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‘We’ve suffered enough’

Roughnecks look for a new start with head coach Michael Nsien

Coach Michael Nsien

Brooke Carroll

It hasn’t been as dramatic a turnaround as they would like, but the Tulsa Roughnecks FC have seen a marked improvement since bringing in Michael Nsien to replace former head coach David Vaudreuil on June 25.

After an exciting, come-from-behind 1-1 tie July 28 with Fresno FC, the Roughnecks lost to the OKC Energy but won their most recent game against the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. That brings the team to a 2-2-3 record since Nsien took over.

That may not sound all that impressive, and it may not be enough to salvage a disastrous start in which the Roughnecks went winless in 15 games under Vaudreuil (0-8-7), but the overall mood surrounding the team is vastly different now and much more optimistic.

The tie with Fresno illustrates why. Tulsa was trailing 1-0 in the waning minutes of the contest, and it looked like a promising performance was going to slip away into another defeat, but the Roughnecks simply would not give in.

They continued to attack during the last 10 minutes, generating several scoring opportunities before new addition Isaac Díaz—playing just his second game with Tulsa since he signed on July 21—drilled a 15-foot shot low to the left side of the net past diving Fresno goalkeeper Kyle Reynish.

“You go down or you face some adversity and then you don’t stop,” Nsien said. “I mentioned to them before the game: As a team, we’ve suffered adversity, and I just want us to enjoy it now. We’ve suffered enough. We want to go and dish out some punishment now. We just want to get back to enjoying playing.”

Nsien wanted to establish that resilience as soon as he took over. There was an immediate payoff: The Roughnecks earned a victory in his pro coaching debut on June 27 (2-0 over the L.A. Galaxy II at home). It was their first win in 2018.

“I think we just got into a habit of feeling like it was over already, so we wanted to change that,” said Nsien, 37, who played at Booker T. Washington High School, the University of Dayton, and even spent some time with the L.A. Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

“Players should understand: In a 90-minute game, it takes just seconds for games to change, for momentum to change,” Nsien said. “So we just want to be conscious that anything can happen, and to continue to play as hard as we can.”

Tulsa was outscored 12-1 in Vaudreuil’s last three games—all losses—and things spiraled out of control during a 6-1 defeat to Orange County SC on June 23, right before the coaching change. Players have definitely noticed the culture shift since then, and they like the direction the team is headed.

“I think, first and foremost, people’s attitudes [have changed],” said midfielder Joaquin Rivas, who leads the Roughnecks with nine goals (out of just 21 total for the team on the whole season). “I feel like it’s a whole 360 with [Nsien]. Everybody’s working harder and actually wants to play. I think with David (Vaudreuil)—I don’t know—I think a lot of guys lost confidence; and then, with Mike coming in, it’s a boost of confidence for everybody. It’s just a new mentality. He brings a new spark to us, so hopefully we can keep that going.”

Nsien comes from the local youth soccer program, the TSC (Tulsa Soccer Club) Hurricane, where he still serves as the Director of Coaching. He is also the founder/director of the Tulsa Soccer Academy, a full-time school for elite players. Nsien believes he has paid his dues and is ready for the pro game.

“I’ve felt like the last four or five years, I’ve been preparing myself for the jump,” said Nsien, who had some prior involvement with the Roughnecks, since the TSC Hurricane has been one of the club’s sponsors. “Obviously, you never know when the opportunity comes. Me being a Tulsa guy, I’ve been fortunate to be in the system, just to be involved and to gain experience from being around the team. I feel like I’ve been ready for two or three years.”

There likely isn’t enough time for the 2-10-10 Roughnecks to climb back into the United Soccer League’s playoff chase, as the points they gained against Fresno and Colorado Springs boosted their total to 16, putting the club in the 17th place (dead last) in the Western Conference.

Tulsa is 18 points behind San Antonio FC in the eighth and final post-season spot. But with three points for each victory, if Tulsa can reel off a big winning streak following the Aug. 11 victory against the Switchbacks, there’s still an outside chance to make a run.

“We just got to stay positive and keep going,” Rivas said.

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