With the current construction of what will soon be Toro Stadium, Saturday’s match was played at H-E-B Field, about 100 yards from the construction site. Though the teams used the already-completed locker rooms at the stadium site, the halftime “locker rooms” were two tent-like canopies just outside the boundaries of the playing field. OKC’s canopy was equipped with two benches and a single floodlight placed on the ground. The closest restroom was nearly 50 yards away.
The weather conditions Saturday night were easily the best of OKC’s three trips to RGV this year. Though always humid, the low-80s temperature and cool breeze made for a pleasant night. In the Energy’s previous two trips, heat and wind were prevalent, making soccer a tough task.
Around the 80th minute, OKC’s frustration reached its pinnacle as Michael Thomas sent a pass wide that was intended to lead Michael Byskov up the sideline. Following the pass that rolled several yards ahead of Byskov and out of bounds, the OKC captain then let out a deafening scream that seemingly encapsulated Energy FC’s frustrating night and season against the Toros.
Kalen Ryden was an animal for OKC. Physical throughout Saturday night’s match, Ryden was Energy FC’s Dennis Rodman in the early going, challenging RGV players with physical play on the ball and mental abuse off it.
If Ryden was Rodman, Linus Olsson was Bill Laimbeer. With a couple well-placed elbows and a shove here and there, Olsson was a thorn in the Toros’ side throughout the second half.
Speed and aggression was OKC’s plan in the second half. The coaching staff constantly stressed increasing the pace in the second half. Whenever the game slowed down, coach Nielsen and company hurried the Energy players and urged them to move into position faster. The staff was so concerned with the pace of play that they actually confiscated a game ball early in the second half so they could combat any attempts by RGV to slow down the game on the retrieval of balls out of bounds.
When Michael Harris grabbed the ball on the sideline near midfield prior to what would be Colin Bonner’s first of two goals in second half stoppage time, coach Nielsen approached Harris.
“C’mon, Harris. Focus. Find Bonner. Focus.”
Harris indeed found Bonner, and Bonner found the back of the RGV net for a dramatic game-tying goal.
Though Colin Bonner was an easy choice for Man of the Match, Bonner and the rest of the OKC squad should be sending a nice fruit basket Michael Harris’s way. Harris may have been OKC’s best player in second half stoppage time. Prior to Bonner’s first goal, Harris lofted a perfect setup near the top-right corner of the RGV six which led to a rocket of a shot by Cyprian Hedrick that sailed wide by a fraction of an inch.
Following Hedrick’s miss, Harris then made another play that kept the ball in the attacking third for OKC after a steal by RGV’s Eric Bird. On Bird’s outlet pass up field to the dangerous Yair Arboleda, Harris jumped the passing lane and knocked the ball back to Michael Thomas, allowing another chance for OKC.
Seconds before OKC’s equalizer, Cody Laurendi saved any hope for an Energy FC comeback when Arboleda streaked alone up field. With Hedrick trailing the speedy Arboleda, Laurendi charged out to reduce the shooting angle, forcing Arboleda’s shot to sail over the cross bar.
What’s scarier? Arboleda charging alone toward the OKC net, or Eric Bird getting his foot on a ball anywhere near the OKC box? I’ll hang up and listen...
Despite the elation of tying the game, the Energy FC bench quickly regained its composure following the equalizing goal and the coaching staff hurried players back to midfield. Knowing there was still nearly three minutes of stoppage time left and sensing a dramatic momentum shift to the Energy, Nielsen and his staff made it no secret that OKC was going for the kill. Nielsen, along with coaches James Ritchie, Mark Howard and Chris Spendlove brilliantly orchestrated a soccer-esque version of a two-minute offense that culminated in a game-winning goal in the fifth of a five-minute stoppage period.
With no actual seating behind the net, RGV supporters group, The Stampede, was no more than 10 feet behind the Laurendi, relentlessly taunting the OKC keeper the entire second half. After the win, Laurendi said it was one of the most difficult environments he’s played in, which made the win ever sweeter for him.
Speaking of The Stampede, big props to them for having a tuba. Not sure it gets any better than a tuba version of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.
Luis Martinez, your table is ready. With the fewest minutes of any Energy FC player, Martinez was a major factor for OKC and supplied what might've been the best corner kick of the entire 2016 Energy season.