Energy preseason kicks off with a renewed focus
Year Two of the John Pascarella era for the Oklahoma City Energy kicked off on Monday, with players officially reporting for preseason training.
Playing things on the safe side, the entire squad didn’t hit the training pitch, allowing those traveling back to Oklahoma City from out of market a few extra days to quarantine away from the team.
While Monday kicked off the second “preseason” with COVID-19 protocols in place, the players said the atmosphere was much different than the USL restart last May.
“Obviously it’s a little bit better, you know. We’re more used to it now because obviously went through the fall season last year with COVID and the protocols and the tests,” midfielder Jon Brown said. “And the difference I suppose is the weather this year because last year we would have started early January, I think.
“Now today it’s beautiful. Sun’s out, great to see all the staff again, the new players that have come in, obviously old faces as well. So it’s been a great day so far.”
Goalkeeper C.J. Cochran said everyone has adjusted to life with the new safety protocols by now.
“At this point it’s just kind of second nature,” he said. “You just wear your mask and follow the correct protocol and you’ll be alright. But yeah, it’s a little bit different but I think nobody minds doing it because everybody wants to keep themselves and their friends and family safe.”
After a tough 2020 made more complicated by a midseason stoppage and poor results on the field, the Energy brought back 12 players from last season’s USL campaign.
“Some people might argue, ‘why do you bring back a majority of a team that didn’t have a great season record-wise?’ Well because I think they tried to do the right things,” Pascarella said. “I think character-wise, they’re the right guys for our organization. They stand for the right things, and they’re good players.
“Some of the things that happened to us last year were out of our control. But the things we could control, I really like the way the boys handled those things. And so it’s, I feel really good and positive. Upbeat about this coming season and what they’re going to be able to do with it, coming off the experience of last year.”
One area Oklahoma City did focus their efforts to strengthen was the defense, adding two key signings at center back.
Mitch Osmund and Conor Donovan were both brought to Oklahoma City to shore up the back line, joining the team with ample USL experience.
“Because we had the ball so much last year and then lost it, very wide open and didn’t have a conscience defensively, we struggled,” Pascarella said. “We struggled against the counter last year. And I think we’re better organized to deal with that this year.
“I think that we have a little bit more vocal group in the back, which is important in terms of organization.”
Brown said he’s gotten to be around Osmund and Donovan a few weeks, and he thinks they’ll be great additions.
“Mitch (Osmund), obviously being an Australian guy, we’ve had good banter together,” he said. “And then Donovan, great lad, he’s actually my roommate this year. So it’s been good obviously mingle with those boys early for myself and get to know them before we’ve even started day one, so yeah, that’s been awesome. I’m excited by those who are coming in.”
Starting the second year with Pascarella means the team is shifting from simply learning the head coach’s philosophy on how to play to translating it into victories on the field, Cochran said.
“Anytime we step on the field in preseason, training, weekend backyard football game, you want to win. And that’s one of the big things we can do a much better job,” Cochran said. “Last year our preseason, we were happy to play the way we wanted to play and ‘oh we didn’t get the result, that’s fine’, that’s not the case.
“We’re going to build the will to win and the desire to win right from the get go. So anytime we stepping on the field this season, we’re going to be looking to win.”
The Energy still have a few weeks before preseason friendlies officially kick off, but Pascarella said he was happy with what he saw out of his squad on day one.
“For a first day, it was great,” he said. “But what was really nice about it was everybody out and excited out with that passion for playing and passion for the team again.”