Match Ratings: Energy earn second straight home draw

OKLAHOMA CITY- Oklahoma City Energy FC kicked off their four game home stand with a bang.

Though the game ended in a 1-1 draw, the Energy and Rio Grande Valley FC battled for nearly 100 minutes, with the game swinging in the balance until the last kick of the ball.

Energy substitute Frank Lopez cancelled out DeShane Beckford’s first half goal with just two minutes remaining before stoppage time. Lopez rocketed a volley off the bottom of the crossbar and in the back of the net, finally drawing Oklahoma City level after a plethora of chances failed to yield a goal.

The draw keeps Oklahoma City at the top of the Group D standings for now, but the Energy still have work to do if they hope to mount a playoff push. 

Finding success attacking down the right flank, the Energy still get caught in predictable patterns of play which when broken up, leave the team susceptible to dangerous counter-attacks. 

At the back, individuals still seem to switch off at critical points, letting in goals off the back of crucial individual errors.

The Energy will have some time off to improve, not taking the pitch again until they host New Mexico FC on Aug. 1. 

Match ratings from the draw with Rio Grande Valley:

C.J. Cochran (GK)- 6

Cochran has started every game this season and played well. His form has kept fellow goalkeeper Cody Laurendi on the bench, and this outing gave head coach John Pascarella no reason to change things up. 

Getting a hand on the Toros only goal, Cochran came up with a pair of good saves to keep the deficit to just a single goal in the first half. 

Zach Ellis-Hayden (D)- 7

The right side of the field continues to be Oklahoma City’s brightest spot, and Ellis-Hayden is a big reason for that.

Yet again, the Canadian has been dynamic when he is able to get forward, spraying in cross after cross into dangerous areas in the box.

While unable to contribute to a goal in the first half, he was also a catalyst in Oklahoma City peppering the Rio Grande Valley goal to close the half. 

Atiba Harris (D)- 5

The duality of Harris is quite the ride. 

Delivering peaks and valleys all season long, Harris yet again was in the middle of action at both ends of the pitch. 

In the first half, he was a source of anxiety for Energy fans. He was nutmegged in the leadup to Beckford’s goal, as well as giving the ball away again a few moments later, opening Oklahoma City up to danger.

Yet, after halftime he was a steadying force at the back. And when the time came, he delivered.

Flicking the ball on with his head, he re-routed Ellis-Hayden’s throw into Lopez’s path for Oklahoma City’s equalizer. 

Nico Taravel (D)- 5

Despite dealing with the Toros counter-attacking threat, the Energy back line often looked disorganized and made things more difficult for themselves.

Taravel, alongside Harris, got caught ball watching and flat footed on a few occasions. Oklahoma City’s pair of center halves must find consistency from whistle to whistle to keep a clean sheet, a feat they haven’t achieved yet this season.

Kyle Hyland (D)- 6

Hyland has consistently been the most difficult player to evaluate over the course of this season.

Ellis-Hayden’s exploits down the right open up an obvious channel for opponents to try to exploit. 

The offshoot? Hyland hasn’t really had a ton to do. 

Tonight, he handled business when called upon and was able to find spaces a bit further forward. He still appears to be working out when he should get forward and attack (a role he has been prolific in for Oklahoma City) and when he should stay tucked in to cover for his defensive  colleague on the other end of the pitch. 

Brad Dunwell (M)- 5

Apart from a few bright moments, Dunwell was mostly anonymous in his 45 minutes of action. 

Dunwell almost was able to cover for Harris’s mistake on the first goal, but was unable to clear Oklahoma City’s lines before Beckford’s classy finish. 

At the other end, he was able to link up with teammate Arun Basuljevic in the box on one occasion, but otherwise Dunwell failed to make an imprint on the game.

Charlie Ward came on to replace Dunwell at halftime. 

Rafa Garcia (M)- 8

After Cordell Cato left with an injury, Garcia’s defensive cover allowed Ellis-Hayden to continue to venture into the attack. 

Garcia seemed to get it right every time when deciding when to offer defensive cover as opposed to pressing forward himself. 

Delivering dangerous balls all evening on set pieces, Garcia was unlucky to score himself in stoppage time. 

Afterward, he secured the draw from Oklahoma City from his backside, clearing an open Toros shot from the ground. 

Cordell Cato (M)- 6

Cato looked to build on his last outing early on until an injury forced his withdrawal. 

He is forming a great understanding with Ellis-Hayden and is able to provide balance to the side.

Arun Basuljevic (M)- 6

It feels like big things are coming from Basuljevic when he gets on the same page as the rest of his teammates. 

Working tirelessly, he seems to be a step out of sync with the rest of the team, lacking precision on his last pass.

Even if he hasn’t produced up to his standard going forward, Basuljevic has no problem working back deep into the midfield to help transition the ball from the defense.

