By Kim DeRaedt
The Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) winter season has been in progress for over a month, but the question left on everyone’s mind was, “Just who is Tulsa Lobos FC?”
Not one to leave room for confusion, General Manager Nelson Puerta proved that his team belongs, belongs at the top of the league that is. The Lobos were all smiles as they boarded the bus two days later and two victories richer than when they embarked for their SPSL debut. Tulsa emerged from the weekend’s contests with two shutout victories, a 6-0 and 2-0 performance against Corpus Christi Fuel.
Saturday was the sunnier of the two days for Lobos FC supporters. A 14-hour journey gave way to obvious fatigue at first, but as soon as Tulsa was able to find its feet, it found the back of the net as well. After allowing Corpus Christi faint hope with a 3-0 halftime score line, the Lobos exploded for three more second-half finishes.
Long balls were the cause and scoring was the effect of Tulsa’s offensive barrage that the Fuel simply could not handle. Corpus Christi coach Patrick Esqueda admits that he was caught off guard by a Tulsa side that had allegedly prided itself on short, clean passes.
“We got beat over the top,” Esqueda said. “I wasn’t expecting that style of play from them. We knew they’d be good but not that good. Every time we gave them a chance, they capitalized. Their finishing was phenomenal.”
Such quality finishes can be attributed to Abed Elkour (2), Bryant Scrapper, Clint Cotheran, Brandon Waller and Jorge Perez. Scrapper broke through to record the franchise’s first goal before his teammates added their names to the scorers’ sheet to complete the rout. Puerta was by no means surprised by his team’s attacking spectacle.
“We have good communication and strong leadership,” Puerta said. “This really helps bring our guys together. We came into the weekend with a positive attitude and left with positive results. We have a solid core to carry us.”
Indeed, Tulsa demonstrated that it is a skilled side, and Esqueda wasn’t about to be fooled twice by his foe’s crafty game plan. While sunshine and success didn’t necessarily spill over on the Fuel in Sunday’s encore matchup, Esqueda saw rays of hope from behind his team’s 0-5 record this season.
“Our defense really held them and didn’t give many chances at all,” Esqueda said. “It was good to see, good to see how much the defense could learn and pick up on overnight.”
Corpus Christi clung to a scoreless draw for 70 minutes before surrendering a goal from a penalty kick opportunity. Tulsa wouldn’t add its second tally until seconds before the final whistle. Elkour recorded both goals for Lobos FC.
There was no secret to the Fuel’s defensive turnaround, however. Esqueda is a firm believer in the old adage that if you want something done right, do it yourself.
“I stepped in to play defensively,” said a multi-talented Esqueda. “I think it definitely helped the guys. I was able to communicate and keep our structure. We have the talent. It’s just a matter of putting it to good use.”
Following Sunday’s inspirational improvement, the Fuel will look to put its newfound know-how to use Nov. 14 when the team travels to partake in Galveston Pirate SC’s home opener. Pirate SC eked by the Fuel 2-1 on Oct. 2, but Esqueda assures that a much more fine-tuned Fuel will set foot at Courville Stadium.
“There has been considerable improvement in our team chemistry,” Esqueda said. “We need to work on our attack a bit and focus on building up from the back, but I like our chances. The guys are finally starting to get it.”
Meanwhile, Tulsa has already “got it”. A spotless record, air-tight defense and potent offense is enough to permit Puerta to nap peacefully on the team’s return trip.
“The team was very excited to play its first SPSL matches,” Puerta said. “The guys had waited a long time for this moment, and they took care of business. Now we’re excited to move on and look forward to what the rest of the season has in store.”
The Lobos FC bus will next roll into USA Soccer Park in Houston as Tulsa takes on Club America Academy on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21. Both games are scheduled to kick-off at 3 p.m.