By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, February 28, 2016
OKC Energy FC returned to Taft Stadium for the first time since last season’s Western Conference Final in the USL Playoffs on Saturday night, and received the sort of welcome you’d expect from a city that has wholly embraced the club over the past two years.
“It's fantastic,” Coach Jimmy Nielsen said. “We feel at home here. Playing in front of our fans that are so important to us, that means a lot to us, to the players and to the organization. I think we have something going on here with the team and with the fan base.”
Energy FC fell 2-1 to new MLS partner FC Dallas on the night in front of a sellout crowd of more than 7,000 fans as early goals by Atiba Harris and Timo Pitter left the hosts in a hole they were unable to pull out of. The team’s response to the early deficit pleased Nielsen, however, as they battled well against one of the top clubs in MLS.
“It's not easy to run out there and being down 2-0 after 15 minutes,” Nielsen said. “They showed what they're made of, and yes I'm not satisfied with the first 15 minutes. But the last 75 minutes, I think we competed well with the guys.”
One of the players who caught the eye again was new goalkeeper Cody Laurendi, who put in another stellar performance. The former LA Galaxy II and Austin Aztex man has had a strong preseason so far as he looks to replace Evan Newton, now departed for Sacramento.
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“He's an absolutely fantastic goalkeeper,” Nielsen said. “He had two or three amazing saves. He kept us in the game, and kept the game close. That's why we brought him here. He's a fantastic person, he's proven from day one that he's an absolutely fantastic goalkeeper, and he proved that tonight as well.”
After visiting Taft Stadium a season ago as the enemy, Laurendi enjoyed having the fans behind him in his first home game as an Energy FC player.
“It was great,” Laurendi said. “It's nice being around The Grid and not hearing their awful choices of words they have to say about you. It's more positive this time.”
With a four weeks to go until Energy FC’s home opener against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Nielsen is pleased with the direction his side is moving in.
“I was looking for improvement from the New York FC game. Did I see that? Absolutely yes,” Nielsen said. “I think our ball movement was better, we were challenging their defense a lot. Was it perfect? No. But, we have a month to shape things up. However, to compete with FC Dallas the way we did tonight makes me proud. I'm seeing a lot of progress.”