Kodai Iida (M)- 7

Finally getting a run out in a more natural position, Iida seemed to be everywhere in the first half. 

Exploding forward like a shot out of a cannon anytime he received the ball at his feet, Iida asked questions of the Toros defense with his direct runs. 

Jaime Chavez (F)- 5

Chavez was unable to extend his goal streak to three games against Rio Grande Valley.

He was unable to get on the end of most balls sent his way, though it wasn’t necessarily his fault. For large stretches of the game, Chavez struggled due to a general lack of service at the point of attack.

He did almost level the game right before halftime however, careening a header off the crossbar. 

Jose Hernandez (M)- 8

Coming on in relief of the injured Cato, Hernandez was Oklahoma City’s most dangerous player. 

Hernandez has the skill in tight spaces to excel at Taft Stadium, almost pulling a goal from nothing on a few occasions.

His best chance came in first half stoppage time when beautiful link-up play led to an open shot near the top of the six yard box, which he fired right into the goalkeeper’s path. 

Charlie Ward (M)- 6

Ward had a bit more success than Dunwell playing alongside Garcia in the midfield. 

Valued for his ability to pick out passes, Ward was calm on the ball and guided the defense out of trouble once they won back possession. 

Ward has impressed every outing, and it would be no shock to see him paired with Garcia in the Oklahoma City midfield going forward.

Frank Lopez (F)- 7

When Oklahoma City needed a goal, the Cuban delivered.

Still working his way back from injury, Lopez put in another great shift for the Energy off the bench. 

Lopez’s speed often stretches defenses thin, but it was his volley in traffic that earned him the plaudits tonight. 

Not Rated: Jon Brown and Christian Ibeagha

All Three Points: Energy capture first win of the season

AUSTIN- Tucked away into turn 15, it was a relatively quiet night by the standards of the Circuit of the Americas. 

The Texas racetrack, known worldwide for hosting Formula 1 races, took center stage instead for the USL. 

Oklahoma City Energy head coach John Pascarella walked the pitch after the match, stating the locker room was too loud to host his post-game Zoom teleconference with the media. 

Just moments prior, the Energy had finished off Austin Bold FC 3-1 to notch their first win of the season in their first game away from Taft Stadium. 

“I’m excited about it, needless to say. I was 0-1 for probably the longest length of time of any coach of any sport in the world,” Pascarella said. 

“But it was nice to get that first point at home and that first win here on the road.”

A massive first week back saw Oklahoma City win four of possible six points, sitting the Energy at the top of the Group D standings for the first time since the season restart.

Three takeaways from the Energy victory:

Depth allows OKC flexibility in their system

Pascarella made five changes from the starting lineup against FC Tulsa, setting his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation instead of the 5-3-2 he deployed Monday night.

The squad rotation was a goal of the coaching staff coming off the long break, Pascarella said.

“I kind of had a preconceived idea of trying to get the entire team on the field in the first couple of games,” he said. “Because the games were fairly close together we’d have to rotate, especially in the middle of the park.”

The fresh legs paid dividends, as Pascarella pointed out Cordell Cato and Jose Hernandez as key performers in the victory.

Cordell Cato linked up well with defender Zach Ellis-Hayden all night to provide fits down Oklahoma City’s right flank. Photo courtesy of Energy FC.

“Cordell [Cato] played incredibly well and smart,” Pascarella said.”

“He made very good decisions on when to go forward and when to stay deep to help and defend. When to slow the game down, when to speed the game up.”

He also praised Hernandez’s movement all night. Hernandez’s ability to run in behind the Austin defense freed up plenty of space for his teammates to operate in the middle of the park, Pascarella said.

Jon Brown also changed the complexion of the game for Oklahoma City, pegging the Energy’s first goal of the evening. 

“The finish was quality,” Pascarella said.  

“A lot of people, because they haven’t seen the training that’s gone on the last few weeks and we’re in this so-called bubble don’t realize how well he’s done.”
After missing out on the derby against Tulsa due to injury, Brown was a welcome addition to the team as he’s been one of the most consistent performers in training, Pascarella said.

“He’s been quite unbelievable and prolific in the small sided games and the finishing stuff we’ve done in and around goal,” he said.

The squad depth will allow Oklahoma City to play either system depending on who is available and what the opponent asks of the Energy.

Short week actually an advantage for OKC?

Though the Energy had to deal with playing a second game in under five days, the Bold had their own struggles in their first game since the restart. 

Late in the game down a goal, Austin struggled to mount any real attack to pull the game level, perhaps at a disadvantage since Oklahoma City already had a competitive match under their belt.

Jose Hernandez scored the third and final goal for the Energy, killing off the game and capping off a great night for the Oklahoma City midfielder. Photo courtesy of Energy FC.

“I think we felt quite rusty last week when we played,” Pascarella said. “[Austin] had to deal with that tonight and we didn’t anymore.”

