• Ryan Chapman

Frustrated by another draw, the OKC Energy feel they are close to breaking through

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Energy are frustrated.

Conceding in the 89th minute against Atlanta United 2 on Sunday evening at Taft Stadium, the Energy have dropped four points from winning positions over the last two games.

“Disappointing,” OKC defender Mitch Osmond said after the match. “It’s been the theme of our season so far. We’re conceding late goals. Really are poor, there’s really no excuse for them.

“It’s something where we need to look at ourselves really hard in the mirror and really decide what we’re going to be this season.”

Oklahoma City head coach John Pascarella said there have been improvements every single game, but there are still key mistakes happening in the big moments that are costing the team.

“I thought we were pretty good from start to finish, excluding a couple of moments,” he said after the game. “There were moments in the game where we kind of tuned out, and those just weren’t on the goals, there were other moments as well.”

But the key moment that cost the Energy came in the lead up to Atlanta’s second equalizer.

Coming off of a set piece, Atlanta United quickly got together and fired the ball in. After OKC was unable to get a clean clearance, the ball fell to United’s Tyler Wolff, who rifled the ball past goal keeper C.J. Cochran’s far post.

“We were pretty structured and disciplined defending corners and set pieces, very very good in that moment of the game,” Pascarella said. “In that one we didn’t defend well and if you look at it, we weren’t set and we weren’t structured because Hiroki (Kurimoto) wasn’t in his near post space yet and guys were still getting organized.”

Pascarella said those mistakes boil down to the team playing more matches together and building a group understanding and maturity of how to respond to adversity during each match.

“That’s clever for them, and silly on us. But again, we don’t have the maturity within the group yet to in those moments recognize them and have one or two guys pull people aside and make sure they’re all on the same page.”

However, Osmond said he is still optimistic that the team is close to turning the tide, especially as they’ve played without a recognized striker and a key piece on the back line for a majority of the season.

Kodai Iida, Conor Donovan and Mitch Osmond celebrate Osmond's goal in the second half (Photo by Stephen Cristy courtesy of Energy FC)

“I’m definitely optimistic. I mean, if you start the season with four losses, this is maybe a different mentality. But when in two games we’ve conceded late that we’ve thrown away points, I mean we’re nearly there,” Osmond said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re nearly there. So over the course of a long season, as long as we get it right, we’ll be fine.”

The long season is a luxury that wasn’t afforded to Oklahoma City last year. With 2020 only shortened to 16 games, the team had to get results from the jump, and they were unable to cope.

This year, back to a more normal 32-game slate, teams can grow into the season and rally from a poor run of form.

“People don’t like to hear the same old story, but I don’t think it’s the same old story with us,” Pascarella said. “I think each week there’s been a progression. I think the problems are different, and you can see that they’re problems of turning a decent team into a really good team. It’s turning chances and decent defending into great defending and goals.

“So we’re close in those areas, but it’s still not there yet.”

Pascarella highlighted how the team improved their start from the Tulsa game to the first Atlanta game, and then they improved their defending in the wide areas and channels for Atlatna to Kansas City.

Now, the challenge is to eliminate the late goals to finish off results.

Mitch Osmond during the first half against Atlanta United 2 (Photo by Stephen Christy courtesy of Energy FC)

“I think we need to keep playing for a longer period,” Osmond said. “We went into defensive mode and tried to hold onto the win too early. Invited a little too much pressure.

“We just have to be more aggressive to kill the game off and not let anyone have the hope of coming back.”

The Energy will have a few extra days to prepare for their next outing, as their next matchup is a midweek fixture against the Birmingham Legion on May 26.

Pascarella said he’s content with how the fitness staff will be able to build the team’s fitness heading into the matchup against Birmingham.

“It’s not a matter of fitness at this point in the season,” he said. “It’s really as we’re getting into the middle part of the season a matter of freshness and keeping players healthy and not overplaying them, overtraining them.”

Kickoff between the Energy and Birmingham is scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 26, and the match will be broadcast on ESPN+.

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