Roughnecks Welcome Familiar Faces for 2016

This week on the blog, Roustabouts member Roger Graham shares his thoughts on the recent signings announced by Tulsa Roughnecks FC. Follow Roger on Twitter at @rogman99.

While most of us are busy with the holiday hoopla of eating too much and awkwardly drinking with our “politically incorrect” family members, the Tulsa Roughnecks FC has been working deals to bring back core members of the inaugural 2015 team. The winter transfer window began Dec. 1 and allows USL teams to announce signings for next season, which starts in March. Head coach David Irving, now with a year in Green Country under his belt, is looking to mix the 2016 roster with recognized names from last season’s team and some new signees. Coach Irving and his staff have so far announced the signings of five returners and a footballer new to T-Town.

Midfielder Brady Ballew, the first signing for 2016’s squad, was honored four times in 2015 on USL’s Team of the Week and was a finalist for USL’s Rookie of the Year award. Ballew accumulated six goals (four assists), three of which were against the OKC Energy FC and one of which was the go-ahead and eventual game-winner against Arizona United SC in Tulsa on Aug. 2. The 23-year-old winger has a good mix of skill and quickness and is always looking to get behind the defenders to create chances on the right side of the 4-4-2. The contract with Ballew is a multi-year deal (exact details not released).

The Roughnecks also locked up another solid midfielder for the 2016 season in Henri Manhebo. Manhebo, from the Ivory Coast, was signed last summer and appeared in only 11 matches (he started the last 10 in 2015). Manhebo was a crucial piece of the puzzle, as the Roughnecks strung along nice results at the end of 2015. He also scored the opening goal in the 5-1 blowout of the Real Monarchs SLC on Aug. 13 in Tulsa. Known for his pace, versatility and pesky defending, Manhebo will be in the holding midfielder role in 2016.

Sammy Ochoa, former Seattle Sounders FC 2 and Estudiantes Tecos forward, will return to Tulsa in 2016. Ochoa amassed a team-leading nine goals (three assists) during the 2015 campaign. Most of the goals came later in the season, as his first goal came in the 86th minute of the 11th game of the year versus Sounders 2. Ochoa established himself as a solid choice up top for the playoff push at the end of the 2015 season. The right-footed striker has noted physicality and efficiency, netting 59.1 percent of his shots on goal and going 3-3 on penalty kicks in 2015. Being the savvy veteran, he draws contact and fouls around the box, setting up scoring opportunities from free kicks (and even a penalty in Austin on June 21). Ochoa’s contract is for two years.

The Roughnecks also locked up two mainstays from 2015’s season on the back line: centre-back Ryan Price and left-back Iarfhlaith “Irish Lad” Davoren. Price and Davoren were part of a defense that had five shutouts and 10 matches where the team only gave up one goal. Price, 23 years old, played the most minutes of any player on the Roughnecks squad, appearing in 27 matches in 2015. He will be counted on to hold the back line and clear any wayward chances from the opposing team’s offense. Davoren, the former Sligo Rover, is known for his aggressive, hard-nosed style of play (he was the only player on the team to earn a red card). He netted one goal (two assists), as he was signed after the season began.

Tulsa’s only new signing for 2016 so far is Pakistani international Kaleemullah Khan (known as Kaleemullah). Kaleemullah, 23 years old, has played an extensive role for the Pakistani national team, putting away four goals. The very popular forward (with more than 65,000 “likes” on his Facebook page) began his stint in the United States with Sacramento Republic FC in 2015. He made seven appearances (and one start) in the USL during the 2015 season. Kaleemullah has a great deal of skill, proven by a YouTube video that shows the Pakistani in a one-on-one situation with a defender; he is in a dead sprint, stops on a dime, and rips a shot into the net while the hapless goalkeeper falls down and the defender runs past. Should make for an exciting addition to the Roughnecks in 2016!

Key departures
Both Gibson Bardsley and Julian Portugal left during the 2015 season. Bardsley signed with Pembroke Athleta in Malta during the summer. He had four goals in 17 appearances, while Portugal had eight appearances as a defender for the Roughnecks.

Two other Roughnecks were signed to domestic leagues for the 2016 season. Midfielder Steven Miller signed on with NASL’s Carolina RailHawks after going on loan following Tulsa’s 2015 season. Miller made 28 appearances for the Roughnecks and tacked on three goals (including a game winner in Austin on May 24) and two assists. Goalkeeper Zac Lubin, who started in the net for the first 15 games of 2015 for Tulsa, signed on with USL newcomer Swope Park Rangers. There’s no need to fret, however, we’ll see more of Lubin, as the Rangers are in the same division as the Roughnecks.