OKC Energy suffers second consecutive loss to begin 2021
Updated: May 7
The OKC Energy were handed their second straight loss to start the 2021 season, losing 1-0 to Atlanta United 2 Saturday evening at Taft Stadium.
Although the Greens were unable to win the match, there was a stronger presence of teamwork, cohesion, and comfort than was displayed a week ago against FC Tulsa, a 3-1 loss.
Energy Head Coach John Pascarella emphasized the team’s constant chances to grow as individuals and a squad.
“I think there are things we did better tonight than last week," he said. "We're getting better but it'll be a process."
Atlanta defender Alex De John’s aerial defense spoiled many a handful of Energy crosses, who looked to stretch the defense out in the opening 10 minutes.
De John continued his strong play into the locker room, battling with OKC winger Kodi Iida constantly pressing the Atlanta defense early in the match.
The first half woes from last week’s loss to FC Tulsa seemed to be improved upon with an apparent growth in the squad’s chemistry and having the familiarity and experience to predict each other’s runs and the small nuances that make up a strong team.
The second half began with continued high-energy play from OKC, particularly on the attack from Captain Conor Donovan who nearly scored on a header for the second consecutive game but could not find the angle past Atlanta goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo.
Donovan has been at the center of many OKC offensive chances to start the year, and netted OKC’s lone goal of the first two matches. His aggressive play in the opposing box will continue to catch the attention of fans and the rest of the USL Championship League, although he says it has always been a fixture in his game as a defender.
“It’s been a part of my game for most of my career, trying to put the ball in the back of the net,” he said. “To be fair, Rob (Coronado) and Tucker (Stephenson) have put some great balls in for me.”
Although the Energy kept a clean sheet for the first half, they were unable to keep that result through the final whistle.
ATL 2 took a 1-0 lead on a well placed through ball that found forward Philip Goodrum one-on-one with goalkeeper CJ Cochran, who was not able to save the well placed strike.
OKC winger Kodai Iida saw himself replaced by forward Tucker Stephenson in the 63rd minute, a tactical move from head coach John Pascarella to continue pushing for the equalizing goal.
Pascarella made note of Iida’s energetic play, saying he’s liking what he’s seeing from the defender through two matches.
Kodai Iida provided an offensive spark for the Energy, firing off two shots in his 65 minutes of action (Photo by Stephen Christy courtesy of Energy FC)
“We knew we couldn’t play him for 90 minutes, but I really liked the contribution he gave us tonight,” he said. “Had Kodai been healthy for the first game, he would have started because he earned it in the preseason.”
Outside of Atlanta’s lone goal, the Energy defenders displayed a much higher level of purpose and intentional play throughout this match than they did against Tulsa a week ago, with the unit’s cohesion seeming to grow with every thwarted attack.
The majority of the second half following the goal was spent on the ATL 2 side of the pitch, with the Energy sending a barrage of crosses into the box leading to countless missed headers that could have tied the game for the homeside.
With a short week ahead of the next match, Pascarella is eager to see his squad's progression continue.
"We've got to continue to emphasize the defending and we've got to do a little bit of work in the final third," he said. "We were close to viewing this match through a totally different lens. We had our chances tonight and compared to last week, we had many more clear-cut chances (this week)."
The Energy will have another chance to nab their first win of the 2021 campaign next Friday evening in Kansas City against Sporting Kansas City II. The match will begin at 7 p.m. and be streamable on ESPN+.