By Kim DeRaedt
A matchup between the winless and the unbeaten normally wouldn’t spark much interest; however, toss in a city rivalry and the game suddenly shifts from a sleeper to a thriller. Prior to the start of the Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) season, Houston was deprived of a heated elite-level soccer rivalry. That will all change on Saturday.
Maya Park will be the battleground as Houston’s North and South Pole SPSL clubs clash for the first time. North side Regals FC will look to further spread its holiday cheer by securing a fifth-straight league victory. Meanwhile, South side Club America Academy hopes to play Scrooge and snatch its first victory from its heavily-favored foes.
If you think Club America Academy is merely dreaming in a deep post-Thanksgiving slumber, think again. The newly-formed franchise has already proven that it can compete with the league’s best. In its opening match, the team’s young guns stood toe-to-toe with Galveston Pirate SC before falling 1-0 on a late-game goal. The club next held Tulsa Lobos FC to a 0-0 halftime nail-biter prior to surrendering two second-half tallies.
It seems only a matter of time before Club America breaks through and turns the table on the SPSL powerhouses. Coach Thiago Costa Reis remains both patient and confident with his team’s progress.
“We’re a new team and to add to that, we have young players,” Reis said. “I think we surprised some opponents with our level of play early on, and we’ll only get stronger with each game.”
Club America is on the rise but so too is Regals FC, or is it? Regals FC has won ten straight including a 4-0-0 start to the SPSL season. The club seemed almost untouchable, that is until a struggling Corpus Christi crew nearly threw a monkey wrench in its progress. Last weekend, the winless Fuel staged a late comeback that fell just short, enabling Regals FC to escape its road trip with a narrow 3-2 victory. It was enough to wake up coach Miguel Landaverde and send his team down from Cloud Nine.
“We did just enough to secure the three points,” Landaverde said. “We played extremely poorly. I wasn’t impressed with our performance at all, but I was happy with the result. We can’t afford to lose any points.”
Indeed, with Galveston Pirate SC and Tulsa Lobos FC both tied with Regals FC atop the SPSL standings, it takes just one slipup to send Landaverde’s group into a humble third place. Likewise, it requires only one strong showing to lift Club America Academy out of the gutters and tied with Texas Lonestrikers for fourth place in the league.
With a lot on the line, Regals FC must return to what it knows best.
“We went back to the basics in training this week,” Landaverde said. “We need to focus on what we do best. This means playing a possession style with short passes and smart defense. It requires a total team effort.”
Landaverde realizes that experience and team chemistry are two critical elements for success that the team has thrived upon thus far. Reis, too, reiterates that teamwork will be the variable that begins reversing the results for his talented group of individual athletes.
“We have the technical ability, but now it’s a matter of mastering the tactical side,” Reis said. “It doesn’t matter how good a player is. If you throw eleven new guys on the field together, it’ll take a few games for them to gel properly, start winning and make a name for themselves.”
Club America Academy may not have the victories, but with the name and kit of Mexico’s Primera Division club, Reis’s team certainly has the reputation and support in the Houston soccer community. Landaverde understands this requires extra effort for Regals FC to win the hearts of Houstonians.
“We want to establish ourselves as Houston’s team,” Landaverde said. “To overcome the Club America reputation, we need to dominate, not just win. This starts Saturday. There are no second chances.”
Saturday will be a historical day as the first words are written in the SPSL’s initial inner-city rivalry. Regals FC will kick-off at 3 p.m. against Club America Academy. Tickets are $10. Children 12 and under are free.