When Energy FC takes the pitch for the season opener on March 17th, they will be doing so with four players whose roots tie back to our local soccer community. While each has had a different pathway to pro, they all share common bonds in their development that now sees them returning home to represent the green and blue.
Defender Shawn McLaws grew up in Edmond, and graduated from Deer Creek High School. He attended Coastal Carolina University, and was drafted by New York Red Bulls in the third round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft (59th overall). While in college, he also spent two summers in the PDL with the Ocean City Nor’easters. McLaws has played the last two seasons for the Harrisburg City Islanders, now known as Penn FC. Last season, he was third in the USL I minutes played with 2,699. He was signed by The Greens in December 2017. “I grew up here,” McLaws says. “My family still lives here, and I have a ton of friends still in the area.” McLaws is a success story showcasing what can be achieved participating in youth soccer in Oklahoma. He played for Oklahoma Football Club (OFC), now known as Oklahoma Energy FC. “Growing up playing, I never thought that there would be a professional team in my city. There never was an option, not even a PDL team at the time,” McLaws explains. “I’ve been away for about seven years, so getting the opportunity to come home at this point was exciting and I was ready for that, for the new challenge, being able to represent my city everyday.”
Goalkeeper Bryan Byars has been lucky enough to have spent his entire soccer career in Oklahoma. A graduate of Putnam City North High School, Byars attended the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. Professionally, he played with Energy FC his rookie year in 2015, Rayo OKC in 2016, and the Tulsa Roughnecks in 2017. “I’m a big homebody,” Byars admits. Byars never thought, growing up, that professional soccer in Oklahoma would be an option for him to explore. “At the time, OK wasn’t very big in soccer,” he explains. With the addition of Energy FC, professional soccer here at home became a reality. “It was very cool to be able to chase that dream of playing pro here in Oklahoma,” Byars says.
Christian Ibeagha is coming back to Oklahoma as a defender for Energy FC after several years of professional experience. “It’s been like a homecoming tour, last year going back to North Carolina after being in school there for four years, and now coming back here,” Ibeagha says. “It’s kind of surreal.” After growing up attending Deer Creek High School, Ibeagha spent four years playing at Duke University. His professional resume includes international stops with Puerto Rico FC (NASL), Bohemians 1905 (Czech Republic) and FC Suouroy (Faroe Islands / Denmark). Last season, Ibeagha started and played in 28 matches with North Carolina FC. In 2016, he played with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. He remarks, “I’ve always felt like this is home, but it didn’t feel that way until I actually came back after being removed for so long. It’s definitely comfortable.” The familiar feeling of coming home has made Ibeagha’s move to Energy FC smooth. “Any time you go to a new team or a new place, you take time to adjust,” he explains. “Being the fact that I grew up here, that transition has been a bit smoother and a bit easier this time around.”
Midfielder Justin Chavez is excited to return to Oklahoma after playing professionally in Florida for the past five seasons. A native of Oklahoma City, Chavez graduated from Edmond Memorial High School, and then played for four years at the University of Tulsa. Following his collegiate career, he was selected in the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft by the Chicago Fire. “I had the opportunity to come to Oklahoma City this year, and I couldn’t say no,” he says. “I just had to take the opportunity to play in front of my family and friends.” Chavez cites passion and discipline as being keys to his professional success. He also notes the importance of support from family, friends and fans. “I already had a lot of support while I was away,” he explains. “I can only imagine what it will be like now that I am back home.”
The OKC Energy are committed to developing and showcasing homegrown talent. “Having players from Oklahoma in the squad aligns directly with the aspirational values that we hold paramount to everything here at the club,” states Jason Hawkins, Executive Director of Community Development. “From representing the city and fans as one, to helping paint a picture of what one day can be for the youth of our community and the club, this is definitely where we want to best players of Oklahoma to call home.”
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