By Kim DeRaedt
Saturday’s Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) action pitted two undefeated teams each against an otherwise dismal opponent. Saturday’s play also displayed the beauty of soccer, the unpredictability of sports and the exhilaration of an upset.
It was almost a month ago to the day that Corpus Christi Fuel nearly pulled off the “Miracle on Grass” of the SPSL before falling 3-2 to Regals FC. Thanks to second chances, the Fuel wasn’t about to let the opportunity slip through its grasp when the team clicked into upset mode once again. It is safe to say that Corpus Christi likely surprised itself when the crew defeated Galveston Pirate SC 2-1.
The Fuel entered the day’s match with a league-worst 0-8-0 record, having conceded 36 goals while salvaging only six of its own. The club had to endure the road trip to Galveston and the tough atmosphere of a supporter-laden Pirate SC Courville Stadium. Pirate SC was undefeated and captained by the league’s leading goal scorer in Roy Hernandez, whom just so happened to be searching for his most supreme performance with New York Red Bulls scouts on hand. In other words, the odds were stacked against Corpus Christi in more ways than one, but like true underdogs, the team stared its shortcomings in the eye and triumphed over each and every obstacle to make its victory all the more sweet.
The visitors set sail for Galveston with the welcomed return of several familiar faces from its summer squad that tied Pirate SC in both teams’ infancy, and the Fuel wasted no time in reminding the home side just how dangerous a united, complete Corpus Christi bunch can be. Sean Mohler put the team in front in the 10th minute, before most fans and foes realized what hit them. Both clubs found themselves in an unfamiliar experience, the Fuel with a strange sensation of confidence. As goalkeeper Patrick Kasperitis would explain, his team was “buzzing”.
“We scored early off a quick counter,” Kasperitis said. “Prior to that, we never had a lot of confidence at any point during the season, but now we were brimming with it. We thought we could go on and score two or three more goals from there.”
Suddenly the attention shifted to the Fuel for once, and Pirate SC was forced to make an early tactical change and pull up a second striker. However, instead of Galveston scoring from its offensive shift, it was Corpus Christi that delivered a lethal blow to Pirate SC’s hopes when Andrew Beltran tallied from an Andrew Carasco assist just before the half.
Intermission would do little to reverse Galveston’s fate. The hometown gang gave its supporters something to celebrate in the 75th minute when the team rescued a goal back, but cheer quickly turned to despair as injury forced Pirate SC to play with 10 men having already used all of its substitutions.
Nevertheless, the true damage had already been done. Corpus Christi had notched its first victory, Galveston its first loss. Kasperitis assures that the secret to the Fuel’s success is hardly peculiar in itself.
“We were organized defensively and the back four were brilliant,” Kasperitis said. “Most of all, everyone worked their socks off for 90 minutes and brought home the result.”
Fuel coach Patrick Esqueda couldn’t help but say what his humble goalkeeper would not.
“Patrick (Kasperitis) produced a stellar performance,” Esqueda said. “He played a huge part in today’s victory.”
Another factor that contributed significantly to the Fuel’s success was team chemistry. Not surprisingly, team chemistry is also the ingredient that will make Corpus Christi even more formidable in its coming matches.
“We have a lot of new players available, which brings a great sense of confidence to the club,” Kasperitis said. “As our team chemistry continues to build, we will expect better and better results. For now, this game gives us a base to build from. The first win is always the hardest, but we hope to string together 5 or 6 wins from here.”
Sure it’s just three points for the Fuel, which has dug itself a grave hole in the standings, but at the same time, it’s not simply any old victory.
“Our win was encouraging for the SPSL,” Kasperitis said. “When the league has parity and there is no longer that schism between the teams that are good and those that aren’t fulfilling their potential, it brings the game to a much higher level.”
Indeed, it was an uplifting day for the SPSL all around. While Corpus Christi was crafting history in Galveston, Texas Lonestrikers fell 20 minutes shy of writing a Cinderella story of their own before suffering a 1-0 defeat. In a similar boat, the Lonestrikers sported an inferior 1-4-0 record and welcomed an undefeated Tulsa Lobos FC team to its home turf in Nacogdoches.
Also awaiting the Lobos was an outstanding crowd of nearly 300 energetic supporters. Any in attendance whom were unfamiliar with the two teams’ records would’ve had a difficult time discerning the top dog from the underdog.
Although Tulsa general manager Nelson Puerta’s team came out on top, he was the first to admit that his squad got a little more than it bargained for when it faced a fifth-place opponent.
“It was a tough match between two high-caliber teams,” Puerta said. “Lonestrikers were much more aggressive than we anticipated. They did an excellent job of getting a player on the ball right away and penetrating as well.”
For most of the match, the opposing sides battled to a 0-0 deadlock until Bryant Scrapper broke through to put Tulsa in the lead in the 70th minute, much to the relief of Puerta.
“It was at the point that whichever team scored was going to win,” Puerta said. “Fortunately, we had had more chances. We were constantly shooting, and eventually we were able to capitalize on an opportunity.”
Scapper’s goal stood as the sole tally of the match and was enough to secure Tulsa a much-needed three points to stay in stride for the title chase. Although the Lonestrikers left with no points for their effort, they received the highest respect from Puerta.
“The Lonestrikers were a very good team,” Puerta said. “I was very impressed. Their goalkeeper, Gerardo Romero, made some magnificent saves to keep them in the game. They were the toughest team we’ve faced so far.”
And the test isn’t over for Tulsa as the two teams will square off against each other just 24 hours later. Kick-off on Sunday will be at the same time, 3 p.m., and Puerta expects it to be much of the same game as well.
“Tomorrow will be just as hard,” Puerta said. “The Lonestrikers have proven that they are becoming a strong team and are only getting stronger. The fans are realizing this too, and hopefully they will keep coming back. It’s great for the league, and tomorrow will be another showcase of the high-level of soccer that the SPSL has to offer.”