By Kim DeRaedt
Tulsa Lobos FC cast its anchor in Galveston having arrived with the riches and loot envied by most of the Southern Premier Soccer League’s (SPSL) clubs. Like typical bandits, Pirate SC seized the opportunity to snatch some plunder and showed piddling pity to its enemy as the team defeated the Lobos 3-2 and drew 3-3 in Saturday and Sunday’s action respectively.
Tulsa made the southern trek as the league’s royalty, sitting atop the standings with a coveted 6-0-1 record. Only Regals FC and Galveston Pirate SC were within striking distance, and no team had been able to rock the boat on Tulsa’s nearly perfect cruise through the SPSL’s inaugural season. In fact, Pirate SC had been the only team able to cause a minor disturbance having drawn 4-4 with the league leaders a month before. The forecast looked good for the Oklahoma crew despite the sloppy weekend downpour that saturated Texas’s chilly coastal city.
Galveston was akin to a deserted island; Pirate SC resembled an abandoned ship. The holidays had hardly brought cheer to the club’s composition. Pirate SC lost several key players at the turn of the year and was forced to start nearly from scratch, to rewrite the legacy the team had spent six months manufacturing.
And the industrious players didn’t skip a beat. After all, New Years are designed for new beginnings. Maybe Tulsa should’ve realized that the gloomy skies foreshadowed a dim outcome as the side kicked-off against Galveston on Saturday afternoon. Even so, it is safe to say that few SPSL followers could have predicted such a strong performance from a hodgepodge Pirate SC party.
Galveston coach Brendan Keyes would remind these skeptics that team chemistry is rooted deep in an organization, and when former standout players move on, dedicated team members move in to fill their shoes and maintain the flow of a winning franchise.
“Nobody is bigger than the team,” Keyes said. “We might not be the same Pirate SC team that everyone is familiar with, but that doesn’t mean we lack quality players and performances. Sure we weren’t dealt with the most ideal situation, but you just can’t beat team chemistry. Our guys stuck together and played together, and the outcome reflected that.”
Nevertheless, the power of team chemistry wasn’t immediately apparent as Tulsa sprinted to an early lead. Instead of indulging in self-pity, Pirate SC put forth a tenacious effort and drew even with Lobos FC shortly before the half on Jachin Whittington’s header.
Galveston was on a mission, a quest to climb the SPSL table, and it wasn’t about to descend the mountain after exerting so much energy in the opening 45 minutes. Rather, the home crew set right back to work and drove its hook into the crag just minutes into the second half. This time Jorge Vela netted for Pirate SC off a header of his own that sailed past Lobos FC goalkeeper Hector Zapata.
Still, Tulsa has been king of the SPSL hill for a reason, and the team soon responded with an equalizer. It appeared as if the rivals would once again end in a stalemate; that is, until Justin Santibanez stepped up for Pirate SC and redeemed himself for the time he spent away from the group as a member of Club America Academy. Like a ticking time bomb, only a few crucial seconds remained on the clock when Santibanez tucked a shot into the corner from eight yards out to capture an exhilarating 3-2 victory for Galveston.
Keyes couldn’t overstate the importance of securing three points from a tough Tulsa team.
“The league is so tight right now,” Keyes said. “It’s a three-horse race that could easily come down to a single point or the last game. To win the first game this weekend is huge. It shows that we played strongly and gives us the confidence to come out even stronger tomorrow.”
Indeed, momentum has always had its role in sports, and it looked to be the very factor that would propel Pirate SC to a repeat three-point performance on Sunday. A slight rain delay would do nothing to postpone Galveston’s offensive feats as the team picked up where it left off and scored a mere six minutes into the encore matchup.
As had been the pattern all weekend, Tulsa tallied in the 36th minute to draw the game level at 1-1, but the excitement kept on coming. Pirate SC could very well preach the value of playing to the whistle, especially after Jonathan Yanez’s 22-yard free kick bent past Zapata in added time to give Galveston a 2-1 halftime edge.
Midway through the second half, it seemed as if the victory was all but in the bag for the hometown gang when Santibanez broke away in the 69th minute and slotted his 1v1 opportunity into the bottom corner to put his team ahead 3-1.
With a stake as high as the first-place nod in the SPSL, however, Lobos FC wasn’t about to weep a trail of tears all the way back to Tulsa. The squad jumped on a vulnerable Pirate SC side still on Cloud Nine from its previous strike to snatch a goal of its own and tighten the score line at 3-2.
Galveston still clang to its narrow lead. Perhaps it was karma, déjà vu or a harsh reminder to practice what one preaches, but Pirate SC was once more dealt a demoralizing blow when the referee pointed to the spot in stoppage time. Tulsa had pulled level with Galveston in the teams’ first-ever meeting on a last-second penalty kick, and Pirate SC’s haunting memories were relived when Lobos FC converted from 12 yards yet again.
Nonetheless, Keyes explained that the referee’s dubious call should’ve been a non-factor.
“We had every chance to put the game away and make it 4-2 or 5-2,” Keyes said. “We didn’t do it, and I have to give credit to Tulsa. They are a great team, a class-act. Although the match felt like a loss, we have to take away the positives. We’ve collected five points against Tulsa, and they’ve salvaged two. We’re still in a good position looking at the complete league picture.”
And so the SPSL is cast back into a familiar setting with intense rivalries, controversial finishes, and no emergent champion. The league must wait until next weekend for a new saga to surface and more surprises to shape up. Club America will travel to Corpus Christi on Saturday, while Tulsa will be back in action to host Texas Lonestrikers in a doubleheader duel.