ICS contributor Jordan Beech has been following OKC Energy FC from the beginning, and he had some great comments on the club to prep us for tonight's match.
ICS: Like Sacramento, OKC has an affiliate deal with an MLS team, but the relationships are likely very different. Have you seen a benefit to the Energy from the partnership with FC Dallas?
JB: In regards to our partnership with FC Dallas, I think the Energy has had a much more beneficial relationship with our affiliate than Sacramento has had. Where Sacramento has basically had a hate-love relationship with San Jose since the beginning, OKC has really enjoyed the fruits of our affiliation with the Hoops.
For instance, Coy Craft has been fantastic for us this season. In 10 games, he’s scored three goals and also chipped in with an assist. He’s consistently been a threat from the midfield, keeping defenses honest while averaging just north of two shots per game. While he’s only averaging around 60 minutes per game, his work rate has been phenomenal, and you can see where that playing time has taken him since he was just rewarded with a spot in the Chipotle Homegrown Game last week.
Our other loanee from Dallas currently on the roster is Timo Pitter. I don’t have a ton to say on him since he’s only spent 36 minutes on the field, but in that time he has scored a goal and an assist, so there’s that.
All in all, I think the OKC front office has done a fantastic job when affiliating with MLS teams. The initial partnership with Sporting KC before they started up Swope Park was a boon. You had Mikey Lopez who came up big for us a few times, while Christian Duke, after playing for OKC on loan from SKC for two years, eventually signed and played 19 games for the Energy in 2015. Never mind the fact that the coaching staff and front office in Kansas City are some of the best in MLS and we undoubtedly learned some best practices from them.
ICS: How has the Energy fanbase responded to "Soccer Warz" in OKC, and can the Energy sustain its popularity even if Rayo stays in town?
JB: You had to bait me with this question didn’t you?
JB: For the most part, I think it’s been good-natured fun. Obviously we’d be a lot more bitter if we’d lost the US Open Cup match, but we didn’t, so there’s that. Now, obviously I’ve thrown out some takes on this site about Rayo, but that’s strictly from a management perspective. Ultimately, I think everyone just wants to see professional soccer succeed in Oklahoma City, though some of us would undoubtedly prefer the Energy to Rayo.
As far as sustaining popularity, I think we’ll be fine. Rayo has tried greatly to cater towards suburban families, and while there are certainly suburbanites that support the Energy, the Greens’ support has much heavier Millennial flavor since it’s closer to the downtown center. Both clubs are averaging a little over 3,000 fans, and OKC’s been starting to sustain success on the field.
That being said, Rayo is second in the NASL Fall Table. They have a lot of issues to sort out with the ownership group, in particular the potential vacuum left by Vallecano after they got relegated. If they get those sorted, I think both will coexist quite well. After all, the Thunder don’t look to be bound for any deep NBA Finals runs any time soon (#RIPDurant)…
ICS: The Energy are having an excellent, if under-the-radar season, in which they have only two losses, and only one against a team below them in the standings. What's been their strength this season - AKA, what do the Republic need to shut down in order to get a win?
JB: If this was last year, I’d say shut down Danni König and don’t give him looks at goal. However, this year, it’s definitely more about shutting down the supply lines. König and Sebastian Dalgaard have combined for seven assists, and they always seem to be ridiculously timely ones at that. There’s not a real goal-scoring threat this year since no one has notched more than three goals, so it’s really just incredibly important to not give those two time on the ball so they can pick out the perfect pass.
The Energy have made their living this year on clamping down in the second half of games. While their opponents have a 1-to-1 ratio in goals scored at 11 apiece in the first half, OKC are outscoring opponents 6-to-1 in the second half of games. There’s a grittiness to the side. They’ve scored about 30 percent of their goals past the 75th minute, and it’s not just one person.
There are six different scorers for each of the six goals scored in the final 15 minutes of the match, including two game-winners (Kalen Ryden and Coy Craft) and one to tie the match up (Jordan Rideout). In that time frame, Sacramento won’t also have a distributor to target for a tighter marking assignment because there have been four different people handing out assists. Dalgaard and Pitter have both handed out game-winners.
Sacramento needs to win the first half, definitively, if they hope to win the game. No disrespect to my fellow Energy fans, but Taft isn’t exactly the fortress the marketing department touts it as, if we’re looking strictly from a goals-against standpoint. Of OKC’s 13 goals against, eight have come with the Greens playing at Historic Taft Stadium. It’s a narrow window, but from the 15th minute to the 27th minute is when the defense tends to lose concentration, allowing five of the eight goals in that time frame.
So, specifically, what needs to happen for Sacramento to win? First, they need to take advantage of the first half, especially the middle third of the first 45 minutes. Next, they need to be prepared for the final 15 minutes of the match which is where OKC really makes its living. Clamp down, pack the box, and kill the supply lines from Dalgaard and König. If the Republic can do all that, they should have a shot.
Catch Republic FC at OKC Energy FC, tonight at 5:30pm PT, on ESPN3.