Roughnecks shake things up with all-new staff
Coach Larry Nsien (second from right) flashes a smile as he works on paperwork with Roughnecks staff.
After a difficult 2018 season in which they finished 32nd among 33 United Soccer League clubs, the Tulsa Roughnecks FC responded with some dramatic organizational changes.
Now, with Tulsa about to open the new season on March 9 with a home game against Portland at ONEOK Field, there is a lot of optimism surrounding the Roughnecks and their almost completely-overhauled team.
“[There is] a ton of talent on the team, good enthusiasm, good camaraderie already for a bunch of new guys coming together,” said coach Michael Nsien. “We just want to continue to gel and be as sharp as we can before the first game.”
Nsien is just about the only returning member of the club’s management. A big structural change brought a new part-owner, Barry Williams, along with a new, soccer-specific front office staff. The Roughnecks previously shared its office personnel with the Tulsa Drillers baseball team.
“It really just outgrew their staff capabilities,” said Williams, who is also the part-owner of the Women’s Premier Soccer League’s Tulsa Fortuna, which played its first season last year. “I think when it started, it was very good, in terms of the synergy, where you had the same staff being able to sell baseball and soccer. But because the sport grew and the demand grew in terms of cultivating that fan base, cultivating that team, having scout teams to go out and look for players, the right coaches—it just got overwhelming.”
So the new management group hired a brand new staff, got new offices not at ONEOK Field, and completely disconnected from the Drillers.
“We have completely separated the marketing, the management of the team, as well as game day operations and team operations,” said Williams, who is also the team president. “It just felt like it was necessary in order for us to be successful. We pretty much wiped the slate clean. I think where we are now, in terms of chemistry and culture, these guys are priority number one, not the Drillers or the Dodgers.”
Even Nsien, who took over as interim coach last June from David Vaudreuil and guided the Roughnecks to a 3-11-5 mark over the final 19 games, had to interview again for his position before he was re-hired by the new regime.
“Coach Nsien last year was interim head coach. He was only here on a temporary contract,” said new Roughnecks general manager Wayne Farmer. “When we were looking at coaches, we interviewed people from all over the world—but for us, his resume, his experience, and he’s a Tulsan. We want someone that’s going to care out there, who’s going to work hard and represent the city, and Michael Nsien is the best person for the job.”
Just one player, former Union High School star D.J. Dean, returns from the TRFC squad that scored just 36 goals and surrendered 77 while stumbling to a 3-19-12 overall record last season. Nsien sought out new players high on character.
“One of the things I identified last year was just a little bit of a lack of culture, of team chemistry,” Nsien said. “So one of the first things when I was deciding on players was, ‘What kind of a person are they? Do they work in the community? Do they have any issues in the locker room? Are they coachable? Are they humble?’ These are the characteristics, besides being a good soccer player, that I was looking for, and I feel like I did a good job on that.”
Dean, who appeared in 13 games for Tulsa last season—starting three—after joining the squad mid-season, is one of five players on the team this year with local ties, highlighting the new regime’s emphasis on bonding more closely with the existing Tulsa soccer community.
“It’s 100 percent important, because your families, your friends, you know so many people that can come out and support you, and then the fans also know that you’re from their city, so they’re going to support you even more,” Dean said. “It’s crazy to know how many fans come out and actually support us. It’s motivating because we’re playing for these people.”
Other Roughneck players with Tulsa ties include former ORU defenders Matt Rogers and Colton Haskin, former Bacone College and Tulsa Athletic midfielder Tyrone Blackwell, and former TU midfielder Akeil Barrett. Having that local flavor was important to Nsien.
“They have to be good enough, obviously, to play at this level, but we want to give every kid in Tulsa at least an idea that, ‘Hey, it could be me,’” said Nsien, 38, who played at Booker T. Washington High School before going on to play at the University of Dayton, and eventually spending some time with the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS. “We hope to create in the city that kids aspire to be a Tulsa Roughneck.”