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Championship Return to Play Preview – Group D

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 06/25/20, 1:35PM EDT

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Black Gold Derby rivals, trio of Copa Tejas squads combine for open group battle


Austin Bold FC and San Antonio FC both got off to winning starts to their new seasons, and will be vying for the postseason in Group D. | Photo courtesy Austin Bold FC

The group assignments for Groups A through D ahead of the USL Championship’s resumption of the 2020 season are being made on Thursday, giving us a chance to take a first look at each of the teams as they get ready to return to action.

Finally today, we look at Group D, which includes not only the two sides that contest the Black Gold Derby in OKC Energy FC and FC Tulsa, but also a trio of teams which last year battled for the inaugural Copa Tejas.

Austin Bold FC
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W vNM 1-0 [3/7]
Head Coach: Marcelo Serrano
2019 Season: 13-12-9, 48pts; Eliminated Western Conference Quarterfinals
OVERVIEW
Picking up all three points to start the new season against a solid New Mexico United side was ideal for Bold FC, and the lone side to reach the postseason out of the five teams in this group is probably confident of its chances of advancing to the postseason. That confidence stems from the depth in the club’s squad, where Head Coach Marcelo Serrano believes he’s got two good options at every position to see them through.
Player to Watch
Andre Lima
The Brazilian veteran picked up where he left off in Austin’s first season with the lone goal against New Mexico United after leading the club with 14 tallies in 2019. It’s not just his goal-scoring ability that makes Lima valuable, though, as his strength and hold-up play – Lima finished first in Aerial Duels Won and second in Duels Won on Bold FC last season – make him an ideal target man for others to play off.
OKC Energy FC
Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L vCOS 1-2 [3/7]
Head Coach: John Pascarella
2019 Season: 9-14-11, 38pts
OVERVIEW
It’s never a good feeling to fall in the first game under a new Head Coach, but there were positive signs for Energy FC to take out of its loss to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in March. As many newcomers as there were in the lineup that night, It’s going to be important for Energy FC to get out to a good start upon resumption, but on paper this side has what it takes to contend in this group.
Player to Watch
Frank Lopez
Lopez didn’t find the net in Energy FC’s opener, but the performance he put in up front should have given some optimism that it won’t be long after the resumption before he does. The Cuban forward has been one of the most prolific in the Championship in the past two seasons with the LA Galaxy II and San Antonio FC, and his strike rate may hold the key to OKC’s season.
Rio Grande Valley FC
Record: 0-1-0, 0pts | L vLA 1-5 [3/8]
Head Coach: Gerson Echeverry
2019 Season: 11-15-8, 41pts
OVERVIEW
The Toros’ run of four wins in five games to end the 2019 season gave optimism for what this year would hold. That mood suffered a setback thanks to a heavy home defeat to the LA Galaxy II on the opening weekend, but that shouldn’t dim the hopes of Toros fans. The defensive issues Los Dos exposed must be addressed, but it still feels as though there is enough talent here to contend for the club’s first playoff trip since its inaugural season in 2016.
Player to Watch
Luka Prpa
Prpa was an interesting prospect coming out of Marquette, where he earned All-Big East honors in all four seasons. He looked the part in the Toros’ opener, too, notching a goal and five chances created while making incisive runs that found space in the attacking third. If Prpa can develop more chemistry with the Toros’ other attacking pieces, it could make the memory of that home opener quickly disappear.
San Antonio FC
Record: 1-0-0, 3pts | W vSLC 1-0 [3/7]
Head Coach: Alen Marcina
2019 Season: 12-13-9, 45pts
OVERVIEW
Pulling off a victory against the defending USL Championship Final-winner in the first game under Head Coach Alen Marcina was a great start for San Antonio, and it feels as though there is going to be more to come from this squad. From the experience of Luis Solignac to the young dynamism of Jose Gallegos, this feels like a side that is going to push strongly for a return to the playoffs.
Player to Watch
Jose Gallegos
San Antonio’s Academy system is a major source of pride, and while the club’s youngest Leo Torres might become the crown jewel of that program soon, Gallegos could be its first major breakout star. The attacking midfielder had a big preseason and solid season opener. If the next three months prove to be his coming out party, the door could open wide for where his future is headed.
FC Tulsa
Record: 0-0-1, 1pt | T @SAC 1-1 [3/7]
Head Coach: Michael Nsien
2019 Season: 8-16-10, 34pts
OVERVIEW
New look, new players, new mindset. Things definitely felt different about FC Tulsa this season, and its road draw with Sacramento Republic FC to start 2020 only added to the idea that this is going to be a new era for the club under the leadership of the Craft family. What happens next? Well, the talent is certainly there, and the cohesiveness seems to be as well. Does that mean Tulsa’s going to find a way into the top two here? I think most in their camp believe it’s there for the taking.
Player to Watch
Rodrigo Da Costa
After news of his preseason trial with Vancouver Whitecaps FC came out, the question of whether Rodrigo Da Costa had played his last game in Tulsa’s colors was a real one. When he signed a new multi-year deal to stay in Oklahoma – and then picked up the club’s goal against Sacramento – it cemented how much the Brazilian means to the club and its fans. There could be fireworks this season in Tulsa, and Da Costa, Lebo Moloto and Ariel Martinez are here to set them off.

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