Off Pitch is the occasional blog from Roustabouts member Roger Graham. Follow Roger on Twitter at @rogman99
The Tulsa Roughnecks finished in seventh place in the Western Conference in 2015, just one place outside the playoffs for Coach David Irving’s first season in Tulsa. I caught up with Coach Irving to get his take on the 2015 season and to find out what the Roughnecks have in store for the 2016 season.
“We were a young team and really young at the back, so I expected some challenges there,” said Coach Irving, looking back on what he knew about his team coming into last season. “We know the team that makes the least mistakes, typically wins; unfortunately we had some mistakes early on.”
“We Got Off to a Late Start Last Year…”
Roughnecks only netted one goal in the first 3 matches versus OKC Energy, St. Louis FC, and Austin Aztex. In the fourth match, the flood gates opened in a 4-3 win over the undefeated Seattle Sounders II. After the initial four game home stand (with a 1-2-1 record), the Roughnecks went from April 16th to May 29th without playing a single home match.
“We got off to a late start last year for the first four home games. We didn’t do so well, and the next 8 of 9 games were away. It was tough but we got better each game we played and that continued through the season.” The Roughneck’s record for the 8 of 9 away games was 3-4-2, which included victories at playoff qualifiers Seattle Sounders II (Tulsa swept the season series) and Orange County Blues FC.
After the stretch of away matches, the Roughnecks were back at ONEOK Field, but went on to lose their next two matches against Sacramento Republic FC and L.A. Galaxy II; both playoff qualifiers. However, during this time, Coach could sense the momentum changing and the hard work began to pay off.
Forward Cristian Mata joined the team, along with Midfielder Henri Manhebo (both have inked deals in the off season to return to Tulsa in 2016). Over the next 10 matches, the Roughneck’s tallied up a 6-1-3 record, which included victories over playoff qualifiers Orange County Blues (Tulsa swept the season series) and Colorado Springs Switchbacks (both at home and away, sweeping the season series). The Roughnecks netted a whopping 26 goals during this stretch!
“[It] was a combination of a lot of things; Cristian and Henri came in and we started to find the right combination of players. Cristian put in 6 goals and Brady started playing well and the game opened up. That’s football; you win as a team, you lose as a team.” The season ended with the Roughnecks going 1-1-2, but getting a key victory over arch-rivals the Oklahoma City Energy to finish the season.
“Our Fans at Home Were Unbelievable”
“We dropped points mid-season, which unfortunately kept us out of the playoffs. All-in-all, I was happy with our first season and all the players did a heck of a job.” Irving also commented on the support of the Roustabouts and other Tulsa fans. “Our fans at home were unbelievable! One of the highlights of the year was when we played the second game in Oklahoma City. We saw our fans marching in with all the flags–that was a moment for me and the team. We appreciated all the efforts of our fans and the supporters.”
In the off-season, Coach Irving spent time scouting in England and Ireland, as well as attending a combine in Atlanta. The pre-season begins on Monday, February 22nd with the first day of practice for the Roughnecks. On February 26th, the team will leave to participate in 10 days of training in Florida. Irving, “Last year we had two weeks here [in Tulsa] and couldn’t do much due to the snow. It was tough to practice and we had to cancel a friendly with Oklahoma City University. [This year] we’re going down to Ft. Lauderdale for 5 days and then Jacksonville for 5 days.” Irving mentioned that the weather may have contributed to the slow start in 2015. The challenge of putting together a new team with limited practices increases the difficulty level, substantially. Going down to Florida, with accommodating weather, and playing in a few friendlies should help remedy that problem this season.
Expectations for 2016? “We expect to have a stronger roster, a good locker room, and a great group of guys. The league is getting stronger and so are the players. We need to get off to a better start than last season. It’s hard to play catch-up, especially in this league, with the travel. We are looking to build on that foundation and to score more points this year. We are a lot further along now than we were last year.”
The Roughnecks begin regular season play on Saturday, March 26th at ONEOK Field against Rio Grande Valley FC. Tickets are now on sale here.