one opportunity. Edwards won the challenge against the Lonestrikers’ goalkeeper and calmly slid it under him to level the score at 1-1.
Nevertheless, the Lonestrikers have had plenty of experience being behind the eight ball in the young season. Romero’s crew refused to back down and kept pushing for the go-ahead goal. It took them 20 minutes to find just that, courtesy of an encore performance by the Coronado-Wiggins duo. Coronado once again slid the ball across the goalmouth for Wiggins to convert and put the Lonestrikers back in the lead.
The first-year club was able to hang on to the advantage to secure the three points and give players confidence just in time for the team’s two-game road stint. Following Saturday’s stellar performance, Romero rests assured the Lonestrikers can play with and defeat any team in the league.
“We want the people of Nacogdoches to know that, although we’re a new team, we have a bright future,” Romero said. “We need people to come out and support us as much as possible.”
The Lonestrikers will have plenty of time to fine-tune their tactics as the club doesn’t return to league action until November 12, when they travel to face Regals FC in what is sure to be a much closer contest than the 7-0 defeat that Regals FC dealt the Lonestrikers in the clubs’ season opener.