“Probably harder for them to do tonight with it being their first game.”

No problem in first game with no fans

The Energy allowed a reduced number of fans to attend their first game against Tulsa, but Austin would make no such concessions.

The Bold will play all home matches in July behind closed doors, which marked the first time Oklahoma City played a USL game closed to the public. 

Jumping on the Bold from the opening whistle, the Energy seemed unphased by the different gameday atmosphere. 

“There’s no fans and I think we’re all kind of getting used to that, but to be fair, we all grew up playing the game that way,” Pascarella said.

“We all had moments whether it was in our careers or whether it was in college or wherever it was when there wasn’t anyone there and nobody really gave a crap but you.”

Pascarella said his team is taking pride in the process, just focusing on variables they can control.

“They like each other, they like the football that we’re playing, and they like cool stadiums,” he said. 

“If they don’t have fans, bummer, they’ll be here next year. But for now, we’re enjoying all of this.”

“That’s where our players are coming from right now. They give a crap,” Pascarella said.

The Energy now return home to kick off a four game home stand.

Oklahoma City will next host the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, another member of Group D.

Pascarella and company will look to keep the good form rolling at 7 p.m. next Wednesday. Fans who are unable to attend the game at Taft Stadium will be able to stream the match on ESPN+.

Energy beat Austin across the finish line: Match Ratings from OKC’s first win

AUSTIN- Finally off the line, the Oklahoma City Energy notched their first win of the season.

Hitting the road, the Energy defeated Group D opponents Austin Bold 3-1 to go top of the group.

Jon Brown, Jaime Chavez and Jose Hernandez all found the back of the net, capping off a great group effort just four days after resuming the 2020 season.

C.J. Cochran (GK)- 7

Given the nod over Cody Laurendi again, Cochran is cementing himself as the number one in goal for Oklahoma City.

A strong force organizing at the back yet again, Cochran also came up huge for the Energy in the second half. 

Leading by just a goal, a mishit clearance found a Bold attacker right outside the 18 yard box. Cochran left his line to cut down the angle, parrying the shot wide to maintain the Energy lead.

Kyle Hyland (D)- 6

With Ellis-Hayden bombing forward down the right flank, Hyland has had to adjust to a more defensive role than he has played over the past couple of seasons.

Tonight, he had a quiet night.

He was relatively untested with Austin focusing their attacks through the middle and trying to slide behind the hole Ellis-Hayden left. 

In the times he was called upon, Hyland was his sturdy self, contributing to the good night for Oklahoma City.

Nico Taravel (D)- 6

In their second match in five days, the Energy center backs looked a little rusty at times. Both Taravel and Atiba Harris were caught ball watching on a few occasions, the most crucial of which leading to Austin’s only goal. 

Taravel was replaced by Christian Ibeagha to help seal the victory late in the match.

Atiba Harris (D)- 5

Harris also had a few mistakes which could have proved costly to his team.

Picking up a caution just 10 minutes in, Harris gave away a free kick on the edge of the box putting his team in danger. 

In the second half, he also got turned around by Bold forward Billy Forbes leaving the team exposed. 

Harris did make a crucial goal line clearance in the first half, cheating the ball off the line to deny Austin. 

Zach Ellis-Hayden (D)- 8

In every game this season, Ellis-Hayden has been dynamic for Oklahoma City attacking down the right flank.

Tonight was no exception. 

From the opening whistle, the Energy defender was a handful for Austin to deal with. 

Constantly the focal point of the Oklahoma City counter attack, Ellis-Hayden won his team a penalty an hour into the match, which would be converted to give Oklahoma City the lead.

Dealing with his attacking duties, he also was able to track back in and assist with the threat Bold forward Billy Forbes posed to the Energy. 

Ellis-Hayden has arguably been Oklahoma City’s most consistent player this season, and will be a key to any playoff run the Energy can mount. 

Ray Saari (M)- 6

Saari had a quiet night but was effective. He did a good job transitioning the ball forward into the attack when the defense cleared their lines. Though he was given more license to push up the pitch than the midfielders were last time out, Saari held in behind the attack well and ensured Austin couldn’t get out on the break. 

Charlie Ward (M)- 7

Ward was excellent recycling possession all night for the Energy.
If Oklahoma City wasn’t pushing to get behind the Bold on the break, Ward was likely on the ball picking out passes to push his team up the pitch. 

Essential for the balance of the team, Ward was content to sit alongside Saari behind the attack and dispose of any threat Austin tried to mount.

The midfield maestro linked up well with almost every member of the team, spraying passes side to side to exploit every inch of space on the pitch.

Jose Hernandez (M)- 8

It took until second half stoppage time, but Hernandez finally scored a well deserved goal to cap off his performance. 

Pulling the strings in the midfield all night, Hernandez was excellent finding the spaces in the Bold midfield and dribbling through danger. 

