By: Phil Rodriguez
An exciting and at times somewhat rough and tumble affair played out at Taft Stadium last night, as the Energy won their second straight against a solid Orange County Blues team, extending their overall unbeaten streak to six games.
The Energy nearly went ahead in the 2nd minute, as midfielder Michael Thomas had a great chance after being on the receiving end of a terrific through ball. Sebastian Dalgaard, tied for 3rd in assists in the USL with 4, slipped it perfectly to Thomas, who controlled the ball well and took a strong shot with the outside of his right foot, only for the ball to roll wide right of the goal.
The game was wide open from early on, with both teams attacking well down the flanks and playing aggressive and fast-paced football. Blues left back Andrae Campbell was able to consistently drive down his flank in the first half, making aggressive runs and playing balls into the box. In the 12th minute he collided with Energy defender Michael Harris on the outside of the box, an immovable object to his unstoppable force of a run. No foul was called despite the contact, however, and the ball was batted away by the Energy defense.
Energy fans were treated to a spectacular opening goal from their side in the 22nd minute, when Michael Thomas got his second opportunity to score. Striker Danny König received a pass down the left flank and controlled it well, dipping into the box from the left side. He used his skill to dodge around two defenders before popping the ball up to his right, where it was mishandled by Blues keeper Josh Cohen, allowing Thomas to knock the ball in with his right foot.
Although technically classified as a defender, Thomas has been deployed recently by coach Jimmy Nielsen as the free-roaming midfielder in his 4-4-2 formation, and the game against the Blues showed exactly why. Thomas was terrific throughout, making runs with pace and bringing the ball forward to the attacking pair of Danny König and Wojciech Wojcik.
Orange County forward Trevin Caesar made his mark on the match in the 25th minute, getting a goal after a well-placed pass from Blues midfielder Mats Bjurman. Bjurman received the ball with miles of space behind most of the Energy’s defensive line, but still onsides. This created essentially a two on one situation for ace Energy keeper Cody Laurendi, who could do nothing as the Gareth Bale-esque hairband-wearing Bjurman lightly crossed it to Caesar, who smashed it in beautifully on target with his right foot.
The Energy nearly went ahead again late in the 33rd minute, when lanky Polish-American striker Wojciech Wojcik attempted a powerful left-footed volley at goal. The ball sailed strongly towards the top left corner, only to be saved by Cohen. On the ensuing corner, however, Wojcik was able to get his goal. Midfielder Jose Cuevas tapped the ball in from the corner to Dalgaard, who immediately returned it to Cuevas for him to cross. After deflecting off of the head of König, the ball bounced on the turf and was met viciously by Wojcik’s right foot, which rocketed it screaming into the goal.
The 39th minute saw the Energy nearly go ahead by two goals, with a beautiful curving free kick sent into the box from Cuevas. Blues keeper Cohen came out strong however and gave it a solid punch, deflecting the danger for the Blues.
The second half began with the Blues seemingly renewed after the break, attacking fiercely and with vigor. Trevin Caesar was full of pace and vinegar, romping up and down the field and making dangerous runs. He drew a foul and a booking for Energy center back Cyprian Hedrick in the 40th minute, after the defender went in for a hard tackle when he was the last in line at defense.
Caesar got the Blues very close to evening up the score in the 51st minute, when he took a well-played ball from midfielder Christopher Santana and dribbled into the box from the left. He took the ball around Hedrick with a good bit of skill and smacked a shot low to the ground and on target, only for Laurendi to again make a superb save, falling to the ground and batting the ball away. Starting at about the 50th minute or so, the Energy were getting nearly 10 men back on defense to protect their one goal lead. Perhaps the most important event of the second half happened in the 62nd minute. After being fouled in the box, Sebastian Dalgaard stepped up to the spot looking to give the Energy a 3-1 lead. His attempt went wide left however, pinging off of the outside of the post almost in mockery.
The rest of the game was mostly inconsequential, with neither team getting any definitive looks at goal. The Energy’s next game will be another home match, with the Tulsa Roughnecks coming into town next Saturday, July 23rd.
Phil’s Man of the Match: Michael Thomas
- Defender Kalen Ryden went down in the 58th minute with what appeared to be a right hamstring injury. As of press time the injury was undetermined, as is the length of time he will miss.
- Pokémon fever has spread to the Energy as well. A pre-game announcement let fans know that, despite promotion of Taft Stadium as a “Poké-Stop” on mobile app Pokémon Go, any wandering on the field to catch any sighted Pokémon was strictly prohibited. After the match, even Jose Cuevas seemed caught up in the “Poké-fever,” referencing the popular mobile game in his post-match interview.