Energy FC uses Howard, Lopez goals to keep streak intact

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Energy FC midfielder Abraham Villon challenges a Sacramento defender for the ball.
Oklahoma City's Adda Djeziri and Sacramento's George Fochive go toe to toe during Saturday's match at Pribil Stadium.
A Sacramento direct kick sails over the Energy FC defense.
Energy FC midfielder Peabo Doue congratulates Mark Howard for scoring Oklahoma City's first goal.
Oklahoma City fans show major support for the home town with green wigs.
Oklahoma City forward Kyle Greig takes a shot on goal.
Energy FC goalkeeper Jon Kempin punts the ball down field.
Kyle Greig wins the battle for a header.
Energy FC midfielder Mikey Lopez shows off his dance skills after scoring his first goal of the season. Teammate Peabo Doue looks on.
Energy FC team captain Michael Thomas battles Sacramento's George Fochive for control of the ball.
Mikey Lopez takes shot on goal during second half action.

Energy FC uses Howard, Lopez goals to keep streak intact

By Tim Farley

Mikey Lopez and Mark Howard had a game of firsts Saturday night as Oklahoma City Energy FC blanked Sacramento Republic FC 2-0 for the second time in two weeks at Pribil Stadium.

Lopez and Howard each tallied their initial goals of the season in the second half, energizing a lackluster OKC team that notched only two shots on goal during the first half.

For Lopez, the goal had extra meaning.

“It was amazing. It was a special feeling since my parents were here and they had not seen me play in a long time,” he said.

After the goal, Lopez celebrated with a unique dance routine.

“He hit an unbelievable ball into the (left) corner of the net. It should be a candidate for goal of the week,” Energy FC head coach Jimmy Nielsen said.

Lopez scored in the 67th minute after teammate Dan Delgado worked the ball up the field with a series of moves before passing to Steven Perry near the top of the penalty box. After several Sacramento defenders his way, Perry sent a quick pass to Lopez who blasted a shot past Republic FC goalkeeper Dominil Jakubek for a 2-0 lead.

But it was Howard’s goal that gave Energy FC a much-needed boost in the 53rd minute. Playing near the far goal post, Howard tallied his first goal off a header from an Adda Djeziri corner kick. Howard joked later that he had been complaining to teammates to get him more “deliveries” or chances to score.

“I was in the right place today,” he said. “I broke to the back post and was aggressive than the other guy.”
Moments earlier, it looked like Energy FC might be down a goal when Sacramento’s Rodrigo Lopez launched a shot from about 35 yards out that struck the crossbar and deflected off Oklahoma City keeper Jon Kempin’s back. Kempin quickly gathered the ball less than a yard in front of the goal line to keep the match scoreless.
Earlier in the season, the ball likely would have glanced off Kempin and into the goal for a hard-luck goal. Now, it appears, Energy FC is making its own luck with a few gratuitous bounces.

“Momentum is going our way now,” Nielsen said. “The guys are working hard to turn around the momentum. We went through some tough games and a tough schedule early on. We had two options, either feel sorry for ourselves or get out there and battle.”

After winning two of its first three games, Energy FC lost six straight, including back-to-back games against league-leading Orlando City. Then came the current six-game unbeaten streak, which has resulted in three wins and three draws. During that time, Oklahoma City has shut out three opponents, including a 0-0 draw against fifth-place Rochester on June 22, while scoring eight goals on the offensive end.

For Nielsen, the early-season problems centered on team chemistry and finding the right lineup.

“We had all new players coming in and we were looking for the starting 11 and each guy was wanting to prove themselves,” he said. “While that’s important, it’s always been team over individuals.”

Having played together for the last two months, an on-field rapport has developed allowing more consistent team work and better results.

“In the pre-season, we were playing against colleges and we brought in some bad habits when the season started. We still have some of that, but it’s not as bad as it had been in the beginning,” Nielsen said.

Team captain Michael Thomas believes the unbeaten streak can be attributed to a change in attitude, which he said has “taken a 180.”

“We’re coming together as a team,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing teams above us or below us (in the standings). We’re going to go out there regardless of who we play and battle.”

On Saturday, Sacramento outshot Oklahoma City 10-6, but only one Republic shot made it on frame. Meanwhile, three of the six Energy FC shots were on goal. The win improved Energy FC’s record to 5-7-3 as the team jumped into seventh place of the 14-team United Soccer League Pro division. The unbeaten streak has resulted in 12 standings points since May 31 when Oklahoma City defeated the New York Red Bulls Reserves, 1-0.

Oklahoma City gets two weeks off before returning to action July 12 as Energy FC hosts last-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a 7 p.m. match. Energy FC winds up its six-game home stand with games against Arizona July 17 and LA Galaxy II on July 19.

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