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Western Conf. Notebook – OKC Gets Back in Winners Circle

By CHRIS HOCKMAN -, 05/21/18, 10:58AM EDT


Heard’s first goal pushes Monarchs on; Phoenix endures tough night at home

Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC

OKLAHOMA CITY – After eight consecutive losses, OKC Energy FC finally got back in the win column with a vital 1-0 victory against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC at Taft Stadium on Saturday night. With the side having been held scoreless in league play for almost 600 minutes before Callum Ross' game-winner, and having suffered a tough elimination in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in midweek, OKC fought on Saturday and produced what could be a season-changing win.

“I think tonight, more than any other night, really epitomizes the people we have in the group. They were hard working,” said Energy FC Head Coach Steve Cooke. “We felt the group we put out there tonight would compete every step of the way, especially in the midfield. I thought we could win the battle in the midfield and I think we certainly did that. I think we were tight and held them to just a couple of moments, but we coped with them well.”

Moving the ball out from the back has been difficult for OKC, holding a passing accuracy of just 73.7 percent on the season with much of that passing in its own half. On Saturday night the accuracy rate was similar at 71.5 percent, but the direction was much more assertive as Energy FC was able to get the ball into dangerous positions in its opponent’s half, creating more chances.

“I think sometimes in defensive transition we played better tonight, but in terms of with the ball, we created a lot of good passages of play without necessarily getting the reward at the end of the play,” said Cooke. “I think it was fully deserved the goal near the end of the game on a set piece ... which has been coming for several weeks now.”

The goal that relieved all of that pressure came from a corner kick in the 82nd minute that saw Ross score his first goal of the season for his new club, and it was through a change from the set-piece plan that had not been producing results through the club's downturn in form.

“The way he [Jonathan Brown] works the ball, there is sometimes an opportunity near the front post area and my role today was to go around the back stick,” said Ross. “Instead, I went to the front post area, it came straight off my head and into the far corner. Thankfully we finally got a goal.”

A win does little to lift the pressure off Energy FC, which now faces a big Black Gold Derby against Tulsa Roughnecks FC this Saturday (8 p.m. ET | Match Center) the pressure will continue with fans certain to expect a win against their in-state rivals.

“For people to think there is pressure when you go on a bit of a bad spell, yes there is a bit. But there’s pressure to get out of bed tomorrow and start planning for Tulsa next weekend,” said Cooke. “There’s pressure to wake up Monday and plan again. There’s pressure next Saturday night in Tulsa to win that game. There’s pressure every day in this industry. You either crumble or you rise and you fight and you work. We’ve got a bunch of fighters here. They want the pressure. They want the difficult moments as well because we know through those difficult moments we will become stronger.”

MONARCHS NOT SURPRISED BY HEARD: As Western Conference-leader, Real Monarchs SLC knew as it headed on the road this season there was a target attached to being the frontrunner, but in its 2-0 victory in a tough away environment against Las Vegas Lights FC on Saturday night midfielder Josh Heard was the star of the show. The offseason addition from Bethlehem Steel FC put in a Player of the Game performance as he was involved in both goals in the 2-0 victory at Cashman Field, scoring the second for his first goal in his new colors.

“It feels great. It feels even better to get the win, but it feels good to get my first goal for the Monarchs tonight,” said Heard. “It was good redemption after the Fresno [FC] game [last week] where I had the same chance. It was a similar shot so I’m glad I put this one away.”

Heard's performance did not surprise his Head Coach, Mark Briggs, who thought the way the 23-year-old was producing in training in the buildup to Saturday's game provided a glimpse as to what to expect when the game arrived.

“He was clinical this week in training and his work rate off the ball has been top-class. I’m pleased with Josh’s performance tonight,” said Briggs.

It was not an easy win, with the Monarchs’ performance significantly boosted by both goals coming inside the opening 25 minutes. After being held to a scoreless draw with Lights FC visited Zions Bank Stadium last month, getting the early breakthrough took some pressure off, and allowed Real to battle through to a fourth consecutive victory.

“It wasn’t the prettiest game tonight, but it also showed that this team can win no matter what,” said Heard.

PAYOFF NOT PRESENT FOR RISING FC: When looking at the statistics in the match between Phoenix Rising FC and Sacramento Republic FC, everything pointed toward a victory for the hosts at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex. A dominant 58.9 percent share of possession, a 63.2 percent duels success rate, and a whopping 25 shots on most nights would have been enough for the club to celebrate Didier Drogba's 500th club appearance with a victory.

But that was not the story, as a clinical Sacramento side came to Arizona and scored on its first two shots on the way to claiming a 3-1 win that moved Republic FC level on points with Phoenix in the top three of the Western Conference.

“We are so much better than tonight, we had so many chances. It’s amazing to only score one goal when you have 20 or 25 opportunities to score so,” said Phoenix Head Coach Patrice Carteron. “We gave them two easy goals in counterattacks in a strange way once again I don’t understand how we can be so inactive defensively. It was only three goals we conceded once again we missed a penalty, it was really a nightmare tonight because one thing was just missing we created so many chances it sucks but we just have to accept it.”

When Drogba had his penalty saved in the 32nd minute it started to become clear that it might not be Phoenix’s night, and that frustration would continue over the course of the night. A seven-save display by former Rising FC goalkeeper Josh Cohen helped keep the hosts out, as Chris Cortez's early second-half goal proved all Phoenix had to show for all of the chances created in the contest.

“They finished, we didn’t, plain and simple. They punished our mistakes and we didn’t punish theirs,” said Cortez. “We had two or three really good chances in the first half and we easily could have been up one or two, if not three, in the first half before they get their chances, and if we scored at least one of those it would be a different game and they would be back on their heels. So for us, it about not letting them be in the game, they were kind of rattled in the beginning and we were pressing them and If we scored 1 or 2 of those it would have been a different game but the 'what if' game doesn’t matter and the fact is we didn’t score and they did.”

After a successful recent run of form that has seen Rising FC enter Saturday with three consecutive league games, there is a danger Saturday's match could derail the positives generated over that span, but immediately after the final whistle, Phoenix was looking forward to next week’s match against the Swope Park Rangers on Saturday afternoon (3 p.m. ET | Match Center).

“Looking at what we did wrong and correcting those mistakes. And see what we did right, these were very fine margins you know with the changes in the beginning if we finished those,” said Cortez. “You know, we’ve got a couple days now we got to be able to rest and recover and get back to 100 percent, and recollect and be ready to go for next week. Whether its road or home, we’re looking to win and were looking to keep pushing that issue, we showed it in Oklahoma and we’re looking to do that next week.”

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