Instrumental in many attacks, Hernandez always seemed to play the perfect ball to put one of his teammates in on goal.

Jon Brown (M)- 7

Brown marked his return to the lineup by netting the Energy’s first goal of the evening. 

When Chavez’s header found Brown in stride, he kicked it into another gear and surged past the Austin defense. Brown did well to settle the ball and tuck his shot into the back post, a dream return for Oklahoma City. 

Cordell Cato (M)- 7

Cato had a deceptively difficult job against Austin. 

Primarily an attacker, Cato’s first instincts drive him forward. But, with Ellis-Hayden attacking down the touchline, Cato had to be wary of covering in behind Ellis-Hayden at times.

He played his role to perfection, making great decisions on when to attack with his teammate and when to ease off and let Ellis-Hayden make the surging runs behind.

Cato also was excellent pressing the Austin back line. Winning the ball at least twice just outside the opposing penalty area, Cato consistently gave Oklahoma City second and third chances when everyone would have called the attack finished. 

Jaime Chavez (F)- 7

On the day he turned 33, Chavez gifted Oklahoma City the lead with his second half penalty kick.

Frustrated by a lack of service early on, Chavez kept running the channels and facilitating counter attacks for Oklahoma City until he had to be withdrawn after a collision with the Bold goalkeeper. 

Chavez also had a clever flick into Brown’s path to play him through for the Energy’s opening goal of the evening. 

Rafa Garcia (M)- 7

Tasked with seeing out the game, the experienced Garcia didn’t disappoint. 

Though he didn’t get involved much in the attacking third, he paced the team perfectly down the final 20 minutes of the game, securing three points for the Greens. 

Kodai Iida (M)- 6

For the first time, Energy fans got to see Iida in a position he is comfortable in. 

After filling in admirably at wing back against FC Tulsa, Iida was able to slot in higher up the pitch. 

Though the left side wasn’t the avenue of choice for the Oklahoma City attack, Iida still flashed his pace and technical ability in his short cameo in the second half. 

N/R: Frank Lopez, Brad Dunwell, Christian Ibeagha 

All Three Points: Energy primed to grow into season

OKLAHOMA CITY- Four months. 128 days. Finally, live sports returned to Oklahoma City last night.

Though the Energy had to settle for a draw, it took just 20 minutes for the team to knock off the preseason rust and implement their personality on the game.

Unveiling a new system is never easy, especially after having essentially two preseasons with just a single competitive match.

Putting a bow on the season re-opener, Oklahoma City can take away three things from the matchup with FC Tulsa before hitting the road to face the Austin Bold on Friday.

New system allowed OKC to dictate the game

Head coach John Pascarella toyed with the thought of a three defender system heading into the 2020 season, but injuries leading into the season opener forced his hand.

Though the shutdown was challenging, it also allowed Oklahoma City to get healthy. Pascarella was then able to roll out his new system against Tulsa. 

After growing into the game, the Energy controlled the pace of the game with their new system. They would have liked to create more chances, but they were sound at the back, only allowing Tulsa to direct three of their 11 shots on frame.

Pascarella said there was still work to be done to improve with the new style of play.

“I think we have to sharpen our understanding of playing in that system,” he said. “You can still see that some of the concepts are coming along, they’re not fully formed yet.”

Defender Christian Ibeagha said he enjoys Pascarella’s vision.

“I think for the most part we had good balance,” he said. “We feel comfortable in the system.”

“It’s a work in progress.”
Oklahoma City will need to acclimate fast, with just 14 games remaining there is no time to waste. 

Jaime Chavez is the dynamic front man the Energy need

Chavez has been on fire for Oklahoma City on both sides of the shutdown. The Energy’s leading goal scorer through preseason turned up against Tulsa, hammering home Oklahoma City’s only goal.

Pascarella praised Chavez’s versatility after the match.

“He’s a very good poacher. He can get on the end of things in the air and he’s good back to goal in terms of helping us build our attack,” Pacarella said.

“But in the box, he really is a killer.”
The Energy needed Chavez’s entire skill set throughout the game, having him both run behind the Tulsa defense and drop deep to try and move possession forward. 

When he was called upon, he came up huge. Chavez perfectly timed his run into the box, punching home Zach Ellis-Hayden’s cross with a sliding goal.

To keep his spirits high, Chavez said he’s been focusing on what he can control and enjoying the simple joys of life while the season was suspended. 

“[I] just played with my son, you know? Enjoy life and just enjoy my son,” he said. “That’s what keeps my head out of nowhere else.”

Ibeagha stars at center of back three

While the defense was solid all evening, Ibeagha stole the show for Oklahoma City. 

Thirty-five minutes into the match, Ibeagha cleared the Energy lines with a tackle any defender would be proud to have on their highlight reel. 

Ariel Martinez found his way behind the defense, but Ibeagha planted an inch-perfect slide tackle at the edge of the six yard box.

