Game Preview: OKC hosts Atlanta United 2 for the first time seeking first points of 2021
The Oklahoma City Energy look to get back on track this evening as they host Atlanta United 2.
Atlanta United 2’s trip to Taft Stadium will represent the first time the two clubs have ever met, and the visitors from Georgia will be just as desperate as OKC. They too opened the season with a loss, finding themselves on the wrong side of a 2-0 result against Louisville City FC.
Energy head coach John Pascarella said he’s optimistic the start against Atlanta United 2 will more resemble the second half against FC Tulsa, and not the first.
“I think a big piece of it is being comfortable with playing,” he said. “It was quite apparent in the first half of the match that we weren’t comfortable. I don’t think it was a lack of preparation. I say that only because when you looked at the second half and you got a chance to get everybody into the locker room, it’s not like we changed anything in terms of terms of structure.
“We just talked about how we had done in the first half and how it wasn’t effective because we didn’t stick to the way we wanted to play. As soon as we came out in the second half and we had been reminded of that, it was very conformable and much more confident playing going forward.”
Perhaps one reason for the discomfort in the first half was due to four pieces who were missing from the lineup.
Defender Zach Ellis-Hayden, midfielder Charlie Ward and forwards Jaime Chavez and Frank Lopez all were unable to make the match day squad due to injury.
Ellis-Hayden’s absence specifically meant Oklahoma City had to field a brand new back four in front of goal keeper C.J. Cochran, and they had to build chemistry as the match against FC Tulsa went on.
Unfortunately for the Energy, none of the four are expected to return to the lineup Saturday night, meaning the squad will again have limited options as they try to secure their first points of the season.
Pascarella said situations like this, where you are missing key pieces from last year, especially in the attack, are why you try and instruct everyone on the structure of the entire team, and not just their specific position.
The Energy starting 11 will likely be littered with attackers again. Players like Villyan Bijev will have to take a larger role in defending while the team battles through fitness issues. (Photo by Stephen Christy courtesy of Energy FC)
Despite the missing pieces, the match day 11 will still have to find balance between the attack and defense to build cohesion so the attack and defense don’t feel do disjoint.
“Do we still have to find the right balance? Yes. It’s harder to do when you don’t have everybody, but that’s life,” Pascarella said. “Within the structure that we like and within the skill set that we have with the players, we try to develop a way to play that’s going to win us games.”
One advantage OKC will have on Saturday night is their team experience.
Against Louisville City FC, Atlanta United 2’s starting lineup averaged 19.6 years old, littered with academy prospects. Even then, they held Louisville off the score sheet for 70 minutes before eventually succumbing to the pressure.
Facing such a young team with little film, it can be difficult at times to prepare for the opponent, but due to their parent club the Energy will have an example to draw on.
“When you’re talking about the (MLS 2) teams, they may change their personnel fairly often, but they play the way they want to play match after match,” Pascarella said. “That’s dictated generally from above, from the first team and the technical director and the head coach of the first team.
“So if Atlanta rolls out half a different team than they did this past week… their style of play, the way they want to do it, their principles of play, their game model are going to be pretty much the same.”
Oklahoma City will get their crack at the visitors at 7:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.