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.”
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.