Ibeagha claims he had to work himself back into play, but he gave the fans in attendance no inclination with his performance.

“I’m glad it looked that way because I think inside there’s a few cobwebs I had to knock off,” he said with a smile after the match.

Pascarella said Ibeagha allows for the rest of the team to push higher up the pitch, knowing he can help ease any danger if the team gets caught out. 

“His athleticism allows us to be able to [play a high line] and he can usually make up ground on almost anybody in the league,” Pascarella said. “He became a big force a couple of times tonight.”

Chavez and Ibeagha will be crucial as the Energy have a short turnaround to prepare for Austin. 

Kickoff is at 8 p.m. Friday night. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.

Match ratings from the Energy’s return to action

OKLAHOMA CITY- Oklahoma City Energy fans waited 128 days to see their team back in action, but will have to wait a few more to see the Energy notch their first win of the 2020 campaign. 

Hosting bitter rivals FC Tulsa, neither side was able to leave Taft Stadium with three points, settling for a 1-1 draw. 

The pair of goals were both scored deep into the first half, capping off what was a steady performance for both teams.

Here are the match ratings for the Oklahoma City Energy.

C.J. Cochran (GK)- 6

Cochran had some nice saves for Oklahoma City, but his defense dealt with most of the danger on the night. Despite 11 shots being directed at the goal by Tulsa, Cochran only was tasked with three shots landing on frame.

There wasn’t much he could do about the lone Tulsa goal, but he was solid with his other two saves to help secure the point.

Zach Ellis-Hayden (D)- 7

Ellis-Hayden was tasked with managing the entire right flank at times, and he played admirably.

After shaking off some rust in the first 20 minutes, Ellis-Hayden was a headache for the Tulsa defense all night long, picking out Jaime Chavez for Oklahoma City’s first half goal.

He was defensively sound for the Energy, striking the right balance of putting himself in attacking positions while not getting stranded too far up the pitch to help his fellow defenders at the back.

Atiba Harris (D)- 7

The Energy captain mitigated danger in front of his penalty area all night, leading the team to a draw.

While delivering strong tackles to break up Tulsa attacking plays, he was unafraid to step into the midfield and move the ball forward for his team.

Harris put plenty of positives on tape for Oklahoma City to build on in their next outing.

Christian Ibeagha (D)- 8

Ibeagha was stellar all evening, a big reason why Cochran was left with not much to clean up in goal.

Twice nailing inch-perfect tackles in his own box, Ibeagha often stole the spotlight at the center of the Energy defense.

If he was feeling any rust, it wasn’t evident on the field as Ibeagha marshalled the defense for the full 90 minutes.

Christian Ibeagha put in a Man of the Match performance against FC Tulsa, clearing the Energy lines multiple times to dismantle the Tulsa attack. Photo by Steven Christy courtesy of Energy FC.

Nicolas Taravel (D)- 7

Taravel also did his part to keep the Energy solid at the back. 

Though he didn’t step into the midfield as much as he may have liked, he was able to make an impact without playing his long balls forward.

The trio of Energy center halves showed off great physicality and technical skill all evening breaking up Tulsa’s explosive counter-attacks.

Kyle Hyland (D)- 6

Making appearance number 108 for the club, Hyland had a solid day.

Though he wasn’t able to get in on the attack as much as he would have liked, Hyland was solid defensively on the left side for the Energy and gave them great width when the play moved his direction.

However, Hyland was unable to clear Marlon Santos’ header which led to Tulsa’s goal straight before the half. 

Brad Dunwell (M)- 6

Tasked with the difficult job of playing in a midfield two, Dunwell did well to cycle possession forward and connect the defense with the attack.

He won’t win tons of accolades for his performance, but Dunwell did his job pushing the Tulsa attack to the wings.

Rafael Garcia (M)- 7

Garcia’s experience helped settle the Energy into the game after Oklahoma City saw little possession in the opening 20 minutes. 

Always active in the midfield, Garcia broke up many Tulsa attacks before they got started.

He also was able to consistently play dangerous balls in on set pieces even though his teammates were unable to direct them into the back of the net.

Arun Basuljevic (M)- 7

A gritty outing for Basuljevic who grew into the game with the team.

Early on, the four month break took its toll as Basuljevic seemed to be a step out of sync with the rest of his team. 

He started to drop deeper about 20 minutes into the match, and it is no coincidence Oklahoma City began to assert themselves soon after. 

Basuljevic’s link up play was pivotal in moving the ball from defense to attack.
As a result, Tulsa fouled Basuljevic a number of times, likely contributing to his early withdrawal to make way for Jose Gomez.

Omar Gordon (F)- 6

While the Energy defended for most of the opening 20 minutes, Gordon was a bright spot with his runs in behind the Tulsa defense. Gordon had two decent chances early on surging behind the defense, but he was unable to pick out the final pass as the Energy reacclimated to playing with each other.

