The first match was a fight, literally, and the rematch might be the same.
Oklahoma City Energy FC hosts Sacramento Republic FC at 7 p.m. Saturday at Pribil Stadium on the Bishop McGuinness High School campus.
Energy FC defeated Sacramento 2-0 two weeks ago at home, but Sacramento hasn’t lost since. The Republic beat the Colorado Rapids Reserve team in interleague play and then defeated Arizona United 1-0 on Thursday.
Energy FC defender Gareth Evans said Oklahoma City (4-7-3) is in for a battle.
“They got some big, strong boys,” Evans said. “They’re big at the back, and they got some big boys at the front. They move the ball well in the midfield. They’re a good overall team. You can see why they're doing good.”
Sacramento (8-4-2) is in fourth place in the United Soccer League’s Pro Division. But the Energy FC coaching staff knows what it takes to get a win.
Assistant coach James Ritchie said he hopes Sacramento comes ready to fight, which they did the last time the teams played on June 14. Ritchie said Sacramento loses its cool easily. During the first match between these teams, one of Sacramento’s players was sent off for kicking Energy FC defender Mark Howard.
Energy FC head coach Jimmy Nielsen said he’s seen Sacramento’s tendency to get rattled.
“I’ve seen them again a few times since we played them,” Nielsen said. “I don’t want to say they’re a dirty team, but when they get frustrated they lose a little lack of discipline. That’s where we got to try to get in there and make them frustrated so they can lose the discipline. That’s a part of the game, too, It’s not only everything with the ball and without the ball, it’s a mental game, too.”
Energy FC was called for seven fouls in the first meeting. Sacramento had six. But it could have been worse. After the referees let the physical play go in the first 30 minutes, a skirmish in front of Energy FC’s goal led to Ivan Mirkovic being sent off. What the officials didn’t see, however, were the other punches being thrown.
In Thursday night’s match with Arizona, Sacramento lost a man in 74th minute to another red card. Nielsen’s strategy of getting physical with Sacramento might help. But with a full squad, Sacramento is team full of talent.
Nielsen said the focus remains what it was two weeks ago: Control Sacramento’s possession.
“They’re a good possession team,” Nielsen said. “They keep the ball really well. What we did last time, we let them have the ball in the right areas. They had a lot of possession, but it was never in any dangerous areas. Until the red card they probably had one chance. I think we played them pretty smart there, and the red card of course changed the momentum of the game.
Oklahoma City must keep an eye on the Republic’s Rodrigo Lopez.
“He’s an outstanding player on the ball,” Nielsen said. “We got to make sure we close him down so he can’t be that playmaker he likes to be. He can play some balls that no one else in this league can do. Individually, he’s probably the best, if not in the top three, best players in the league if you give him too much time on the ball.”