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Texas Two Step Proves Tough for Greens, Plenty of Potential to Build On

By Tyler Vaughn, 03/21/21, 10:00AM CDT


Solid performances were undone by costly mistakes and quality opposition in the first two outings for the 2021 squad.

At the end of just two short weeks of preseason training, Energy FC was put to the test with a trip to Texas to face two MLS clubs, Austin FC and FC Dallas.

On Friday, the squad played expansion side Austin FC. While the final result of 5-1 doesn’t look good on paper, the halftime score was 1-1, with the Greens gifting Austin an equalizer shortly before the interval, after Frank Lopez's rocket of a free kick put OKC ahead.

The second half featured an entirely different lineup, including four trialists, three of whom played across the back line. They were met by a highly-motivated Austin lineup that went all out to avoid defeat in their first competitive outing in club history, exposing an unavoidable lack of cohesion.

24 hours later, the team was asked to do it again. The lineups, result and performance proved similar. A very good first half, in which the Greens started slowly and conceded early from a mistake, should have ended level, with FCD saving a penalty to keep the Greens off the board.

Once again, Head Coach John Pascarella made predetermined, wholesale changes at the end of the 45 minutes, and while the squad battled and displayed improved chemistry compared to the day before, they ended up conceding a second goal around the 65-minute mark. Dallas was able to pour it on in the final 20 minutes, adding two goals, including another from a costly mistake, to finish 4-1.

While the scorelines might be harshly judged, it’s important to provide some perspective when viewing these results, especially since Energy Nation hasn’t been able to see this team in action yet. Preseason training started March 1 for about half of the team. The other half had to wait a week before joining due to Covid protocols for players traveling from out of state. These games were also the first outings where the squad played 11 v 11. Match fitness has not been reached yet, not by a long shot, and no player was to be played more than 45 minutes in each game, hence why so many trialists were brought to help make up the numbers.

There were also certainly some positives to take away from the weekend, outside of getting minutes and improving fitness levels.

The back line. Right back Zach Ellis-Hayden, center backs Mitch Osmond and Conor Donovan, and left back Robert Coronado, who will likely be the starting defense when the season starts, were fantastic. If someone watching for the first time had no clue about their history, they would never guess that they’d only started playing together a couple of weeks ago. With CJ Cochran behind them, and Hiroki Kurimoto just ahead in the holding midfield role, USL Championship attacks are going to have trouble breaking them down.

“I think the connection has come quite quickly,” said Osmond. “We haven’t had a lot of time working together, but it looked good today. Every day that we’ve been together has been better than the previous. We’re slowly figuring each other out, creating those connections and better organizing the guys in front of us, which is going to be crucial for our season.”

Hiroki Kurimoto. This guy is a smooth operator and a leader as well. He’s quick, he’s physical, he reads the game well, and he’s great in tight spaces. Thank you, Colorado Springs Switchbacks.

“I think he’s going to be very good for us,” said Pascarella. “You can just see how calm he is, and that was a big difference between the two groups this weekend. When you have someone who can sit in front of the back four, who understands and controls the game, it makes things easier and more organized.”

Leadership. Respected leaders, especially vocal ones, aren’t easy to come by. We’ve had our fair share over the years but probably never in this quantity. This squad has at least four who are willing to say what’s on their minds at all times: CJ Cochran, Conor Donovan, Hiroki Kurimoto and Mitch Osmond. They are constantly communicating, organizing and helping the team, on and off the field. They also form the diamond base of the lineup. You couldn’t ask for a better leadership setup or a better pool of potential captains to succeed Atiba Harris.

“We have a few guys who are starting to emerge as leaders,” said Pascarella. “I think Hiroki, Mitch and Conor are guys who really stand up and say what needs to be said at the right moments. We have good leadership, and that’s why a trip like this is good for us—to be able to get away and have the guys get to know each other a bit away from the training ground to see who emerges as the guy people listen to.”

The attack. With Frank Lopez back and looking settled and Jaime Chavez leading the line expertly as he always does, the forward position is going to be just fine. Throw in Aidan Daniels and Charlie Ward, both of whom were not with the squad this weekend, as well as Kodai Iida, Arun Basuljevic, Jon Brown and Tucker Stephenson, the attacking midfield and wings are in great shape.

“We’re still trying to figure out what the best squad is, but Charlie and Aidan are certainly big pieces of it,” said Pascarella. “We have the tools. Now, we just need to figure out the best way to use them.”

Again, it’s not all doom and gloom. We’ve gotten our hopes up a few times over recent years, but this team feels different. This team is balanced, hungry and talented. Keep the faith and stay #FullyCharged, Greens.

Lineups for both matches:

First half: GK: CJ Cochran; DF: Zach Ellis-Hayden, Conor Donovan, Mitch Osmond, Robert Coronado; MF: Hiroki Kurimoto, Trialist, Trialist; FW/W: Groutchov Pierre, Frank Lopez, Kodai Iida

Second half: GK: Kyle Ihn (Sam Howard played the final 20 minutes against FCD), DF: Trialist, Trialist, Trialist, Mueng Sunday; MF: Brad Dunwell, Arun Basuljevic, Trialist; FW/W: Jon Brown, Jaime Chavez, Tucker Stephenson