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Black Gold Derby has Resonance for Ballew

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 08/11/17, 9:12AM EDT


Roughnecks midfielder scored Tulsa’s first goal against Energy FC, has become mainstay

Photo courtesy Lori Scholl / Tulsa Roughnecks FC

TULSA, Okla. – As short a history as the Black Gold Derby has been since its beginning prior to the 2015 USL regular season, there are few who have had the view of it as Tulsa Roughneck FC midfielder Brady Ballew.

The first goal-scorer in the Roughnecks’ modern era during the first meeting with OKC Energy FC at ONEOK Field on March 28, 2015, Ballew is the lone player who remains with the club from that game. An industrious midfielder, Ballew has been a fan favorite with Roughnecks fans ever since that inaugural contest, which created indelible memories for him.

“We felt that this game meant more than any other did for the fans,” said Ballew this week. “As for the goal, it plays on our stadium jumbotron every game, so they don't let me forget it. It was just a cross that ended up trickling in. Best cross I ever hit in my life.”

As fortunate as that first goal might have been, the Roughnecks have produced some outstanding moments this season to put them in the thick of the race for the USL Cup Playoffs ahead of Saturday’s clash with Energy FC. It’s a far cry from last season, when Tulsa struggled to find any rhythm throughout the season and lost all four games to its biggest rival.

With a major squad overhaul this offseason and David Vaudreuil installed as Head Coach, the first game against OKC at Taft Stadium on July 8 became a major litmus test for how far the club had come. Thanks to goals by Juan Pablo Caffa and Joey Calistri, the Roughnecks took a 2-1 victory, a major moment in the club’s season so far.

“It's a big win, not just for the fans, but for the players and coaching staff,” said Ballew. “We know that [Energy FC is] always a competitive team that is usually in the top half of the table, so to be able to show some resilience on the road is really positive moving forward.”

Ballew’s playing time has seen some reduction this season, something he’s working hard to put right in his eyes as the push for the playoffs heats up. With the introduction of players like Argentine veteran Caffa and Vaudreuil leading the way, though, Ballew is trying to get as much out of the experience they bring as he can to add to his game.

“[Vaudreuil is] pushing me to think about the game in a different way,” said Ballew. “We have really talented individuals in the club, but what's most important is that those talented individuals are willing to put in the work for the team. I think guys like Juan Pablo Caffa bring a level of leadership and respect in the locker room that we missed last year.”

Photo courtesy Lori Scholl / Tulsa Roughnecks FC

Coming off a big 2-1 victory on Thursday night against Saint Louis FC that saw the Roughnecks move level on points with Energy FC in the Western Conference standings, but potentially lose Caffa to injury for the contest, there’s plenty at stake in Saturday’s game.

Ballew and his teammates enter knowing a win would not only give the side a big push towards its first postseason berth but also earn possession of the Supporters’ Wrench that serves as the Black Gold Derby’s trophy for the Roustabouts for the first time in three seasons.

For someone who has seen the rivalry grow up close, that’s plenty to work with in the Roughnecks’ locker room.

“Personally, I feel very connected to the city of Tulsa and this club, and I would love nothing more than to give the fans a wrench to drink with,” said Ballew. “And for the club, every game at this point is critical, but our training sharpens up even more the week of the Black Gold Derby.”

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