By Kim DeRaedt
It’s not a wise idea to leave the boss displeased, so when co-owner Michelle Esqueda requested a Fuel victory as her birthday wish, the players wisely delivered. Corpus Christi skirted past Club America Academy 2-1 for its second-straight win in Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) play.
Hardly a cakewalk, Club America crashed Corpus Christi’s party before the Fuel could even hang all the streamers and tie the balloons. In just the 15th minute of play, a defensive miscue by the home side threatened to washout the Fuel’s festivities as Club America pounced on a poor back pass to race to a 1-0 lead.
A mere 10 minutes later, the cheers of the crowd were once again suspended, although this time the silence was soon filled by the wail of an ambulance as it pulled onto Fairgrounds Field to transport the Fuel’s John Uros, who suffered a broken collarbone, to a nearby hospital.
The tight-knit Corpus Christi crew were understandably shaken and concerned about their fellow teammate’s well-being.
“The guys were demoralized,” Fuel coach Patrick Esqueda said. “It’s hard to witness something like that.”
Indeed an early deficit and serious injury felt more like a pie in the face to the Fuel than the ice cream to compliment the team’s cake that was its previous and first victory over Galveston Pirate SC.
Nevertheless, Corpus Christi proved that it had more bounce than an inflatable castle as it surrounded Club America’s fortress and bombarded its opponents with four-straight corner kicks. On the final attempt, Andrew Perez snapped a header that cracked the goal line to even the score at 1-1 with halftime on the horizon.
“Our guys had to fight back mentally,” Esqueda said. “It was a lot of work and required a lot of strength to recover. Most teams would have lain down, but we were able to get over it.”
Corpus Christi got over it and got more physical too. The Fuel came out with more force in the second half of play and shelled Club America with incessant pressure. Like a piñata that will inevitably succumb to the whacks, Corpus Christi kept hitting the visitor’s defense with one attack after another but could not capitalize until Andrew Carassco busted into the Club America box and was blatantly thumped by an aggressive fullback. Carassco stepped up to the plate himself and delivered the final blow by converting the penalty kick opportunity to put the Fuel up 2-1 in the 80th minute.
In sort of a delayed reaction, Corpus Christi had to sweat out the last ten minutes of play before the whistle sounded and the candy spilled from the piñata in the form of three critical points to push the Fuel up the standings. Esqueda admits Club America Academy was one tough cookie.
“They played up to true Club America standards,” Esqueda said. “Their technical game, their passing and vision, was very impressive. They just couldn’t put the final pieces together and get the shots off.”
Meanwhile, the Fuel was able to add the finishing touches to its birthday bash and send the crowd away with a gift of its own, the squad’s first home victory of the season. Esqueda assured that unlike a birthday, the Fuel’s winning ways will not be an annual occasion or something to dread as the victories pile up over time.
“I knew this was going to happen once we got our guys back,” Esqueda said. “It was only a matter of time. Now my expectations will only get higher. Teams are going to have to play to us this time around.”
Corpus Christi will next march to Nacogdoches this Saturday to demand respect from the Texas Lonestrikers whom edged the Fuel 2-1 over three months ago. The re-match kicks off at 3 p.m. at Expo Sports Complex as Corpus Christi looks to clinch its third-straight victory “and many more…”