You’ll forgive me if I don’t particularly have strong feelings about the state of Oklahoma one way or another. I drove through it once – perhaps twice? – on the way to somewhere else. One of those times, I stopped in Oklahoma City to watch baseball at their charming downtown brick stadium. I have certainly flown over Oklahoma many times. Also on my way to somewhere else.
However, Oklahoma, and Tulsa in particular, is essentially a mystery to me. As Counting Crows once sang ‘Omaha – somewhere in middle America’; the song could have been about Tulsa, but it wasn’t, condemning Tulsa to be even more unnoticeable than even Omaha.
Tulsa’s metropolitan population of 1,015,331 people places it as the 55th largest metro in the US. It is the second largest city in Oklahoma. It’s famous for oil, the dust bowl, Native American displacement, and a 1921 race riot that was largely kept a secret until only recently. As a native Californian, my knowledge of Oklahoma is primarily from ‘Grapes of Wrath’ and Woody Guthrie – stories of people leaving Oklahoma in deprivation and struggle to come to California in search of a better life. As my own grandmother is a Holocaust survivor from Poland, this narrative has some personal resonance for me. If I’m depressing you – if you’re from Oklahoma and you’re reading this now and you’re like ‘but Tulsa’s nice! Universities! BBQ!*’ – I apologize. Perhaps I am in a mood.
Still. The soccer team is very much part of this narrative of change and uncertainty and ‘lack of making a mark’ that I’ve hitherto laid out before us. The Tulsa Roughnecks were a team in the old NASL – and won the 1983 Soccer Bowl with this below as their team logo, which is absolutely rad and needs to be brought back:
That team folded in 1984 – and the rest of the NASL soon followed. The USL reboot tried to play on that history with the same name but a less cartoony logo.
Is that logo better than the creepy dog hound the Riverhounds had for many years? Yes. Is it objectively a good, creative logo? No. They ditched it in a rebrand to this logo
and the more simple FC Tulsa name just in time for the 2020 season, which, as we all know, was utterly cursed due to Covid.
In their eight season history, they’ve never finished top three in the conference, and never advanced past the quarterfinals in the playoffs. They moved to the Eastern Conference just last year, and thus, they have never before played the Riverhounds until now. They also are yet another USL team to play in a minor league baseball stadium. Sigh. So again – Oklahoma: mystery, unnoticeable, indistinct, flyover-y.
In terms of soccer though? They’re undefeated at home with a 3-0 record in wins over New York Red Bull II, San Diego, and Birmingham. So maybe this year will be their year to get remembered.
Personnel and Tactics
Head coach Michael Nsian’s team has rolled out a fairly balanced 4-2-3-1 each week this year, and does a little of everything – possession, striking on the counter, crosses, and well-worked buildup.
Notable players include 29 year old winger Darío Suárez, who defected from Cuba in 2015, and JJ Williams, a center forward that had a cup of coffee with Columbus Crew in 2018 and another slug of java with Atlanta United before settling into the USL. This is his first year with this club.
Jamaican forward Brian Brown also had a brief stint in MLS, and has a penchant for beautiful goals. See his 2018 highlight reel below:
He’s 29 years old now, though, and his production has slowed of late. He had just 2 goals in 2021 in 838 minutes split between New Mexico and Oakland Roots. He’s been coming off the bench this year for Tulsa.
The rest of the lineup is older, and relatively anonymous or undistinguished to my eye. The one other notable name on the squad is midfielder Lebo Moloto, a former Riverhound that John Krysinsky, our legendary editor here in the PSN newsroom**, absolutely adores. He’s a classic ‘veteran midfield metronome’; a good player for starting an attacking, maintaining possession, and controlling the tempo. I think he’s the guy to watch in this game, kind of like how a Hounds fan’s eye eventually will naturally gravitate to Kenardo Forbes because he’s often on the ball, controlling tempo, and looking silky smooth while he does it. If Lebo is on, and the crowd is behind them, Tulsa is likely to be a very difficult opponent to beat.
Last Week’s Lineup
Lewis; Torres, Fenwick, Diz Pa, Bourgeois; Cuic, Moloto; Ramirez, Da Costa, Suarez; Williams
Riverhounds (3-0-1) vs. FC Tulsa (3-2-0)
Date: Saturday, April 9
Time: 2 p.m.
Location: ONEOK Field, Tulsa, Okla.
Odds: Hounds +163 / Draw +215 / Tulsa +143 (BetRivers.com)
TV: 22 The Point
Live statistics: USL Championship Match Center
Live updates: Pittsburgh Soccer Now ; @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtag: #TULvPIT
image of Aimar Membrila c/o FC Tulsa via twitter
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* Still, let’s be honest. You hear the word ‘barbecue’, you think Texas, or Memphis, or South Carolina. You don’t really think Oklahoma.
** No we don’t really have a newsroom.