By Chuck Reherman
OKLAHOMA CITY – After 128 days off the pitch, the Oklahoma City Energy looked to keep their hold on the Black Gold Derby prize, the Wrench.
The Greens did hold onto the prize, but not the way they wanted to as the Energy and FC Tulsa battled to a 1-1 draw in the first of three Black Gold Derbys Monday night at Energy Field in Taft Stadium.
The Energy did take the initial lead in the first half, but saw Tulsa come right back to even the match. Neither team was able to get a serious threat mounted in the second half.
Energy head coach John Pasacarelli said his team had an overall good performance after the long layoff and would have liked to have come away with the win, but took it as a stepping stone to getting back into the swing of a season.
“It was energizing to say the least,” Pascarelli said. “I think for all the players you could tell the first 15-20 minutes was a little hectic. There was some mayhem in the game, but we settled down and played.
“You can still see some of the concepts are coming along and are not fully formed there,” he said. “Some of the connections are not there, two or three great passes and we get a guy behind and can’t get that last pass.
“The ideas are coming along and the guys worked. In a game like this that means a lot emotionally for the people in Oklahoma City, that was the biggest factor.”
Both teams did play with some hesitation early and neither put a shot on goal until the 39th minute.
Zach Ellis-Hayden was the first to test either keeper, but his left-footed effort was right at Tulsa’s Sean Lewis.
FC Tulsa immediately went the other way and it looked like Dario Suarez would put the visitors ahead on the breakaway, but Christian Ibeagha recovered to make a spectacular block.
The Greens then quickly countered and Omar Gordon surged through the midfield. The Jamaican found Ellis-Hayden open on the right wing, and the right back delivered a perfect ball across the six-yard box, which Chavez met with a sliding finish in the 41st minute
The lead was short-lived, however, as Tulsa equalized with the last effort of the half. Lebo Moloto floated a ball across the penalty area from the left wing, Marlon Santos headed it down, and Da Costa was able to reach the ball first and poke it into the back of the net past CJ Cochran with 15 seconds left in extra time.
It was Chavez’ first official goal as an Energy player (he did score in a friendly against Sporting KC II last week).
“There were just emotions all around, first game of the season, everyone was flying around, I got a good cross and was able to get behind the ball and score,” Chavez said. “It felt pretty good. It felt good to get back out here especially with fans in the stands and for me, not playing since March, I was ready to get back on the field.
“Fortunately, we were able to get back on the field and it wasn’t the result we wanted but it is a point and we will take it,” he said. “Just playing with the team was the biggest thing I took away from the game, being out here with the team and doing what we love to do.”
It was the first Black Gold Derby for Chavez, who was looking forward to get on the pitch and play a match as well as a derby match.
“It was good, I love derbys,” he said. “I got to score the goal and that was exciting. I am looking forward to another one.
“It took us a little while to get comfortable, it was the first 90-minute game we have played in a while and I’m kinda tired. Hopefully with more games coming up, I’ll be more at 100 percent.”
Like most of the OKC-Tulsa matches, it turned into a physical game. The Energy received four yellow cards in the match, all coming in the second half.
“It is always a little extra when we play against Tulsa,” Ibeagha said. “I remember one of my first games was a home opening against Tulsa, there was a sell-out crowd and the emotions were high.
“It always turns out to be a tough battle with Tulsa,” he said. Even today, looking back from the year, better football was played today, but there is still always that tension. It was a little bit more physical, but the soccer, the skill and technique showed a little more from a regular derby where they turn into a dogfight, a firstfight, but for all intents and purposes for the most part is was a better game tonight, but there is always that extra bit of physicality when we play Tulsa.”
It was also Pascarelli’s first Black Gold Derby and he expected it to be one of those physical types of matches usually are pressure matches.
“I don’t know if pressure is the right word, but you certainly want to deliver for your city and your organization,” Pascarelli said. “It was important to me that we had a good performance and most important to me that we had a heart-felt performance. It wasn’t hard to motivate the players to do that because they were coming off this big break and playing Tulsa.
Energy FC will play its first away match of the season Friday, against Austin Bold FC at Bold Stadium. Kickoff for that one is set for 8 p.m.