By Kim DeRaedt
Club America Academy was a new franchise with a young team and a fresh season, but it was the same old result Wednesday night as Galveston Pirate SC claimed its latest victim by defeating the home side 1-0 in Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) action.
For 86 minutes, the 0-0 battle was a sleeper according to the American anti-soccer crowd only interested in high scoring affairs. However, the scoreless stalemate was anything but a match to be forgotten. In fact, it was quite the contrary. Galveston Pirate SC coach Brendan Keyes certainly enjoyed himself, winning aside.
“This was by far the best game of the season,” Keyes said. “You had two strong, skilled teams in a tight match to the very end. That’s what the SPSL is all about.”
It was the best game of the season in a way that nobody would have predicted prior to kick-off. As fans entered USA Soccer Park in Houston, there were a number of storylines that could have developed. Keyes was up against his former player and now Club America Academy coach Thiago Costa Reis. Three Pirate SC players had jumped ship and were standing on the other side of the ball with Club America. Club America was formed just weeks ago and consisted of a group of youngsters whom didn’t even know every teammate’s name. One could almost feel sympathetic for Houston’s new team up against a Galveston side that is riding a seven-game winning streak, including a now 4-0 league showing thus far.
Sure the makings of a rivalry were present for personal reasons, but never did anyone anticipate a rivalry would launch better two talented, evenly-matched clubs. Wednesday night’s game was a prime example of how soccer’s unpredictability never grows old and never ceases to amaze even the sport’s most-veteran folk.
“You always have to respect your opponent, and I told my guys that,” Keyes said. “I think maybe we were a bit overconfident, but at the same time, Club America surprised me too. I had to commend Thiago. He has a great team, and they are only going to get better.”
It’s easy for Keyes to praise Reis now, but for the first 20 minutes of the match when Club America appeared to be the stronger side taking it to Pirate SC, one could imagine Keyes had a few unfriendly thoughts to share with his former player whose team was putting Pirate SC’s three-point mission in jeopardy on the night.
Luckily for Keyes, his ex-attacking midfielder Justin Santibanez was out with an injury. Otherwise, past Pirate SC performers Jorge Ortuno and Juan Carreon were busy leading Club America’s charge.
“The players who switched over did very well,” Keyes said. “Really, though, their whole team was very impressive. For a group of guys that got together so soon and so fast, their chemistry was unbelievable. I’m glad we got them first because they are going to start taking points away from the best teams in the league.”
And Club America almost did just that in its season debut. Although Pirate SC held a recognizable advantage in shots and corner kick opportunities, both teams struggled to produce quality chances on target. Galveston’s best chance in the early going came when Luis Hernandez struck a 25-yard shot to the lower right corner that the Club America goalkeeper did well to tip around the post. The Pirate SC bench held its breath with eight minutes left in the game when a Club America attacker broke through with an open opportunity on goal, but goalkeeper Eloy Aguirre quickly closed down the space for a critical save.
This kept Pirate SC in the game, and it’s dangerous to give the Galveston guys any inspiration, especially when Roy Hernandez is on board. A double-team effort had kept the league’s leading goal scorer relatively quiet all night, but the keen captain was in the right place at the right time to convert the game’s only goal in the 86th minute. Credit must go to Felipe Escobedo who sent a brilliant long ball into the Pirate SC attack. Luis Hernandez beat the aggressive goalkeeper to the ball before chipping it over him to leave his onrushing brother to do what he does best. With 30 goals in 20 games, it’s safe to say that Roy Hernandez knows a thing or two about scoring.
Never did Keyes imagine that he’d have to wait until the game’s waning minutes to see his superstar strike the back of the net, but with the three points now under his belt, he can’t complain.
“I think it’s great that Club America proved itself tonight,” Keyes said. “That gives us four strong teams to challenge for the top spot. It’s going to be great to see how it unfolds.”
Indeed, the anticipation has almost been unbearable for SPSL fans awaiting the Pirate SC versus Regals FC matchup. Fans needn’t wait much longer. Following a two-week hiatus, Pirate SC will return to action on Dec. 4, to host its bitter rival. In the meantime, Keyes’s crew plans on taking everything in stride.
Along with last night’s victory, Keyes was excited to announce the signing of goalkeeper Jonathan Allegra to help his team in preparation for its big match.
“We are going to prepare just like we would for any other game,” Keyes said. “But it’s not just any other game. We want to beat them more than anybody else. It’s the game of the season so far, and we’re not about to miss it. Pirate SC is going to show up big.”