By Ryan Chapman, Sports Editor
Energy FC still has time to find their form. But, even though opening day feels like just weeks ago, 20 percent of Oklahoma City’s season is already in the books.
The Energy’s season to date in a word? Inconsistent.
At times, Oklahoma City has looked dominant.Pressing high up the field, scoring goals, and spraying passes in a dizzying display Pep Guardiola would be proud of.
Then, inexplicably, in the blink of an eye the Energy become a completely different squad. Unable to connect two passes together, teams have easily broken down Oklahoma City’s defense which has been disorganized and disjoint, making mistakes you would equate to a struggling high school team, not a professional club capable of such beautiful soccer.
Oklahoma City’s 3-2 home loss to current league leaders Portland Timbers 2 serves as the perfect microcosm of their season.
The Energy raced out to a 2-0 lead within the first 25 minutes of the game. For the first hour of the match, Oklahoma City generated all of the chances in the match, and Portland posed no danger to the Greens.
In the 65thminute, Energy midfield maestro Alexy Bosetti was replaced by Marcos Bustos and the game completely turned on its head. Portland tallied three goals after Bosetti’s exit to complete the unlikely comeback and steal all three points at Taft Stadium.
Cooke felt his team’s performance in the first half against Portland was “unbelievably good.”
“I think it was the best first half of the season, and then after, I don’t know,” said Bosetti after the defeat.
Energy goalkeeper Cody Laurendi felt the loss was due to “self imposed, almost amateur mistakes.”
This formula has become very familiar to OKC.
Oklahoma City was held winless for a month, in which every game unfolded almost like clockwork. The Energy would dominate vast spells of the first half, but they would be wasteful in their chances in front of goal. Then, they would lose control in the second half, and would be unable to hold strong with their own net under siege.
Oklahoma City’s inconsistent start could be boiled down to two contributing factors: the Energy roster turnover has resulted in the team having to gel and learn how to play with each other, and the Energy have been plagued with key injuries.
9 of the 15 players who have made multiple appearances for Oklahoma City this season are in their first year with the club.Two of those players, defenders Mika da Fonte and Alvin Jones, were signed midseason.
It simply takes time and in game repetition to build chemistry.As the season goes on, the Energy players will become more familiar with each other, yielding more consistent play, but as of now the side looks like it hasn’t quite gelled.
Last season, Oklahoma City experienced a turbulent start as well.
Cooke replaced former coach Jimmy Neilson, who had managed the Energy in their first four seasons as a club.
While Cooke familiarized himself with the players and installed his system, Oklahoma City suffered their worst start in club history. Seven games in, the Energy had mustered just one win and had suffered six defeats for the horrid tally of just three points. Though Oklahoma City again are off to a roller coaster start, seven games in they have tallied ten points, a vast improvement.
The club’s backing of Cooke, bringing in the players needed to play his style of football has already paid early dividends, as Oklahoma City’s best play still lies ahead.
The other roadblock the Greens have had to circumvent has been the injuries that have plagued the team out of the gate.
Forward Deshorn Brown started the season on fire. Brown found the back of the net in each of the club’s seven preseason games, as well as three times in the first two games of the regular season. A knee injury has held Brown out of the last month. It is no coincidence the Energy’s dip in form mirrors the absence of Brown. He possesses a blend of speed, power, and technical ability to be a goal scoring force the likes of which Oklahoma City hasn’t seen since Danni König pocketed 21 goals en route to leading the Energy to the 2015 Western Conference finals and a second place regular season finish.
“We don’t want to rush him back because he’s such a good, young player… When he’s good and ready, he’ll be back,” Cooke said of Brown.
Thankfully for the Energy, Brown is expected to return to the lineup this Saturday against state rivals Tulsa.
The Oklahoma City defense has also fallen victim to the injury bug.
In the first half of just the third game of the season, newly signed center back Nico Taravel suffered a torn ACL.
Taravel had looked to be Oklahoma City’s best defender through the first two games, finding himself in conversations for man of the match in both of the Energy’s opening contests.
Veteran defender Kyle Hyland has also been in and out of the starting lineup due to minor injuries.
Due to injuries all across the back line, the Energy had not fielded the same starting defense in back to back games until over a month and a half into the season.
This has contributed to the disorganization at the back, as the defense has experienced virtually no continuity all season.
“Continuity is always important,” said Laurendi.
Laurendi is not satisfied with allowing injuries to be an excuse.
“It’s part of the game. Change is inevitable, and as cliché as it sounds, it is what it is and we just have to deal with it, we keep moving forward.”
Oklahoma City were able to break their winless streak against perennial contenders Orange County Soccer Club, and hope to build on the momentum won with the win to turn the corner.
The Energy started the same back four in back to back games for the first time all season, and earned their first shutout of the season.
