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.”

Match Ratings: For second straight week Energy downed at Taft

OKLAHOMA CITY- For the second straight week, the Oklahoma City Energy found themselves in the wrong end of a 3-0 score line. 

Hosting the Group D leaders San Antonio FC, the Energy were unable to grab any points off their direct rivals for the two Group D playoff positions. 

Match Ratings from the loss:

CJ Cochran (GK)- 5

Outside of a great save before half, Cochran was unable to deny the San Antonio attack. It’s hard to ask Cochran to do much with San Antonio’s last two goals, which were just class finishes. 

Zach Ellis-Hayden (D)- 5

Unable to create any great chances, Ellis-Hayden still stretched the San Antonio back line in a role we’re growing accustomed to seeing him in.

He was solid working back defensively too, the constant bright spot amidst Oklahoma City’s defensive struggles.

Christian Ibeagha (D)- 4

Both Energy center halves had their hands full with Cristian Parano and the San Antonio attack.

One of the keys Energy coach John Pascarella highlighted before the game was clearing the first ball to prevent Parano from pouncing.

For San Antonio’s first goal, Ibeagha failed to do just that, and not soon after the San Antonio talisman had his team out front and they never looked back.

Nico Taravel (D)- 4

Taravel gave up the foul in the run up to San Antonio’s second goal, capping off a frustrating night for the frenchman. 

Kyle Hyland (D)- 5

Hyland probably had his best night going forward for the Energy this season against San Antonio. He did well in the first half to take the space teammate Omar Gordon left for him.

Other than fouling Parano to kill a counter attack, Hyland had a quiet night at the back in the best way. 

Jose Hernandez (M)- 6

Hernandez battled on the defensive end of the pitch, but he failed to bring the creative spark the Energy turn to him for. 

He looked out of sync with the rest of his teammates, and carded an uneventful evening going forward.

Omar Gordon (M)- 5

Gordon was sacrificed at halftime to make way for Basuljevic, an easy decision as he was the least effective midfielder in the first half. 

Though he tried to work back in to help cover for Hyland, he didn’t track all the way in for Parano’s opener.
At times, Gordon was also out of position when the Energy needed to spring the attack. With Oklahoma City looking to break, Gordon failed to run in behind the San Antonio defense enough to stretch the back line and help his forwards.

Rafa Garcia (M)- 7

Garcia helped the Energy defense all he could, often sticking back to cover when a defender explored farther up the pitch. 

Though he was unable to find anyone with his set pieces, his constant communication in the Oklahoma City midfield was essential for keeping their shape most of the night. 

Charlie Ward (M)- 6

Ward did well to orchestrate the build up for Oklahoma City in the first half. As the game got away from the Energy in the second half, his impact was felt less and less, eventually leading to him giving way to Brad Dunwell to close the game.

Frank Lopez (F)- 7

Lopez did not disappoint in his first start of the season for Oklahoma City.

Giving the Energy life, he pressed relentlessly and forced mistakes out of San Antonio’s back line. 

His best moment came just before half when he dribbled two defenders and almost drew a penalty for his team. 

Jaime Chavez (F)- 4

Chavez was primed to be the biggest beneficiary of Lopez’s inclusion in the starting lineup.

Unfortunately, he was unable to get anything going, continually having to drop deeper and deeper to pick up the ball from his teammates. 

Chavez is a dynamic forward, but he played second fiddle sitting underneath Lopez in this match.

Subs:

Arun Basuljevic (M) – 5

Basuljevic replaced Gordon at the half, but failed to make his mark. He fell victim to Oklahoma City’s midfield being overrun toward the end, where the Energy were never position to chase the game. 

Not Rated: Brad Dunwell, Joe Amico and Jon Brown

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.”

All Three Points: Still much to learn after OKC romped at home

OKLAHOMA CITY- The Oklahoma City Energy fell victim to familiar vices against New Mexico United. 

Individual errors led to allowing the trio of goals, falling for the second time at home by a score of 3-0.

After a fruitless first half, the Energy were more dangerous in front of goal, but ultimately were unable to get back into the game late. 

Penalty proves costly

Arun Basuljevic threw his team a lifeline out of halftime, winning a penalty and sending Jaime Chavez to the spot with a chance to pull within one goal.

For the first time in his career, Chavez was unable to convert. He sent the goalkeeper to the left, but sprayed his shot wide of the right post.

“In missing [the penalty] I think it deflated us a little bit,” Energy coach John Pascarella said after the match. 

“I think you make it 2-1 at that moment in the game and it changes.”

The inability to finish off chances has been an unwanted theme for the Energy at home so far this season. 

Basuljevic acknowledged the team had to get past the disappointment of the penalty.

“Obviously if we score the penalty, maybe the game looks different,” he said. “But these things happen in soccer so yeah we just gotta work on it.”

Outside of the penalty, the change in system from a five defender setup to a back four gave Oklahoma City new life.

