By Kim DeRaedt
Nothing stings like a defeat. Nothing reeks like being beaten by a rival. With that said, nothing stirs a team’s drive and wets its appetite like the chance for good old-fashioned revenge.
“Next time” is the traditional upbeat battle cry of so many troops wounded in action. Next time is what Corpus Christi Fuel vowed when it fell to Texas Lonestrikers 4-1 on Oct. 16, and the mantra Regals FC recited after Galveston Pirate SC knocked the squad off its feet in a 2-0 defeat on Dec. 4. Regals FC has waited patiently, and for the Fuel, it has indeed been forever, but next time will finally befall for both clubs this Saturday in Southern Premier Soccer League (SPSL) play.
Even though the phase is often used and abused, one almost has to believe that these two squads mean business, and in reality, next time will look nothing like the last time each of these matchups transpired.
Corpus Christi was edged by the Lonestrikers in Nacogdoches in what would be game two of an eight-game losing skid for the fledgling Fuel. That game was before the team’s parts came together, before its motor was up and running, and before it started winning. Like an unoccupied car rolling down a rural hill, the Fuel is rolling to victory and gaining speed, and there doesn’t appear to be anyone who will stop them. With the team’s college “boys of summer” back in the lineup, the Fuel flattened Galveston Pirate SC 2-1 in Galveston on Dec. 18 and bulldozed Club America by the same score in its next and previous match. Like the teased little sibling who has now grown bigger and stronger than his brothers, Fuel coach Patrick Esqueda and his men hope to get the last laugh at their former bullies this time around.
“We are a completely new team,” Esqueda said. “Other clubs won’t know what to expect specifically. All they will know is to expect a good team and a tough game, nothing like they saw just two months ago.”
Esqueda has had the privilege of realizing that when you are “good”, the game gets easier.
“We no longer have to go into each match trying to have an ‘X’ for each team’s ‘O’,” Esqueda said. “We can play our game instead of worrying about coping with an opponent’s game plan. Now it’s their turn to worry about us and try to thwart our momentum. It’s nice to be able to focus on ourselves for a change.”
It would sure seem like the gains go to the great unless you are a member of Regals FC or Galveston Pirate SC, that is. There is nothing easy and nothing pleasant about this weekend’s matchup between the league’s top talents. Nothing.
Regals FC strutted into Courville Stadium in early Dec. carrying a 32-4 goal differential amassed over its first five SPSL games. It sulked out of Courville Stadium with its tail between its legs, in disbelief over the 2-0 score line the team had fallen victim to.
Although Regals FC had a solid Pirate SC team effort to thank for its sorrows, the blitz was piloted by none other than captain and would-be league MVP contender Roy Hernandez. Hernandez tallied both goals in the first half of play to effectively burst Regals FC’s bubble.
However, now the shoe is on the other foot, and Galveston finds itself with the gum glued to the bottom of its boots in the midst of a sticky situation. It wouldn’t be fair to compare Hernandez to General Benedict Arnold; after all, freedom to choose one’s soccer club might as well be the 28th amendment. Nevertheless, the incongruences between last time and next time (Saturday’s match) are as clear as day, ratified no more than by Hernandez’s move to Regals FC.
Although Regals FC colonel and coach Miguel Landaverde welcomed Roy Hernandez and his brother Luis from enemy camp with open arms, Landaverde assures that the duo will only be added weapons to his already stocked arsenal.
“This will be probably the first time that I’ll have all of my guys available to play,” Landaverde said. “Everyone has been working very hard and has shown great commitment to training. Roy and Luis fit in well with the 100% effort mentality, but I couldn’t be happier with the group as a whole.”
Meanwhile, across the trenches, Pirate SC coach Brendan Keyes believes and his team has proven that the handful of players whom have fled or otherwise gone MIA from the Galveston gang are hardly missed in game action. Keyes took his remaining and willing brave men into battle against undefeated Tulsa Lobos FC two weeks ago and forced the Lobos to surrender into a 3-2 defeat and 3-3 draw. Keyes sees no problem with taking his new crew into combat.
“We have four injuries and my best defender is out, but I have no reason to believe that we won’t do well,” Keyes said. “We’ll go with what we have got. We’ve been surprising teams all year long. Tulsa was another great example. There’s no doubt Regals FC will be our toughest game, but hopefully we can surprise them too.”
Each battle in what is sure to be a long, storied war between these two sides will certainly be different, but that doesn’t mean the animosity will shift or subside anytime soon. At the heart of each encounter will be the voracious desire to win.
“We want to win this game just like the rest of them,” Keyes said. “My guys view each game as the biggest game, but the incentive is especially great this time. A win will put us at the top of the league and give us a nice cushion over Regals FC. That’s a good position. We want to be at the top and stay there, so it’s all or nothing come Saturday.”
Up North, the Houston hosts of this weekend’s skirmish plan to paint a different scene for Keyes and company this time around.
“Our guys have a renewed focus in the New Year and will definitely be more concentrated for this game,” Landaverde said. “The team is thriving off of the motivation that we are nobody and have the goal of proving that we are somebody. Pirate SC is our soccer enemy, and we want nothing more than to win against them.”
The enemy will invade Regals FC’s Houston home at Maya Park for a 3 p.m. kick-off on Saturday. Corpus Christi Fuel will also load up for its trek to Nacogdoches to battle the Lonestrikers at Hoya Field at 3 p.m. Each game promises to be, in Keyes’s words, “a cracker match for the fans”.