After a week off, the Greens will hit the pitch twice in Matchweek 10. First up, a trip to Dallas to face the NTX Rayados in the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The guys then return home to take on Western Conference rival Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in league play on Saturday night.
Wednesday’s match will be a great opportunity to put an end to the goalless run and get a win for the first time in almost two months. Rayados are an amateur team that competes in the North Texas Premier Soccer Association. Founded in 2011, they are in the Open Cup for an impressive seventh consecutive year – the longest streak of any qualifier in the modern era (1995-present). Their furthest run in the competition was in 2014, when they were eliminated in the third round by the San Antonio Scorpions.
Rayados advanced to the second round after defeating the Fort Worth Vaqueros 2-1 in the opening round on May 9 at Richland Community College. Former Energy U23 player Christian Okeke scored the winning goal in the 85th minute. Having a squad of amateur players with full-time jobs away from the pitch means that the roster for Rayados tends to change from year to year and even game to game, depending on which players are available. Whoever is in the team on Wednesday will surely be fired up to try and “cupset” the Greens in front of their home fans. These types of matchups are what make the Open Cup so unique.
A convincing Open Cup performance could be just what Energy FC needs to build some confidence and jumpstart the 2018 campaign. OKC had a similarly slow start in 2017, and won only one of the opening six league matches until a 5-1 thrashing of Moreno Valley FC in the second round of Open Cup competition. OKC then went on to win the next three league matches to get the season on track. With Energy FC’s schedule being the seventh most difficult in the USL so far (based on opponents’ current standings), the time to make a move up the table is definitely over the next couple of months. In the next eight matches, the Greens only face two sides currently in playoff positions.
As soon as the match is over, Energy FC come back up I-35 to prepare for the visit from Colorado Springs on Saturday night, in the first of three league meetings between the sides. Switchbacks FC, currently 7th in the table on 14 points, picked up a 1-0 win on Saturday night against Las Vegas Lights FC to get in among the playoff spots. The goal by Luke Vercollone in the 70th minute ended a 402-minute drought without a goal for Colorado Springs. The goals haven’t been flowing lately for the Switchbacks, and the team has also struggled on the road. Only 3 of their 14 points have come away from home, so hopefully Taft Stadium is not any more welcoming for the visitors.
The Switchbacks lined up in a 4-3-3 against Vegas: Ceus; Hunter, Eboussi, Jack, Suggs; Burt, Schweitzer, Robinson (Maybin, 92’); Ajeakwa (Tae-Song, 91’), Vercollone, Malcolm (Uzo, 78’). Head Coach Steve Trittschuh has started that way during the last three matches but has gone back and forth between it and a 4-2-3-1 throughout the season.
Switchbacks FC don’t necessarily have any one player that they can rely on for goals. Six players have chipped in to score this year, with three leading the team on two goals apiece: Vercollone, AJ Ajeakwa and Jordan Burt. The same can be said for creating goals, as they’ve only managed to produce four assists this season, with Josh Suggs, the left back, leading the way with two.
For Energy FC, Coach Steve Cooke opted for a 4-4-2 formation again last week, handing Christian Volesky his debut and playing him alongside former teammate Jose Angulo. With two out-and-out strikers in Angulo and Volesky, and the absence of Jaime Siaj, who’s on national team duty, expect to see that pair lead the line for the foreseeable future. Miguel Gonazalez is available for Open Cup selection, as his three match ban does not carry over to that competition. Saturday night will be the last league match he misses due to suspension.
Since the change from a 4-2-3-1, the possession and buildup play looks stronger each week, but all of the possession hasn’t translated to goals.
On the most recent episode of the Off Pitch Podcast, Cooke discussed the style of play and said, “I think some of that possession is negative possession or sideways possession… we are not quick enough at the moment to transition into attacking.”
Basically, the Greens need to find a way to pick out those killer passes and turn the possession into goals. If they play a little quicker, start to take a few more risks instead of always playing safe passes, the goals will start to come.
Wednesday’s match at Richland Community College kicks off at 7:30 p.m CT, and will be available to stream on ussoccer.com. Saturday’s match at Taft Stadium kicks off at 7:00 p.m. CT, and for those unable to attend in person, it will be available to watch on ESPN+.