Though just a draw, plenty of positives to build on for the Energy

OKLAHOMA CITY- Energy FC were mere inches from shaking their home voodoo.

Just a minute into stoppage time, Jose Hernandez whipped in a cross to a dangerous area at the back post. Teammate Omar Gordon rose to the challenge, but was unable to head the ball on frame, missing just over the crossbar. 

With Gordon unable to bury the last great chance of the game, Oklahoma City had to settle for a goalless draw against the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros.

Even in a draw, the Energy took plenty of positives.

Though they are still searching for their first win, the Oklahoma City defense notched their first clean sheet of the season with a platoon of defenders contributing to the effort.

Three takeaways from the second meeting with Rio Grande Valley:

It took a village, but the Energy finally hold opponents scoreless:

Despite Oklahoma City lining up in their four defender system, seven different guys logged time at the back.

Zach Ellis-Hayden, Joe Amico and Nico Taravel all had to be replaced to nurse an injury, said coach John Pascarella.

Ellis-Hayden got the hook at halftime, while Amico was a precautionary replacement to not risk injury in his first start. Taravel looked to fall hard on his hip late in the game, forcing Pascarella to bring on Tucker Stephenson to close the contest.

Pascarella said he was proud of the defensive effort after the game.

“It was seven of them that had been under stress and strain by the fans, by the coaches, by their own teammates and by the media,” he said. “They battled, they fought, they played in the way we wanted to play.”
“I can’t ask for more from them so extremely proud of them,” Pascarella said. 

The group effort will help raise morale across the entire back line, Amico said.

“Everyone’s good and we’re all fighting to be on the field so I think just seeing how we performed with so many people in different positions is just fantastic,” he said.

CJ Cochran, best player on the pitch?

Though he was only credited with four saves, Cochran came up huge when it counted for Oklahoma City.

Whether clearing a packed box, or stopping a speculative 30 yard effort from Kyle Adams, Cochran ensured the clean sheet would be the only result on the night.

Pascarella said he was most pleased with how Cochran marshalled the back playing with a higher defensive line. Pushing higher up the pitch to collect errant passes was a calming force to the defense, knowing Cochran would be there to clear the lines as well as his normal shot stopping prowess, Pascarella said.

“He was very good and crucial and all of that tonight,” Pascarella said.

Cochran has probably been the most consistent player for the Energy this season, but he credited the entire back line with his performance.

“It was a very good defensive team performance,” he said. “And that’s what you need if you want to get a shutout.”


Road Warriors

Oklahoma City now shifts focus as seven of their last nine games will be played on the road. Though most teams are the underdogs on the road, the Energy are revelling in the chance to pick up some points outside of Taft Stadium.

“We’re pumped,” Amico said. “We’re going in to win every single game and that’s the only mentality to have.”

Some players feel playing on the road will better suit Oklahoma City’s style of play.

“We get to go away now and play on some very nice surfaces and I think that kind of lends itself to the way we want to play,” Cochran said. “We’re a team that wants to keep the ball and we want to knock it around.”
“We do that at Taft but I think it might suit us a little bit more on a little bit bigger of a field.”

The Energy’s first road test in a month comes Wednesday as Oklahoma City travels to face Group D leaders San Antonio FC.

San Antonio blanked Oklahoma City 3-0 in their last outing just a week ago.

Energy backing themselves to break losing skid

OKLAHOMA CITY- Trust the process.

A rallying cry across sports made popular by a once tanking Philadelphia 76ers franchise has made its way to Oklahoma City.

On the back of two straight 3-0 defeats, the Oklahoma City Energy are hard at work, just trying to trust the process.

Energy coach John Pascarella feels like his team isn’t far off, just needing to get the balance right to help turn results around.

“It’s just repetition. It’s training it,” he said.
“Getting the balance right so that if you’re going out the left side in possession you make sure that your team is balanced so that if you lose it you can recover and defend.”

Midfielder Brad Dunwell said working as a unit was one of the bigger focuses in training this past week.

“We’ve really been stressing being compact through the midfield and the back line,” Dunwell said.

“Letting [the opponent] play around us and so that’s obviously less dangerous than letting them play through us.”

Goalkeeper CJ Cochran is less worried about the balance in the team, postulating the past two results have been more a result of conceding the lead early more than anything else.

“After we get down two goals, it doesn’t matter if you lose 3-2 or 2-1. We’re not getting a win,” Cochran said. “We’re throwing numbers forward trying to get the goals and that’s just part of the game.”
Cochran also acknowledged the Energy midfield has a lot on their platter during each game.
“We ask our midfielders to do quite a bit here and they’re very good midfielders to be fair,” Cochran said.

“We’ve got a lot of new players and coming together is going to take time.”
Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, time is not on their side this season. 

With the USL Championship’s delay due to the Coronavirus, the standard 34 games was cut to just 16. 

In a normal season, a team with so many new faces could take 10 games to gel. But with this shortened schedule, every game matters just a bit more.

Pascarella said despite the two losses, there isn’t an extra sense of pressure building.
“We feel like there’s a ton of time. There’s 30 points still left on the board,” he said.

“We’ve only played for 18 [points] so far so that piece is not really a concern.”

“But I do sense the players are a little edgy because of having lost two in a row.”
For Cochran, he thinks there’s no added pressure from the past results, just the normal drive to win.
“I mean there’s always pressure to play well, especially with back to back home losses,” Cochran said.

Oklahoma City has a chance to turn the losing streak around and notch their first home win on Saturday.

Familiar foes Rio Grande Valley FC Toros return to Taft Stadium for their second matchup this season. 

In their first matchup, late heroics from striker Frank Lopez delivered Oklahoma City a 1-1 draw.

Rio Grande Valley will be the first team from Group D the Energy has seen a second time.

“I think we’ll be better prepared in the game because we have an idea of how they play,” Pascarella said. “I can’t imagine they’re going to change all that much for one game.”
Having already played the Toros can also allow for more direct film study, affording the coaching staff the ability to show the players specific areas they can improve specifically against this opponent, Pascarella said. 

“I think going into this our game plan is going to be pretty similar,” Cochran said.

The team feels they were perhaps a bit unlucky not to win the first matchup, Cochran said.

“I think their goalkeeper had three or four really good saves. If he doesn’t have one of those, we win the game,” he said.

For Dunwell this game means a bit extra, as he played for Rio Grande Valley last season/
“Going up against your former club you always want to get involved and have a good game,” Dunwell said. “Very much looking forward to it.”
The Energy and the Toros kickoff at 7 p.m. Saturday from Taft Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

“There’s still plenty of games left,” Dunwell said.

“We can still control our own destiny.”

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 

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.