By Kim DeRaedt
At first glance, Saturday’s matchup between Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) foes Galveston Pirate SC and Club America Academy appears ordinary enough. Perhaps the game gains more significance because it is Club America’s first-ever match. Maybe it arouses interest because it is the first of two games for Pirate SC in a busy weekend. This, however, would be a sorry underestimation of what’s at stake when Galveston Pirate SC treks to USA Soccer Park in Houston for a 3 p.m. kick-off.
Indeed, Pirate SC coach Brendan Keyes will have no sympathy for the league’s newcomers. For Keyes, Saturday’s match is personal.
Keyes will face a Club America team that he knows little about, coached by a guy he knows all too much about. Thiago Costa Reis will guide Club America into its SPSL debut, but Reis spent much of his youth under the constructive direction of Keyes.
“I took Thiago under my wing,” Keyes said. “He came over here from Brazil, and I met him while I was the Director of Coaching at Friendswood SC. He was 10 years old and spoke very little English, and I coached him until age 17.”
The relationship didn’t stop there, however. Keyes put his coaching investment to good use and employed Reis as the head trainer of his business, Brendan Keyes Soccer Academy. For seven years, Reis lived out Keyes’s coaching philosophies and passed down his expertise. Now Keyes will see his strategies used against him. Keyes is hardly concerned; instead, he feels that familiarity will play to his advantage.
“It will be like watching myself coach,” Keyes said. “I’ll know all of the habits and tactics. I taught him a lot of what I know but not everything. I kept some tricks in the bag.”
Still, Keyes understands he isn’t the only one hiding some surprises up his sleeve.
“One thing I can say about Thiago is that he is always underestimated as a coach,” Keyes said. “He’s Brazilian, which means that his technical ability is second to none. That rolls over into his coaching style as well. I believe he will have the best technical team in the league, and that will surprise people whom don’t think Club America Academy will be contenders.”
As a matter of fact, Keyes knows Club America has talented players. They were once his. Justin Santibanez, Juan Carreon and Jorge Orturo once donned the Pirate purple but will now suit up for the Houston-based academy.
With all of this giving, it’s no surprise that Keyes would like something in return. A victory on Saturday tops his list.
“I want to win,” Keyes said. “I want to take it to them, but more importantly, I expect to win. I was the teacher, and he was the pupil. This gives me the experience, and there’s no substitute for that.”
Keyes can take pride in being the elder, but Reis is perfectly content with his youthful branding.
“We have a young squad with a lot of talent,” Reis said. “Young doesn’t mean anything but talent does. It doesn’t matter what people think. We are definite contenders, and I expect nothing but a win out of Saturday’s match.”
As for Keyes’s guidance, Reis is appreciative but isn’t about to return any favors on the field.
“Brendan is an awesome person with a big heart,” Reis said. “He taught me a lot about soccer. Saturday’s game, though, is about my team. It’s our history, and we’re excited to make it. It should be a fun game.”
“Fun” wouldn’t be Keyes’s first-choice word, but needless to say, Saturday’s matchup plants the seed for the beginning of a passionate rivalry.
“I’ll shake his hand before and after, but when he’s standing across the field, he’s an enemy,” Keyes said. “Club America obviously has a big name. I don’t doubt that they’ll be good in the future, but now is our time. We’re the better team, and you can rest assured that we will prove it.”
USA Soccer Park is located at 8341 Hall Road, just north of the Sam Houston Tollway in southeast Houston.