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.

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