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Oklahoma City Energy lose ground in USL West after scrappy draw

Scrappy game ends in scrappy fashion

The Oklahoma City Energy FC finished their two-week road trip in Canada with a 2-2 draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. Three games in the Pacific Northwest over the course of eight days definitely took their toll, as did the heat toward the end of Saturday’s game.

The game started in a rough and tumble manner as both teams tried to acclimate to the unusual heat in Vancouver. Whitecaps 2 started a young lineup and used their size advantage from the outset. Both teams used the wide spaces to their advantage leaving much of the midfield open and this lead to a very open game that went back and forth throughout the first half, with both teams countering quickly.

Vancouver had the first good chance of the half in the 24th minute after the Energy CBs were split and Laurendi had to come up big with a 1v1 save. Less than ten minutes later, Alex Dixon was played in behind the Whitecaps 2 defense with his own breakaway situation, only to have his chipped attempt parried away by one of Spencer Richey’s big mitts. This signaled the Energy’s intent to play direct when possible, and spray the ball wide when a through ball was not on.

Taking the Lead

Not five minutes after Dixon’s miss the Energy put themselves in the lead after a seemingly innocuous goal kick. Laurendi sent the ball well past midfield, and after a short interchange between Rasmussen, Guzman, and Barril the ball found Andy Craven with acres of space out wide. He smartly drove right at the near post and laid the ball across hard and low where Guzman finished wonderfully to the top corner.

This seemed to set a fire under the Whitecaps 2 as they turned up the intensity, which the Energy met and took the lead to halftime. The only real negative in the first half was the injury to Rasmussen, which we will look to hear more about this week. The second half started the way it ended, with the Whitecaps 2 getting down the flanks and whipping in several crosses. In the 53rdminute a left footed cross seemed to fool Laurendi, but he did manage to get a hand on it, saving a likely goal. It appeared as though the OKC keeper misjudged the flight of the ball and mistimed his jump only to flail at the ball and get a fingertip on it. Thankfully, this did just enough to throw off the Whitecaps 2 attacker who headed over while slipping down in an attempt to change direction.

Whitecaps Chances, Crosses & FKs in the 15 minutes each side of halftime
USLSoccer.com

Time of indecision really bit the Energy in the defensive third of the field. At various times during the game the defenders looked confused as to whether they should try to build up or clear the ball when under pressure. This likely lends itself to learning and teaching issues, but the inconsistency certainly added to the pressure that lead to the first goal. Compounding pressure added and piled up until the breaking point. After failing to clear the ball properly the Energy conceded a free kick near midfield. They turned off for a moment and the Whitecaps 2 right back – Kadin Chung (who I would expect to see in MLS sooner than later) – made a decisive run and played a fantastic ball in behind to the right winger that lead to a corner kick. Michael Harris whiffed with a left footed clearance and the ball bounced – a death knell for defending teams on service into the box.

Biting Back

Showing some mental toughness and resolve, the Energy responded very quickly to retake the lead after only five minutes. Harris redeemed himself by getting in behind the Whitecaps 2 left winger, making a solid 50 yard run, after a fantastic diagonal ball played to him by Chad Bond. His first touch was perfect and took him across the defender’s path and the Whitecaps 2 winger could do nothing but clatter into him just inside the box. Andy Craven smartly put the penalty away and the Energy retook the lead.

The third goal opened up both teams and the game became even more back and forth, tilted slightly toward the Energy. You can see from the image below that the Whitecaps 2 definitely intended to serve the ball into the box over and over.

Whitecaps 2 Chances & Crosses
USLSoccer.com

This insistence on service got the Whitecaps 2 an equalizer in the 73rd minute. A corner was whipped in and met with a vicious volley only to be saved off the line by Barril, leading to a second consecutive corner. From this second corner another man was unmarked and this time was able to head past Laurendi to equalize. Marking on set pieces is mostly a focus and effort issue, and to have consecutive corners with wide-open players is rather concerning and likely part of the reason that the Energy are sitting in 8th place presently.

Man Advantage Leads to Little

Positively, while Dixon went missing for long stretches of the game, his pace and willingness to run at defenders came up big as he pushed the ball past Dominick Zator in the 76th minute causing Zator to take Dixon down. This gave Zator his second yellow and OKC played up a man for the final 13 minutes. Unfortunately the Energy was only able to scratch out one chance in the final minutes and settled for the draw. It is not as if a draw is a bad result on the road, let alone at the end of a long road trip, but this one feels like a big missed opportunity. Three points would have put the Energy into seventh place and only goal difference would keep them away from sixth. Vancouver definitely had some very dangerous chances, but the Energy should have punished the Whitecaps 2 more than they did and come home with all three points. Let’s now hope the Energy can pull out all three points as they go on the road again next week to play at the Monarchs in Salt Lake. A win would be a huge boost as they would beat the league leaders, but in this case a draw would be a positive.