Often playing out wide for Oklahoma City, Gordon slotted inside to give Ellis-Hayden space to work on the right flank. Once the Energy started to hold more possession, Gordon tended to be the odd man out in the attack.

Cordell Cato replaced Gordon at halftime.

Jaime Chavez (F)- 7

Though he wasn’t provided with a ton of service, Chavez made his mark for Oklahoma City.

Hammering home the Energy’s only goal, Chavez flashed why head coach John Pascarella beamed about him in practice.

Smartly timing his run, Chavez punched home a sliding goal off of Ellis-Hayden’s cross 40 minutes in.

Chavez has the size to hold possession up top, and the quickness and creativity to make the runs behind and ask questions of any defense.

Both skills were on full display against Tulsa, admirably leading the line for Oklahoma City.

Cordell Cato (F)- 5

Replacing Gordon at halftime, Cato failed to make a real impression either way on the game.

Though he made many runs behind the defense similar to Gordon, he was given little to no service to really leave his mark.

Cato often worked back when he needed to cover for a defender who got caught too far up the pitch, so he was still helping his team despite not having the ball at his feet for most of the second half. 

Jose Hernandez (M)- N/R

Hernandez was brought on too late to really earn a rating either way.

Like everyone in the game, he needed to work his way back in after a long break, but wasn’t on the field long enough to get his feet under him.

Kodai Iida (D)- N/R

In his short cameo, Iida will have pleased his coaches.

Learning a new position, Iida brought some pace to the left wing back position even though he was unable to show off his skill and create a ton offensively. 

Iida could be an impact sub going forward for the Energy, bringing loads of pace and technical ability to the left side of the Oklahoma City attack. 

Ray Saari (M)- N/R

Saari came on for Chavez in injury time primarily to secure the point. 

A job well done in his five minutes of action. 

Energy Win Closed Doors Friendly

OKLAHOMA CITY- Oklahoma City Energy FC dispatched Sporting Kansas City II 1-0 in a friendly Friday evening.

In a measured performance, Energy head coach John Pascarella experimented with a few different tactical looks. He deployed formations with both three and four defenders at the back across the 90 minute friendly. 

Pascarella said he was pleased with how his team took to the different tactics deployed throughout the match. 

“I think there’s different combinations that we can play depending on the players that we have,” he said. “It will give us that tactical flexibility.”
For the first 45 minutes, the Energy rolled out all three centre backs, utilizing Kyle Hyland and Zach Ellis-Hayden as wing backs. 

Though there was no score at the half, Oklahoma City dominated play throughout the first half, coming close to breaking the deadlock on two occasions. 

Early on, Jaime Chavez found himself alone behind the Kansas City defense but just steered his shot over the crossbar.

Later in the half, Arun Basuljevic rooted the Sporting II goalkeeper but ultimately smashed his shot off the inside of the right post. 

“I thought it was a pretty good performance,” Pascarella said. 

Missing just the goal, Oklahoma City carded a comfortable performance before the break. Kansas City struggled to find any space going forward, and the team looked comfortable despite playing a different system from how the team lined up in the season’s only match.

“Our play was pretty good I thought,” Hyland said after the match. “We possessed the ball well and we had good movement, shape and stuff. I thought we created good chances because of that.”

Hyland said he enjoyed the first half with the new five defender system.

“We’ve been working hard and it. The coaches have been doing well with it, teaching it and stuff so I think it could be good,” Hyland said.

“It could really bode well for us, especially at [Taft Stadium.”

Defender Nicolas Taravel echoed Hyland’s praise of the system.

“We have a lot of central midfielders so I think it’s good for us,” he said. 

“We can [win] on this system. We like it.”
Wholesale changes from both sides at halftime brought a more conventional four defender system for Oklahoma City.

Chavez, one of the lone holdovers from the first half, pushed the Energy in front early in the half.

After Omar Gordon surged behind the defense into the box, he held up play long enough for Chavez to arrive. A simple square pass to Chavez was all Oklahoma City needed, and Chavez coolly passed the ball inside the back post. 

“It felt great just being on the field,” Chavez said. “I got to be the most forward and I’m really happy.”
The Energy defended well to close the game out with a clean sheet. 

Oklahoma City will resume the season against in-state rivals FC Tulsa. The first edition of the Black Gold Derby this season will air live on ESPN2 on July 13.

Taravel, injured in the opening games last season, said he can’t wait for his first Black Gold Derby.

“Kick some ass,” Taravel said. “We will win this game.”

Getting to Know the Groupies: Rio Grande Valley FC

Getting to know the Groupies is a four part series exploring the other members of Group D. The Energy will play each of these teams three times in addition to three teams outside the group to finish the 2021 USL Championship season.

