Energy hope to notch first home win against group leaders

OKLAHOMA CITY- Oklahoma City Energy FC are refocused and ready for their next challenge a week on from their worst result of the season.

Up next, the Energy host Group D leaders San Antonio FC who have won 10 points from their first four games.

Oklahoma City also enters the match outside of a playoff spot for the first time in a month, level with FC Tulsa on points despite playing two more games than their in-state rivals.

Energy coach John Pascarella said he’s not added any extra pressure to this game and the team is focused on getting their own results.

“You still have [to play] the same number of games,” Pascarell said. “We’re still going to have to get a lot more points.”
“We still have to finish top two of [Group D], so that’s pretty simple.”
Midfielder Rafa Garcia echoed his coach. The Energy have to focus on themselves and can’t get caught up in watching the group table, Garcia said. 

“We know we have to be better than last weekend,” he said. “We’ve trained with that mentality.”
San Antonio enters Taft Stadium boasting a lethal attack, with star Cristian Parano leading the way.

“He’s a special player. He’s definitely one of the best attacking players in the league,” Garcia said.

Garcia said his team will have to play well across the entire game though, citing the entire San Antonio 11 has talented players. 

“But you know we’ll be up for the task. We’ve trained well all week,” Garcia said. “Probably the best we’ve trained the last few weeks in my opinion.”
Pascarella said he is weary of the threat Parano poses. He has emphasized precision on clearing out balls played over the defense, as Parano excels at collecting errant clearances and making the opposition pay.

“He’s devastating in that piece of the game,” Pascarella said.

In Oklahoma City’s last game against New Mexico, forward Jaime Chavez was stranded with no service for a vast portion of the first half. Pascarella said after the game he must tweak the system to bring Chavez into the game more.

The addition of Frank Lopez in the second half seemed to help as the Energy attack looked more fluid, so the Energy could look to deploy another attacking player closer to Chavez from the onset against San Antonio.

“Bringing in another [attacker] for me is gonna open up space for me or for the other guy to stay up top,” Chavez said.

Oklahoma City will likely have to break down a San Antonio side sporting three center backs, a look Chavez is familiar with going up against in practice every week.

“Last game New Mexico had three in the back as well and when Frank [Lopez] came in the second half, we demonstrated we could handle the pressure and go at [the defense],” he said.

The team’s knowledge of how to play a similar system should help Oklahoma City more easily digest how to attack San Antonio, Pascarella said.

“From that understanding I think we can be a bit of a better team big picture, long term,” Pascarella said.

The Energy will kick off against San Antonio at 7 p.m. from Taft Stadium on Saturday evening. Fans will again be allowed to attend, but the game will also be streamed on ESPN+.

“The point we’ve made is to go out there and compete and be harder to play against,” Garcia said.

“San Antonio is a great team. But with that being said, we’re at home and we expect to win.”

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.