“No coincidence. I think we picked the same eleven tonight which is the first time this year,” said Cooke after the win.
The Energy are poised to turn around their form.
Up next, they have the Black Gold Derby match against Tulsa; a matchup Oklahoma City has historically dominated.
Stringing together back-to-back wins would be essential in building confidence for the Greens.
“Whenever you win, you grow in confidence. When you grow in confidence, you tend to play a little better. You’re happier, you’re more comfortable, and you get a little bit more belief in yourself and your team,” said Cooke.
Due to the injuries and the side still needing time to come together, Oklahoma City’s worst patch of play is likely behind them.
Despite the Energy’s run of a month without a win, the Greens are still in great position to qualify for the playoffs.
Due to constant league expansion over the past five years leading to different regular season lengths from year to year, it is difficult to obtain a firm points total which teams should look to earn to solidify a playoff bid.
With differing numbers of games in the regular season, the best metric to compare teams from different seasons is likely points per game (the total number of points accrued in the regular season divided by the number of games played). By examining the average points per game, we can see if the Energy are on pace to qualify for the playoffs in an average season.
Another difficulty with comparing playoff qualification from year to year is a differing number of teams who qualified for the playoffs.
To best judge Oklahoma City’s chances of making the playoffs this season, I determined the percentage of teams who make the playoffs from each conference.
For the 2019 season, 55 percent (10 of 18) will make the playoffs.
In the table below, by determining what place teams would qualify for the playoffs if 55 percent of teams made the playoffs in every year, I have compiled the average points per game of the last team to qualify for the playoffs in each conference since 2015 (the first year the USL split into two conferences).
|Year||Conference||Points Per Game of Lowest Seed|
|Four Year Average||1.43|
So, to expect to barely slip into the playoffs in an average season, you need to earn 1.43 points per game.
Through seven weeks, with presumably their worst soccer behind them, the Energy are averaging 1.43 points per game on the nose.
If Oklahoma City can steal a win at Tulsa, they face two straight teams currently sitting outside of the playoffs. The Greens then return to Taft Stadium for a three game home stand. The schedule shapes up for the Energy to dig in and start a sustained run of good form.
The key to success moving forward will be finding the proper balance in the midfield.
To date, Oklahoma City seems to either play completely on the front foot, attacking relentlessly, or stay pinned deep into their own half of the field, unable to have any sustained period of offense.
However, when the Energy have gotten the balance right and played on the front foot, they’ve been devastating.
In the offseason, the Oklahoma City front office completely reworked the front four.
In addition to Deshorn Brown, who the Energy signed in the closing weeks of the 2018 season, Oklahoma City brought in wingers Cordell Cato and Omar Gordon, as well as forwards Christian Eissele and Alexy Bosetti.
Wingers Cato and Gordon have started all seven games and been effective in attack for the Energy, tallying four goals and three assists between the two of them. Both Cato and Gordon flash great speed and ball skills every game, applying great pressure on opposing defenses and stretching them thin.
Eissele has filled in for the injured Brown admirably as well. While Eissele is not as prolific in front of goal as Brown, he still makes smart runs and can hold the ball up front, allowing the Energy to transition from defense to attack when they win the ball.
Bosetti signed with OKC as perhaps their highest profile player in club history.
The French international made 75 appearances for his hometown club OGC Nice in the first division of French football, as well as being a member of the French team that won the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2013.
After a slow start, Bosetti has come on strong, as he has settled in with the Energy. Over the past month, when he has been on the pitch, Bosetti has controlled the game through the midfield. As soon as OKC has won the ball, they outlet to Bosetti, who almost always picks out one of his attacking trio up top and unlocks the defense with passes finding his teammates.
For as good as Bosetti has been, Cooke still believes his best play is ahead of him.
“He needs to adapt to the United States as well as the game here in the United States. I think it’s a little bit quicker, and there’s a lot more transition involved in the game here. He’s got to get used to that high paced intensity all the way through. But he’s a great player. He’s learning a lot every day, and he’s a fantastic teammate. I think he’s a real to quality player,” said Cooke.
With Bosetti having adjusted to the American style of soccer a bit more, the real beneficiary should be Brown upon his return. With the quality of service he will receive from Bosetti, Brown will have more quality chances in front of goal, a nightmare to any opposing defense.
Bosetti’s absence is felt as soon as he is subbed out of the game. He has left the game around the 65th minute in every start. As soon as he exits, Oklahoma City is unable to achieve balance in the midfield. Like a giant pendulum swinging, the Energy swing from threatening in the attacking third for a majority of the game immediately to being pinned into their own box and defending relentlessly.
In the coming weeks, should Oklahoma City find proper balance in the midfield, they are poised to build momentum towards the playoffs. They have the personnel to put together a special season, they will just have to show it week in and week out on the field.