Oklahoma City- The Rio Grande Valley FC Toros appeared poised for a playoff run with some key additions in the offseason. Building off a strong finish to the 2019 campaign, the Toros carried some momentum into this season. 

But the combination of the forced season suspension due to the Coronavirus and a 5-1 battering at the hands of LA Galaxy II in week one will have fans asking questions of manager Gerson Echeverry.

Last Season:

Echeverry was named the full time manager after serving as the interim to close 2018, but his first full season in charge left Toros fans wanting. 

Finishing five points off the playoff line, away form ultimately did Rio Grande Valley in. Winning just 11 points from 17 matches away from home, Echeverry’s side faced an uphill battle for playoff qualification.

Rio Grande Valley did close the gap toward the end of the season however, finishing on a five game unbeaten run which included a 2-0 victory at Taft Stadium.

Omar Gordon touching the ball on past a defender in last year’s 2-0 defeat to Rio Grande Valley FC. Photo courtesy of Energy FC.

The Squad:

The Toros’ partnership with the Houston Dynamo ensures the pipeline of talented youngsters is never barren. As a result, Echeverry has some better attacking options to employ this season.

Leading the line could be a familiar face for Energy FC fans. Garret McLaughlin, former Energy U23, will be the key man for the Toros. 

Selected eighth by the Dynamo in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, the Oklahoma native and former SMU Mustang brings his physical tools and goal scoring prowess to Rio Grande Valley. 

The Dynamo also provided their other SuperDraft starlet Luke Prpa to the Toros. 

Prpa is an attacking midfielder tasked with unlocking the defense and linking up to provide McLaughlin plenty of service.

Midfielder Christian Lucatero was brought back into the club, joining returning midfielders Kevin Rodriguez and Isidro Martinez. 

The final key addition to the midfield is also a former Energy U23 product. Timo Mehlich was brought in to shore up the middle of the park and help distribute the ball to start the Toros’ attack. Mehlich could be the most technically gifted of the bunch, a credit to his days coming up in the Borussia Monchengladbach youth system.

Rio Grande Valley’s entire back line returns as well, giving the Toros the opportunity to build continuity at the back. 


Echeverry’s side employs a similar high tempo press that is all the rage in world football at the moment.

His team looks to dominate possession, and attempts to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible.

In their first outing this season, Rio Grande Valley employed what most resembled a 4-1-4-1, allowing Mehlich to sit behind the talented midfield and pull the strings. 

Attempting to build up from the back, the defense looked to distribute to Mehlich, who would then find the Toro wingers hoping to move the team forward.

When not bombing forward on the counter, Rio Grande Valley looked for a steady build up. Utilizing well-drilled triangle patterns of play, the Toros try to get everyone involved and move the entire team incrementally up the pitch. 

The result allows Rio Grande Valley to assert themselves on the game and potentially dominate possession with long build ups to keep their opponent chasing the ball. 

However, one misplaced pass leaves the Toros exposed on the counter. 

The fullbacks play an incredibly high line leaving acres of space between the midfield and the center backs. This space in behind is there for the taking, as Los Dos abused Rio Grande Valley often after quickly picking up possession in the midfield. 

This Season so far:

In their only outing of the season, the Toros were handed a 5-1 drubbing in their season opener.

Of the five goals, LA Galaxy II scored four directly off a counter attack (with the other coming directly off a free kick won in transition). 

Despite the huge scoreline, Rio Grande Valley could have easily turned the game on its head. 

The Toros dominated the opening 15 minutes, unlucky not to score on two or three different chances. 

Rio Grande Valley’s defensive lines were actually cohesive and tight to start the game, slowly getting sloppier as they continued to get undone on the counter time and time again. 

Though Los Dos absolutely deserved all three points on the day, Rio Grande Valley looked close to putting together a pleasing product. 

Assuming no season suspension, Rio Grande Valley fans would have likely taken many positives from the first outing of the season. Had the Toros been able to build off the performance, it would have been expected that the space between the midfield and defense would have improved given the team would have had more matches to gel.

Instead, Rio Grande Valley is left with the same questions the rest of the USL Championship faces. How will the team have handled the four months without football? And will they be able to pick up right where they left off after game one?

Sprint to the Season On as Energy FC Resume Full Contact Training

OKLAHOMA CITY- For the first time in months, training bore a closer resemblance to a soccer match than a get-fit bootcamp. 

Oklahoma City Energy FC held their first full-contact training since the USL Championship lifted the moratorium.

“It actually went well,” head coach John Pascarella said. “You could see that the guys have had a lot of pent up and bottled up energy that they needed to release.”

The coaching staff let the players blow off whatever pent up energy they had, immediately throwing the team in to a full sided scrimmage.

After nearly three and a half months of isolation and small sided training, the full-contact game was a welcome change.

“The game situation is what we all live for,” goalkeeper Cody Laurendi said. 

