Royals Get Redemption Over Tulsa SC in Rematch of 2019 Conference Championship That Finally Went Royal's Way
Published Jul 20, 2021
Photo Credits:  AHFC Royals Media

Saturday featured a matchup between Northern and Southern Division winners within the Red River Conference to determined who would be crowned conference champions. Northern Division winners, Tulsa Soccer Club, traveled to Houston to face the undefeated AHFC Royals on their home turf.

A similar scenario occurred when both teams met for the conference championship during the 2019 season. Tulsa SC hosted then and won the title over the Royals, however, Royals revised the script for this season, winning 1-0 to become Red River Champions.

While the Royals have put together a strong team since joining the league in 2018, holding a 12-3-3 record in their first two seasons and finishing second in both regular seasons while outscoring opponents 49-20, there was a shift in the Royals success this year linking back to a change in 2020.

After falling short in 2018 and 2019, Royals brought in a new head coach Dan Hill, though the word new could be misleading as Hill had been with the AHFC organization for over two decades before taking on this new role with the WPSL squad.

Hill has directed the Royals’ youth girls academy program since 2003 and has since sent over 100 players to the collegiate level within this youth system which has won seven state titles. When Royals general manager Mark Collins approached Hill for the added role Hill’s only request was to pick his own players.

With the canceled 2020 season, this was Hill’s first opportunity to coach the WPSL squad on the field and has built a roster featuring all but three players who are alumnae from the AHFC youth season. Under new leadership and a foundation of youth product, the Royals blew away past season performances and the rest of the Red River Southern Division.

The league high 41 goals scored this season was more than their first two seasons and just eight shy of their overall record. Hill’s side finished undefeated, winning all eight regular season matches with multi-goal margins.

After starting the season with a 5-0 victory over LoneStar SC, the Royals followed up with lopsided score lines including 11-0, 6-0, and 9-1. That one goal conceded in their 9-1 victory over the San Antonio Blossoms was the only goal the Royals allowed all season.

The Royals Red River Conference Championship victory was their most difficult of the season. With the fall NCAA collegiate soccer season approaching, the Royals were down eight players from their usual roster. To fill the void, Hill went back to what he knew best – the AHFC youth system.

Hill incorporated defenders Leah Klenke and Margo Matula, midfielder Kenna Sanders, and forward Penelope Montenegro.  All four are still high schoolers who have committed to top collegiate programs including the University of Notre Dame (Klenke), Texas A&M University (Matula), and Rice University (Sanders).

Adding another wrinkle to Saturday’s conference championship was the Royals long layover as the Houston side finished their regular season schedule three weeks before on June 27 in a 2-0 victory over San Antonio Blossoms.

On top of the absence of key players and legs stagnant away from on-field competition, the Royals learned they’d have to face the best team in the Northern Division, the one who’s stood in their way before, to claim the conference title – Tulsa SC.

To the Royals advantage, Tulsa also felt the hit of losing players, as many teams experience near the end of the season.

The first 10 minutes of the match had Tulsa as the aggressor. The reigning conference champions moved quickly after obtaining possession, using a counterattacking style of play that the Royals had prepared for.

In past matches, the Royals bombarded opponents with offensive pressure with their players in the offensive third of the field often rotating to break through defenses. Hill warned his team prior to the championship match about the Tulsa counter and to avoid getting caught out of position.

Hill’s side heeded the counterattack warning and absorbed what Tulsa brought to the field and halfway through the first 45’, they turned it into long bouts of possession of their own. The two sides would head into halftime with no breakthroughs and would remain scoreless for much of the remaining second half.

After 80 minutes of soccer that was open for both teams, and after multiple stops by the last defender for the Royals and booming attacks by Tulsa, the match came down to one foul.

In the 82’, the Royals intercepted a cleared corner kick, and went on the attack with fullback Lauren Geczik running through the left side of the penalty area. As Geczik approached the end line, Tulsa defender Georgia Vernardakis tripped her which resulted in a late match penalty awarded to the Royals.

Texas A&M forward and 2020 SEC Rookie of the Year Barbara Olivieri buried the shot into the top left-hand corner for her sixth, and biggest, goal of the 2021 WPSL season and securing the Royals the Red River Conference Championship.



  Author:  Thomas Costello, @1thomascostello (Twitter)
  WPSL Contributor - Central Region