By Kim DeRaedt
With three teams tied for first place in the Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) standings and a tight race for the top goal scorer nod, Regals FC and forward Erick Cruz used Saturday’s 5-1 victory against Club America Academy to set themselves apart as sole leaders.
The lone post-Thanksgiving matchup pitted undefeated Regals FC against winless Club America Academy in the first inner-city rivalry. The Houston showdown lasted 90 minutes, but it was a crucial nine-minute stint in the game’s early going that determined each team’s fate.
Having tallied 27 goals through its first four SPSL matches, Regals FC has no trouble scoring. That means when Club America Academy gifted the home side a goal in the sixth minute, it only set the stage for a disastrous fallout for the visiting South siders.
Erick Cruz put Regals FC on the board after pouncing on a distribution error by goalkeeper Giovanni Naiemaraz. Not one to settle for an easy day’s work, Cruz darted down the right sideline and delivered a pinpoint cross to Enrique Gonzalez in the 10th minute. Gonzalez executed a perfect header and directed the ball to the lower left corner of the net for the 2-0 advantage. Excited by the feeling, Gonzalez shouldered the responsibility to pay it forward, this time by assisting Osama Buazza only a minute later. Buazza’s low driven shot to the right corner escaped Naiemaraz’s outstretched arm and extended the lead to 3-0. There’s nothing like kicking a team while it’s down. Regals FC notched its fourth goal in the 15th minute when Luis Licerio’s well-weighted pass left Cruz with an easy finish to the left side. The goal was Cruz’s eighth so far this season, which puts him one above Galveston Pirate SC standout Roy Hernandez in the goal scoring title chase for the time being.
A 4-0 deficit 15 minutes in certainly isn’t the ideal start for a team in need of inspiration. Not only was Club America winless, but the team was now in unfamiliar territory having never conceded a goal prior to the 33rd minute, let alone surrendering four in half of the time. Regals FC’s high-tempo offense was to blame for the visitor’s defensive meltdown.
“We just couldn’t handle the pressure,” attacker Jesus Ballesteros said. “Once their offense gets going like that, it’s hard to kill such a strong momentum. We’re lacking in confidence as it is, and we didn’t even have time to breathe and recover before they were down our throats again.”
Regals FC did give its guests some breathing room, however. The team waited until the 39th minute to tally its fifth and final goal as Cruz once again connected with a wide-open Gonzalez who converted his 10-yard attempt.
In his first game back, midfielder Cesar Silva couldn’t have asked for more from his team’s first half effort.
“The first half was great,” Silva said. “Those early goals gave us control and we kept it. They made defensive mistakes too and we capitalized on them, which was only a bonus. Now the second half was a different story.”
Indeed it was and much to Club America’s delight. A little half time inspiration was all Houston’s southern squad needed to shutdown Regals FC’s surging offense.
“Coach (Thiago Costa Reis) gave us a speech during half time, and it really helped us regain our focus and confidence,” Ballesteros said. “We know we can do it. We’re just a new team, and we have to be patient. Our time will come.”
While Club America is still awaiting its first win, the franchise needn’t anticipate the arrival of its first goal any longer. In the 70th minute, Edwin Ferrera slotted home a 15-yard shot to shine some light on the team’s otherwise dreary day.
“We won the second half,” Ballesteros said. “Unfortunately, you have to win the full 90 minutes to make it count.”
Any team can exhibit flashes of brilliance, but it takes proficient team chemistry like Regals FC’s to concoct a complete performance.
“We’ve known each other awhile, and we practice daily,” Silva said. “Really, though, it’s about practice. The more you practice, the more familiar you become with one another.”
And apparently, the more familiar a team becomes with winning too. Regals FC is now riding an 11-game unbeaten streak and seems to be peaking at just the right time as a road trip to archenemy Galveston Pirate SC is slated for next weekend. It comes as no surprise that Regals FC intends to stick with its simple game plan.
“We’re just going to practice and practice some more,” Silva said. “We’ll work hard every day, and when Saturday rolls around, we’ll be ready to take it to Pirate SC. We’re going to get the win.”
Confidence isn’t lacking from Regals FC nor is it lacking from a Galveston group that has produced three-straight shutout victories. A stingy defense awaits a potent offense in the most anticipated SPSL match to date. Regals FC will travel to Courville Stadium in Galveston on Dec. 4 for a 3 p.m. kick-off. Tickets are $10.