By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, March 10, 2016
OKC Energy FC was just one step away from advancing to the 2015 USL Championship, and getting past that hump is now the third-year side’s next task heading into the 2016 season. While the club wanted to advance further a year ago, Jimmy Nielsen has to feel positive about that campaign overall. Some changes will be evident among this year’s roster, but with the team’s scoring leader Danni König returning, that’s half the battle toward a strong follow-up season.
Head Coach: Jimmy Nielsen
Stadium: Taft Stadium
2015 results: 13-7-8; 2nd in Western Conference
2015 postseason: 2-2 draw (4-3 shootout win) vs. Colorado Springs in West Semifinals; 2-1 loss vs. LA Galaxy II in West Final
Goalkeeper: Aside from Ray Clark’s start against Seattle Sounders FC 2 last season, Energy FC’s goalkeeping work was from the gloves of Evan Newton. With Newton now at Sacramento Republic FC, OKC will need a new No. 1. Clark has been OKC’s backup for the past two seasons, making four appearances in 2014 and one last year. Newly-signed Cody Laurendi has the wealth of USL experience among this group, playing 19 games during the LA Galaxy II’s 2014 season and then 12 matches for the Austin Aztex last year. Energy FC’s other piece is Jacob Lissek, a Fairleigh Dickinson alum who was a former trialist with OKC who was with the Charlotte Independence last season.
Defense: OKC maintained the majority of its back line from a year ago, with the center back pairing of Coady Andrews and Cyprian Hedrick highlighting the group. Right back Michael Thomas led the defensive line in minutes (2,377), goals (2) and assists (tied with 4) as he will continue to be one of the team’s most important pieces. Following Christian Duke’s departure, there has been some competition for the left block slot, with either Kyle Hyland or Kalen Ryden likely to take on that starting role.
Midfield: Gareth Evans has been with the club from the start and truly is the engine among this group. OKC also locked up returning midfielders Daniel Gonzalez and Sebastian Dalgaard. Energy FC brought in some added speed with the signing of Ghanaian Evans Frimpong, who previously played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The mix in the midfield should make for a relatively consistent and versatile unit heading into the 2016 season.
Forward: The pool of forwards has changed from last year, but Energy FC’s most important piece is back. Danni König led OKC with 21 goals, was in the running for the USL Golden Boot and was a USL MVP Finalist. The offense naturally will continue to center around him, and OKC’s best set-up man from a year ago, Casey Townsend, also returns to the fold. The winger led Energy FC with six assists to go along with a goal in regular-season play in 2015. Among the newcomers, former Real Salt Lake draft selection Daniel Jackson has spent the past two years in the professional ranks with the Carolina RailHawks and last year with the Charlotte Independence where he tied for second on the club with four goals. Jordan Rideout began his professional career with Arizona United SC last year, preceded by three years in the PDL, including the 2014 Ventura County Fusion.
Strengths: Danni König’s finishing ability is an obvious strength – it goes without saying – having flirted with the USL record for goals in a season in a battle with Louisville City FC’s Matt Fondy. In saying that, the other strengths of this team are the winger/outside roles on this club, and their performances are crucial. Casey Townsend and captain Michael Thomas, to pinpoint a couple players, have been steady cogs for OKC and will continue to be moving forward.
Weaknesses: The departure of Evan Newton is the most significant move of OKC’s offseason, especially considering the impact he had during last year’s USL Playoffs. Cody Laurendi and Ray Clark have a good grasp of the USL and the Western Conference specifically, but their efforts matched alongside Newton’s track record is an unfair comparison. The club will find out quickly if this goalkeeping corps meets Jimmy Nielsen’s needs, and defensive consistency certainly at times was an issue last season.
Key number: 10 – OKC Energy FC posted 10 victories at home last season – one of only three teams to accomplish a double-digit feat. The others were 2015 USL Champions the Rochester Rhinos (12) and Seattle Sounders FC 2 (11).
Noteworthy matchups: Much of the season will have passed by the time Energy FC faces 2015 USL runners-up the LA Galaxy II for the first time since being eliminated by Los Dos in the USL Western Conference Final. They square off only once this season on Aug. 13 at Taft Stadium. As previously mentioned in Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s preview, the match between that club and OKC to open the season on March 26 at Taft could be another thriller after Energy FC held the upper hand via a penalty shootout in the postseason.
Coach’s view: “I’m very pleased that we’re in a position to be affiliated with FC Dallas. The location makes good sense, as well. Dallas is known for using a lot of younger players. They can help us. We can help them. I think it’s a win-win situation for both.” – Jimmy Nielsen
Current roster (updated: March 10, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Ray Clark, Cody Laurendi, Jacob Lissek
Defenders: Coady Andrews, Michael Harris, Cyprian Hedrick, Kyle Hyland, Kalen Ryden, Michael Thomas
Midfielders: Sebastian Dalgaard, Gareth Evans, Evans Frimpong, Daniel Gonzalez, Luis Martinez, Peter Toth
Forwards: Michael Byskov, Daniel Jackson, Tim Janssen, Danni König, Jordan Rideout, Casey Townsend