Welcome to our continuing series of Meet the USASA features where we annually profile the clubs representing the United States Adult Soccer Association in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Advancing from the four regional tournaments, these often unknown clubs have great stories to tell and each year, our goal is to allow fans to get to know them as they attempt to become this year’s Cinderella story. Click here for more Meet the USASA stories.
Photo: Regals FC
The Lone Star State has become one of the dominant factions in the USASA. Since 2002, the state has had at least one representative qualify for the US Open Cup eight of the 10 tournaments for a total of 13 occurances. One more than any other state, including California’s dozen, over the same time frame.
Texas is also the only state to claim both berths from its respective region on five occasions since the tournament expanded to eight entries from the USASA. California accomplished the feat three times. With Regals FC and the ASC New Stars snaring the two Region III berths, the state grabbed both berths for the first time since its run of regional dominance from 2004-07 in which it captured all eight spots.
A handful of clubs have played a repeated roll as representatives from Texas, several of which have made a name for themselves with upsets versus professional clubs. One of those being Dallas Roma, which upset USL First Division (professional second division) Miami FC, 1-0, and edged MLS side Chivas USA in penalties after a scoreless draw in 2006.
That history has proven to be an inspiration, and Regals FC is a club born with the goal of being the next side to make a name for itself while representing Houston.
“Houston has one of the deepest talent pools in the country, so it does not surprise me to be facing the New Stars in the Final,” said Regals head coach Miguel Landaverde prior to the Region III championship versus fellow Houston side ASC New Stars.
“This team represents Houston. We are a team of the people, for the people,” said General Manager Stephen Heisler. “Texas in general, and Houston in particular, has a rich local talent pool. Aside from USASA’s Houston Football Association, there are 12 independently owned adult leagues in the metro area. Combine the level of play with a year-round competitive schedule, it’s no wonder why the area has been successful. The ASC New Stars are a fantastic team, the club has been around since 1973, so we are honored that we were able to play them four times in the last two years. We are not only the best teams in Houston, we are also the best two teams in Region III. That says a lot.”
It says even more about Regals FC, a club formed less than two years ago.
Photo: Regals FC
“We are a very young club, formed only 17 months ago, but we built this team for the US Open Cup,” said Landaverde. “We are very excited for the opportunity to showcase our players to professional teams.”
How the club came to be in its current form is kind of unique. The team was originally formed as an independent club team for players from the Kingwood and New Caney area in the northern part of the Houston metropolis. After a few games, one of the club’s players, Pedro Rodriguez, suggested the team get together with a group that played in one of the area’s Hispanic leagues.
That team turned out to be Agua Nacida. It was a club formed five years prior by Landaverde, who grew up playing in Mexico. In its first five years, Agua Nacida were incredibly successful, winning numerous events, including the 2009 Dynamo Alliance Cup.
In the early days of the club’s launch, it was slated to participate in the National Premier Soccer League, but as things failed to come together, the club took its future in its own hands. The club became part of a group that launched the Southern Premier Soccer League in 2010. The SPSL, featuring teams from Texas and Oklahoma, is kicking off its first full season of play this fall.
Regals is currently in the midst of the league’s precursor Summer Cup, which runs from the end of April to August. The side lost its opener prior to the Region III tournament, 3-0, to RGV Ocelots, a team that is now 4-0 on the season. Since finishing as runners-up in Tuscaloosa, Regals has rebounded in the SPSL Summer Cup with a 6-1 win versus Houston Hurricane FC June 4.
The team also recently played in the 2011 Verizon Copa Alianza, defeating ASC New Stars via penalties after a 1-1 draw in the Final, and the 2011 Houston Soccer Association Tournament, falling 5-0 on aggregate in the semifinals to La Escondida.
The Texas climate makes it one of the few places where outdoor soccer is a year-round sport, something Regals FC feels is a positive for the club.
“Man, we just don’t stop,” said Heisler. “The Southern Premier Soccer League is set to play its first full season in 2011-2012 with a schedule that stretches from late September to July 4th. We feel that our advantage is the fact that we are together all year long. While PDL and NPSL teams are constantly reloading for the short season, we keep chugging along.”
The proximity to Mexico is another positive for Regals and other clubs in the state, particularly for its roster.
Among the standout players on the side are Diego Ayala, who has spent time with the reserves for Monterrey – the reigning Mexico and CONCACAF club champions – and Jose Chavez, who has been with a number of Mexican clubs.
But Mexico is not the sole source of the talent. Robert Hernandez joined the team after spending time in the Chivas USA program and Jhoiner Quintana played in Spain.
“The player that I expect to see in an MLS uniform is goalkeeper Marcus Sanchez. He is fantastic and has no business playing on our team,” said Heisler. “Striker Roy Hernandez has been nursing a nagging injury, but he won the Southern Premier Soccer League’s golden boot and was on the Red Bulls radar earlier this year.”
Hernandez tallied twice in the club’s 4-2 group play victory against CASL, the defending Region III champions, in Alabama last month. The result created a three-way tie in the three-team group, leaving the two sides in a deadlock on tiebreakers as well and forcing a penalty kick shootout to determine the group winner. That is where Sanchez showed off his skills, stopping three of the four CASL attempts to send Regals through.
The penalty shootout victory moved Regals onto the Region III Final, where they fell 2-1 in overtime to their local rival. But more importantly, it propelled them to the First Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup where they have since learned they are facing the defending USL Pro champion Charleston Battery, who were tournament finalists just three years ago.
“This is our opportunity to show America what Houston soccer is all about, and this is my opportunity to show the Battery staff that I have what it takes to play professional soccer,” said Sanchez.
Hernandez added, “I feel very confident that we will do well. We are not traveling 18 hours to come back home without a win.”
The Battery’s league and tournament credentials of repeated success do not seem to intimidate Regals.
“We are not any more afraid of the Battery than we were of Puebla FC, FC Dallas or the New Orleans Jesters,” Landaverde said, referring to previous friendlies. “We feel that we can play with anybody. I have a lot of faith in this group and most importantly, they have a lot of faith in each other. Playing upper division teams is how we gauge our progress. This match is entirely different. This match has meaning.”