By Kim DeRaedt
Never mind the Arctic blast bearing down on South Texas. This weekend’s Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) clashes will thaw the frozen tundra and indeed more closely resemble the fiery lava that scalds one’s feet as he tiptoes across the scorching asphalt on a mid-summer afternoon. Who will find the hot boot and which team will erupt to victory, however, will only be revealed as the mercury rises in a pair of SPSL marquee matchups.
It’s a task too tall for the National Weather Center itself. Trying to judge which team will be hot and which will be cold is something beyond scientific capabilities. Just take the two previous battles between Regals FC and Corpus Christi Fuel as a prime example. On Oct. 24, Regals FC celebrated its home opener with an 11-1 thrashing of Corpus Christi Fuel. A mere month later, though, Regals FC sprinted away from Corpus Christi’s turf thankful to have escaped with a 3-2 nail-biting victory that was never secure until the final whistle sounded.
When lightning strikes and thunder rolls for the third time, these two teams will likely stir up a storm for the ages as they collide at Fairgrounds Field in Robstown, TX on Saturday. Regals FC coach Miguel Landaverde doesn’t plan on letting anything disrupt his club’s homeostasis; that is, the tendency of his team to remain fixed on victory.
“I have no reason to believe that we can’t win,” Landaverde said. “We’ve beaten them twice before. Sure they gave us a run for our money the second time, more so than I would’ve wanted, but we’re undoubtedly the stronger team. We have new players stepping in and old players stepping up.”
A player that fits both the new and old mold is one of the SPSL’s all-star performers, Roy Hernandez. Hernandez participated with Regals FC last winter, and he and his brother Luis will once again suit up in the black and white stripes. The duo will contribute significantly as Regals FC prepares for competition beyond the league and looks forward to a deep run in the US Open Cup.
Meanwhile, Fuel coach Patrick Esqueda hopes to rain on Regals FC’s parade in much the same way that his club did in its last game when it upset Galveston Pirate SC in Galveston to hand the mighty Pirate SC squad its first loss of the season.
“We’re flying high physically and mentally,” Esqueda said. “Skills wise, we’ve proven that we can compete with anybody on any given day. To get our first win under our belts, especially against a team like Galveston, gives us a much needed confidence boost now too. No longer can teams overlook us.”
There’s no question that Corpus Christi can hang with the best in the league. While the Fuel will be fighting on its home pitch, two of the SPSL’s top units will be hanging out over 200 miles away in Galveston as Pirate SC lines up against Tulsa Lobos FC.
The first and only time these sides met, neither would surrender nor would one side even budge for that matter. The lone thing that did give way, however, was defense as each team’s normally impenetrable backline conceded four goals that resulted in a 4-4 deadlock after multiple lead changes.
The match left both squads with a sour taste and a bitter heart, although the effects likely lingered longer at the Pirate SC camp. Galveston coach Brendan Keyes felt that his side was robbed of its much deserved three points by a dreadful last-minute penalty that went against his crew.
This time, with the game on Galveston’s ground, Keyes foresees that his team might just have the final say.
“We tied them in Tulsa, with one substitute, and after 10 hours on the road,” Keyes said. “We will have a much stronger team against them this time, and I like our chances at home. It’ll be tough, but two victories will put us back at the top of the league.”
Tough may be an understatement for a Pirate SC bunch that went through a roster transformation over the holiday hiatus. Nevertheless, some things remained intact and some crucial variables at that.
“We lost several players, but we gained new guys who have showed well in training so far,” Keyes said. “Our backline is still in place, and Eloy Aguirre will return in goal. We’ve never lost with him as our keeper. At the same time, nobody is bigger than the team, and I expect two very close games. It’s about belief.”
The battle promises to be so good that the SPSL brings double-header action. Galveston will first host Tulsa at Weis Middle School at 4 p.m. on Saturday before shuffling over to Courville Stadium to contend against the Lobos at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Regals FC and Corpus Christi Fuel’s match at Fairgrounds Field in Robstown is slated to kick-off at 3 p.m. on Saturday.