“You can replicate things in practice and training but when you get out there between the lines… there’s a different level and that’s where we all as competitive individuals thrive,” he said. 

Energy FC will have to take advantage of each day, as the squad will have just two and a half weeks before the targeted restart date of July 11.

“The fitness is probably right around what we expected,which is not good enough for a game,” Pascarella said.

“But we’ve still got a couple of weeks to go. We’ll get there.”

Though the team is still working toward match fitness, Pascarella said he was pleased with how they played on the ball. 

“In terms of the technical stuff, that’s what was really good today. The ball moved, it flowed,” he said. 

“Guys had a pretty good understanding of how to play.”

Pascarella also said it would take time to ease the team back into playing with full contact.

“Guys just aren’t used to it right now,” he said.

“That piece of the competition is different for them and that’s going to take a little bit of getting used to and for the body as well just to get adjusted.”
Laurendi agreed the team needs some time to ease back into the physical phase of the game, but that positives could still be taken from the reintroduction of contact. 

“I think just general sharpness is what we’re getting out of this. Guys haven’t had contact in the past few months,” he said.

“It was good to come back out here and kind of fight a little bit.” 

As training wrapped up, the USL announced the format for the league to return to play. 

A 16 game regular season awaits the Energy, with teams broken up into regional groups. Oklahoma City’s season opening loss against Colorado Springs will count in the match total, leaving the Energy just 15 matches once play resumes.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit rushed, but everyone has been given the same circumstance and we’ll have to deal with it,” Pascarella said. “We’ll get there.”

With limited practice days ahead of the resumption of games, Pascarella said it could be cutting it close to regain the levels the team had coming out of the preseason. 

“In terms of totally prepared, you know we’ll get as close as we can,” he said.

USL Lifts Training Moratorium

OKLAHOMA CITY- One of the final hurdles has been cleared for the return of local soccer.

The USL Championship announced full contact training can resume on June 24. 

Clubs must still obtain approval from local and state health authorities before they can resume full squad training. 

Though July 11 has been announced as a target return date for games, USL clubs still were having to run training sessions in small groups with no contact. Resumption of full contact training is viewed as one of the final stepping stones to getting players back into game shape, as there is only so much conditioning players can go through with no contact.

Wednesday’s return will be the first full contact training for clubs in over 14 weeks. 

No further plans or schedule have been announced by the USL pertaining to the July 11 return of play.
Energy FC did announce fans would be in attendance once play resumes in a statement on Twitter. 

Energy FC Drops Pair of New Kits

OKLAHOMA CITY- The phrase “better late than never” has had a mini-renaissance during the coronavirus pandemic. 

After nearly a three month delay, Oklahoma City Energy FC were finally able to announce the arrival of their primary and secondary kits.

Shipping delays tied up the new Adidas slate of uniforms, forcing the Energy to roll out their third kit for their season opener in March. 

Green returns to Oklahoma City’s uniform offerings in the new primary kit. The green base with white vertical stripes across the front gives the Energy a modern take on a classic kit design. 

Energy FC forward Koda Iida shows off the new primary kit. Photo courtesy of Energy FC.

“The green is iconic,” Energy midfielder Arun Basuljevic said. “When you see the green, you immediately think of OKC Energy.”

The secondary kit is a clean offering as well. The kit is white with green piping around the shoulders and is complete with the silver rendering of the club crest as seen on the third kits. 

“The white might actually be my favorite,” Energy defender Kyle Hyland said. “I’ve worn a lot of kits in my six years in OKC and they keep getting better.”

Midfielder Rafa Garcia models the new secondary kit, featuring the club crest in silver. Photo courtesy of Energy FC.

Fans may recognize the new look for the Energy as they actually had a hand in picking them. Energy FC Chief Operating Officer Jeff Kretchmar said supporters were polled on various kit designs, and the top two vote getters became the new primary and secondary kits. 

“We wanted to make sure the fans had a say in what the jerseys look like,” Kretchmar said. 

Though the fans were solicited for their votes, Kretchmar said the club had a clear vision in mind for what the primary kit would look like. 

“We always knew we wanted to go back to green,” he said.

Kyle Hyland shows off the back of the primary kit featuring a local touch. Photo courtesy of Energy FC.

Both new uniforms also have specific local ties on the back of the shirt above the player’s names. 

The primary kit features the Oklahoma state motto “Labor Omnia Vincit” in blue print.

For the secondary kit the club called upon Oklahoma’s new state logo, printed in green to match the numbers and piping of the shirt. 

Defender Christian Ibeagha displays the controversial new logo for the state of Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Energy FC.

“They feel great,” Basuljevic said. “They are probably my favorite kits I’ve ever worn.”

Fans won’t have to wait much longer to see the kits in person. The Energy announced in a statement on Twitter that fans would be in attendance in some way once the season resumes.

The USL voted on a provisional restart date of July 11 for the USL Championship season.