By Kim DeRaedt
As if the Texas Lonestrikers’ 1-4 start wasn’t scary enough, stranger danger may very well be a concern when Tulsa Lobos FC invades Nacogdoches for a double-header battle this weekend. Tulsa is the last remaining Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) team that the Lonestrikers have yet to face this season, but the Lobos are by no means the final question left unanswered.
Indeed, Lonestrikers coach Gerardo Romero has been scratching his head plenty of times in the franchise’s inaugural campaign. Having conceded 20 goals while salvaging only four of their own, the numbers certainly don’t spell success for the Nacogdoches dwellers. If the team is going to rise from its fifth place slot in the SPSL standings, both the club’s offense and defense will have to step up in sync.
Romero believes both units could benefit from focus and fitness, two elements that he has enlisted the expertise of new coach Sergio Perez to improve.
“Sergio has been a great asset to our team,” Romero said. “His knowledge and experience at the professional level has enabled us to design and implement a successful fitness regimen. He has also honed in on the mental side of soccer and helped with our pre-game preparations.”
It’s the philosophy that better fitness will give way to enhanced in-game focus that Romero hopes to capitalize on. The Lonestrikers have been notorious for holding their ground before letting the bottom fall out and dashing their victorious dreams with a short stretch of bad play.
“We have no problem starting strong, but it’s remaining strong that we struggle with,” Romero said. “As the game continues, we tend to lower our tempo, which is something we can’t afford to do. However, now we are more fit and capable of sustaining our pace for 90 minutes and then some if need be.”
The Lonestrikers will definitely be required to hold their form for the entire duration of this weekend’s matches as Tulsa invades their turf as one of the SPSL’s two remaining undefeated squads. The Lobos have posted four shutouts in their five league games thus far and poured in four goals last week against a stingy Galveston Pirate SC defense, proving that they are serious and well-rounded contenders for the SPSL crown. Tulsa’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed, and Romero is more than aware of the task that lies ahead of his team.
“There’s no doubt that Tulsa is one of the top teams,” Romero said. “I’m expecting a big, physical Tulsa team, but I also expect that we will play them in a clean, skilled game. We’re not looking to play dirty. We’re looking to play good soccer and hope that the scoreboard will reflect that at the end of the game.”
The Lonestrikers are prepared for Tulsa, but the real question will remain whether or not Tulsa is ready for the new-and-improved Nacogdoches crew to take the field.
“We have signed new recruits, some college players whom will make a nice impact,” Romero said. “At the same time, the guys who have been with us since the beginning of the season are all progressing and contributing well, especially since Sergio’s arrival. We now have a sound system of play, a real structure where each player has an idea of his role in the game.”
Collectively, these roles lead to a simple yet so difficult to master concept.
“We have to minimize our mistakes defensively and maximize our opportunities offensively,” Romero said. “Silly defensive errors have cost us in the past. Likewise, we need to finish our chances, and I think our new players will help us do just that. It’s all about putting the ball in the back of the net.”
Indeed it is, and with a fine-tuned Lonestrikers squad and a cruising Tulsa team, there is bound to be plenty of scoring in this weekend’s contests. The Lobos will look to secure two wins to propel them into sole possession of first place, while a pair of victories for the Lonestrikers would help the club sit in a comfortable fourth place position. Both Saturday and Sunday’s match kick-off at 3 p.m. at Hoya Fields in Nacogdoches. Tickets are $5 for adults each game or $8 for both matches in advance. Children are $3.
Small fry statements
Sure they may not be the hot dogs, but sometimes the side dishes have more zest than the main meal. Corpus Christi Fuel (0-8-0) will look to pull off a surprise this weekend and spoil dinner celebrations for Galveston Pirate SC (5-0-1). Fuel coach Patrick Esqueda plans on serving Pirate SC an entirely different game than the two teams’ last encounter when Galveston trounced Corpus Christi 5-0.
“We’ll have a totally new team,” Esqueda said. “These are the guys we had during the summer when we beat Regals FC and tied Galveston.”
Indeed, this Fuel squad will be the real deal; however, Esqueda expects that it will take a game or two for his team to hit full stride.
“These guys will be a lot more physical and a lot more technical,” Esqueda said. “We’ll be much stronger up front as well. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’ll be a day and night difference because the players are back from various college teams and won’t have that chemistry perfected just yet. Still, I’m anticipating a good result. We expect to shock Galveston and the entire SPSL.”
Corpus Christi will travel to Courville Stadium in Galveston for a 3 p.m. kick-off on Saturday. Rumor has it, an MLS scout will be on hand. This should be a good indication that an exciting match is brewing as Roy Hernandez looks to impress the evaluators and prolong Pirate SC’s unbeaten streak, while the Fuel are on a mission to make a name for themselves too and rise from the SPSL ashes.