In a season where injuries have limited tactical options, Oklahoma City Energy finally found a way to adapt.
Jose Angulo scored the match’s only goal in the 62nd minute as the Energy defeated Reno 1868, 1-0 Wednesday at Taft Stadium.
The goal occurred after Reno, playing a man-down after Fatai Alashe’s red card in the 28th minute, significantly altered its strategy at halftime with forward Brian Brown as its only attacking player pressing forward.
Before Reno’s adjustment, the Energy dominated the first half with an aerial assault of crosses from its opportunistic fullbacks and midfielders. However, the home side could not find a way to get a quality on-target shot during the first 45 minutes.
But Reno took away this advantage in dropping nine men back. This slowed down the pace significantly, for the Energy’s crosses that flew freely into Reno’s final third in the first half no longer had the spacing to land.
“They had to take a different tactical approach after the red card,” Energy coach Jimmy Nielsen said. “For five to 10 minutes in the second half, we struggled to figure out what we wanted to do.”
The change forced the Energy to play shorter, direct passes on the ground, and it struggled doing so before Angulo’s goal. But when the 2013 USL MVP received Miguel Gonzalez’s pass inside the box in the 62nd minute, he patiently dribbled parallel to goal through traffic until the defenders committed and he found a clearing with his left foot.
“Sometimes you have to adjust your game,” Angulo said. “I was successful holding the ball up the first half. I knew they would be stronger in the second half, so I tried to make more runs into the box and go over the top.”
Injuries to forwards Wojciech Wojcik and Andy Craven have limited the Energy’s attacking options the past two months, but Angulo has given the club a boost since he was acquired on loan from Saint Louis in July. He has scored three goals in four USL matches with the Energy.
Alashe, making his USL debut on loan from Major League Soccer club San Jose Earthquakes, received his red card after slapping Jose Barril on the right cheek as the Energy midfielder walked away. The incident occurred after Barril had deflected the ball off Alashe for a throw in.
Even before the red card, the Energy limited the USL’s highest-scoring club to only one scoring opportunity. Energy goalkeeper Cody Laurendi made a near-side diving save after Reno midfielder Seth Casiple hit a low shot inside the left post in the 25th minute.
“We defended as a team extremely well,” Nielsen said. “We were aggressive in the areas where we didn’t want them to have the ball. We managed that extremely well and were in the right place, right time for 90-plus minutes.”