By Kim DeRaedt
Soccer is no stranger to surprises. It has been 60 years since the US defeated England in the “Miracle on Grass” and 15 days since Mexico upended the US in CONCACAF play for the “Miracle on Grass” of women’s soccer. On Saturday, the Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) nearly added its own chapter to the book as Corpus Christi Fuel rallied for two late goals before falling to Regals FC 3-2.
The magic of Mexico must’ve rubbed off on Corpus Christi as it too gave its northerly neighbors more than they bargained for. Regals FC awakened a sleeping David who was one small goal away from sending the team tumbling down and turning the SPSL standings inside out. Unfortunately, the final whistle blew before the Fuel could pull the rabbit out of the hat, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a show worth watching.
Indeed, the appeal of magic lies in the surprise and thrives on the impossible. Having fallen to Regals FC 11-1 in a dismal performance on Oct. 24, the writing appeared to be on the wall for the Fuel as the players laced their boots and stepped onto Fairgrounds Field in Robstown, Texas.
When Gustavo Rivera found the back of the net for Regals FC in the 15th minute, many thought it would spark another scoring spree for a side that had collected 24 goals in its first three SPSL matches. Giovanni Mastache sent a far-post cross that found Gavin Sues. Sues headed it back to the near side for Rivera to neatly tap past Fuel goalkeeper Juan Carlos Martinez.
Fans should’ve suspected some sort of surprise was in the works as Regals FC’s offense remained silent until the 40th minute when Luis Licerio capitalized on a Fuel mishap. Licero anticipated Corpus Christi’s short goal kick and sent a left-footed chip over Martinez to put Regals FC on top 2-0.
The narrow score line rolled into halftime courtesy of road woes met by physical play from the home squad. A five-hour journey put enough strain on Regals FC only to have its energy further zapped by an aggressive Fuel effort.
“It’s tough making that drive and stepping right into the game,” Regals FC midfielder Osama Buazza said. “Plus, we had a lot of players who didn’t make the trip, which forced us into last-minute changes where we had players playing out of position.”
As if Regals FC hadn’t had enough curve balls thrown into its drawn-out day, the team was met by a Corpus Christi bunch that wasn’t about to passively surrender to another double-digit thrashing.
“They swept the floor with us last time,” Fuel forward Omar Ramos said. “We talked about it before the game and told everybody we’d have to step it up and play aggressively. That’s something we’ve been trying to improve on. Without physical play, we’ll never force them into mistakes.”
Still, comeback forecasts were kept buried as the second half commenced. In similar fashion to the match’s first goal, Sebastian Castilla scored in his Regals FC debut from a Julio Briceno cross and Licerio re-directed header.
Thanks to sporadic rather than steady scoring by Regals FC and a solid defensive stance, Corpus Christi was able to keep its head above water.
“Our defense was really strong today,” Ramos said. “Even overall, our positioning was a lot better and our communication was up. We were intense, physical and transitioned well.”
The Fuel certainly did transition well; that is, the team transitioned from conceding goals to scoring a few of its own. Having scored only three goals in six games, Corpus Christi nearly matched its season total in a mere 20 minutes of play.
Of course, it always helps when the opposing team generously provides a golden opportunity. Regals FC center back Robert Hernandez was called for a foul inside the box, which set up Chris Terry to convert the penalty kick high and to right. Terry had an unfamiliar taste of scoring and he liked it. Terry was back for more in the 89th minute when the ball found his foot in a scuffle inside the 18 yard box, and he sent a blast into the upper corner.
There was little time to waste as the Fuel fiercely pursued its first league point, but a pressured Regals FC team was soon relieved by the game’s final whistle. Usually, the final whistle sounds a bittersweet end to Regals FC’s scoring salvo, but today Buazza was happy to hear the referee’ s closure.
“They really put us on our heels at the end,” Buazza said. “I don’t doubt that they would’ve tied it if the game kept going a few minutes longer.”
It was a result that didn’t leave either team completely happy, but both emerged satisfied.
“We created some chances and kept the lead,” Buazza said. “That’s what is most important. I’m not happy with the performance, but I’m happy with the three-point result.”
Corpus Christi would’ve enjoyed a point out of the affair but can’t sulk over a nine-goal turnaround.
“Today’s game showed us that we have the potential to be a strong team,” Ramos said. “Our team chemistry isn’t up to par yet, but that comes with experience. This game opened our eyes to the intensity and aggressiveness that we need to bring day in and day out. If we do that and stay positive, the first win will come soon enough.”
As for Regals FC, the goal is to keep on keeping on.
“We need to do what we always do and continue focusing on possession in practice,” Buazza said. “It has worked for us so far. We just need to stay confident and move forward.”
SPSL action will keep on right through the Thanksgiving rush. Tulsa Lobos FC will square off in game two with Club America Academy at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Lobos broke a scoreless halftime gridlock to defeat Club America 4-0 in game one. Regals FC will host Club America Academy in a Houston showdown on Nov. 27 at 3 p.m.