Chavez and Basuljevic were often stranded with no service in the first half with so many players dedicated to defense.

“I think part of that’s my fault,” Pascarella said. “The way we shaped the team, we didn’t get Arun [Basuljevic] and Jose [Hernandez] close enough to [Chavez].”

Basuljevic said he felt more isolated in the first half, but he said it’s ultimately on him to get involved.

“I just need to figure out how to be more dangerous, even in that formation,” he said.

Defense exploited again

Mental lapses continue to plague the Energy.

Unfortunately, it appears to be different mistakes every game which lead to giving away goals.

“We’re looking for a level of consistency and we haven’t gotten there yet,” Pascarella said. “When one thing gets a little better, something else gets a little iffy.”

Gaining a better understanding of how to play together by getting more matches under their belts will help, Pascarella said. It’ll just be about addressing the mistakes and learning lessons from them, Pascarella said.

“If we don’t learn [the lessons], they’ll keep getting presented to us and presented to us over and over again until we learn them,” he said.

Still winless at home

With half the home slate down, Oklahoma City still has yet to take all three points at home.

It is a struggle to identify what exactly is preventing the Energy from emerging victorious at home, Basuljevic said, 

“It’s hard to put a finger on it. There’s no excuses,” he said. “Obviously it’s been a really weird year… but we know that we’re a good enough team.”
Pascarella didn’t pinpoint the struggles to merely playing at home. He said the team has just struggled with different moments in each home match to prevent a complete performance and a win. 

“There’s different things in different matches, I don’t necessarily think it has anything to do with being at home,” he said. “It just so happens we’ve been at home more than we’ve been away so we’ll see as we progress along.”

Oklahoma City will have two more chances to notch their first home win in their next two matches. 

Current Group D leaders San Antonio United grace Taft Stadium Aug. 8.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and those who are not in attendance can stream the game on ESPN+.

Energy FC recharged and ready for New Mexico battle

OKLAHOMA CITY- Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, days tend to run together. 

Oklahoma City Energy FC were the beneficiaries of such a phenomenon this past week as they enjoyed their longest stretch of days off since the restart. 

The nine day break has afforded the Energy some much needed time to recover and properly prepare for their next opponents, New Mexico United, head coach John Pascarella said. 

“It’s the first time since the restart that it’s a normal period of time,” Pascarella said. “This week was actually nice that we could work together for a sustained period of time.”

After a few days off, Oklahoma City used the week shore up some of the issues they’ve had over the three game restart. 

One of the areas of focus has been across the back line. 

“We have played 90 percent of the matches pretty well,” Pascarella said. “But in every half, we’ve given up a chance or two that we didn’t need to, that we’ve kind of gifted to the opposition.”

The Energy defenders will have to find a way to maintain their high level of play in every moment across a match to cut down on those select easy chances allowed, Pascarella said.

 We do have to get better at that,” he said. 

“But that really is about cohesiveness. That is about repetition of those actions in training and in games.”

Defender Kyle Hyland was confident those small mistakes can be eliminated with more time spent on the field after the four month break.

“After a long break and then getting back into it, I think you’ll start to see those things progress and get better,” Hyland said. “I think it’s just fine tuning because I mean, we’ve been off for so long.”

Though the work at the back has been solid, Zach Ellis-Hayden has been grabbing the attention of fellow Group D opponents for his exploits roaming forward down the right flank.

Winning a penalty on the road against the Austin Bold, Ellis-Hayden keeps defenses on their toes when he is able to help the attack.  

“It’s just about picking my moments. Obviously the primary objective for a defender is to defend so I have to do that first,” Ellis-Hayden said. “But you know, I can be dangerous in the attack so it’s about picking the moments.”

Pascarella praised both Hyland and Ellis-Hayden and their ability to identify when the other has an opportunity to get forward. The balance has created stability at the back, but as the season progresses Pascarella said he would also like to see Hyland get more involved in the attack as well. 

With the extra time off, Oklahoma City has been able to properly scout and prepare for the threat New Mexico United poses.

Though the game counts for the same number of points in the table a matchup against a fellow Group D opponent, the team is looking forward to playing a new opponent.

“The benefit for our team is that they’re not seeing the same opponent over again and over again,” Pascarella said. “It’s nice to have to be able to deal with a Colorado [Springs] every once in a while that’s outside of our group or a New Mexico.” 

“But with that said, three points is three points.”

Ellis-Hayden echoed Pascarella’s sentiment.

“It’s another match for us to prove ourselves to get three points,” he said.

The Energy will be able to rely on the home fans to give them a lift, hoping to score a victory in their second of a four match home stand.

“It definitely helps to have people behind you yelling and just having people there to watch you,” Hyland said. “It makes it feel more real, more normal.”

“It’s definitely an advantage.”
Kick off from Taft Stadium is at 7 p.m. on Saturday evening. Fans who are unable to attend can stream the match on ESPN+. 

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+.

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+.

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.”

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.