By John Tranchina
It seems like the Tulsa Roughnecks FC are starting to turn the corner.
The Roughnecks put together their second straight strong defensive performance Friday night, while Gustavo Villalobos and Sammy Ochoa each scored goals, to lead Tulsa to a 2-0 victory over Saint Louis FC in front of 4,776 at ONEOK Field.
Following a difficult first half of the season in which they started 2-10-2, the Roughnecks (4-11-3) are now 2-1-1 in their last four, with consecutive shutouts by goalkeeper Alex Mangels.
Sammy Ochoa photo by Brooke Carroll
That the convincing victory came against a team that had beaten them soundly in their previous two meetings (5-2 on May 21 in Tulsa and then 7-1 on June 11 in St. Louis) made the triumph even sweeter.
“This was a big game for us, Saint Louis the last two times we played them, we didn’t get a good result and we take it personally, so we came out here to get the three points,” Ochoa said. “We talked about it and we weren’t going to lose tonight. We fought hard and got the good result. We have just got to keep going and get the momentum going on our side.”
With two new defenders patrolling the backline, the Roughnecks stymied the powerful Saint Louis attack that entered the day tied for fourth in the entire USL with 27 goals. Isaiah Schafer started his second straight game since joining the club for the 0-0 draw with Rio Grande Valley last Sunday, and Devin Morgan made his Roughnecks’ debut.
Overall, the entire unit did such a good job, Mangels only needed to make two saves for the shutout, increasing his USL-leading total to 70 and his league-best save percentage to 83.3%.
“It was a big win tonight,” said Roughnecks coach David Irving. “It was a great performance, we didn’t let any goals in and we scored two. Two games, two shutouts, it’s a lot better. We brought a couple of players in to help bolster the defense and we’re playing a lot better football, we have a little bit of belief now. A lot of positives, we just got to keep it going.”
With the loss, Saint Louis (6-8-5) is now winless in its last four outings (0-2-2).
Following a scoreless first half in which neither team generated a legitimate scoring chance, Villalobos put Tulsa on the scoreboard in the 66th minute. Broken Arrow product Bryce Taylor started the play by lofting a cross from deep on the right side into the middle of the box, where a Saint Louis defender headed it out, but the ball was knocked down by Villalobos just beyond the penalty area.
He stepped up and drilled a 15-yard shot that bounced past the diving goalkeeper Mark Pais (who played a year at the University of Tulsa) and just inside the left goalpost. It was Villalobos’ first USL goal.
Roustabouts photo by Rich Crimi
Ochoa, back in the lineup after missing the Rio Grande Valley match due to a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation, scored the all-important insurance goal in the 83rd minute. After chasing down a long lead ball from Iarfhlaith Davoren, Ochoa fired a 15-yard shot that Pais stopped, but the rebound bounced back to Ochoa, and he headed it over the leaping Pais, just under the crossbar into the right side of the net.
It was Ochoa’s team-leading ninth goal of the season, tying Saint Louis FC’s Irvin Herrera for fourth in the USL and matching his total from all of last season.
“Sammy’s always there,” Irving said. “We got that second one and it took the pressure off.”
In desperation mode, Saint Louis pushed to get one back in the final minutes, but Jordan Roberts’ 20-yard blast rolled just wide of the left post in the 84th minute, and Jermie Lynch’s 12-yard shot pinged off the outside the right post in the 86th.
Another positive for the Roughnecks was that they scored both goals in the second half, as the squad improved as the game wore on – an important development in light of the fact that they had been outscored 21-8 in the second half of games entering the contest.
“Great result for us and a step in the right direction,” Irving said. “We need to enjoy it.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for Tulsa, though. They next will travel across the state to take on the rival Oklahoma City Energy FC next Saturday night, July 23, at Taft Stadium. Heading into their game Saturday against Orange County, OKC sits sixth in the Western Conference with 25 points (6-2-7), but have played a league-low 15 games, so they have several games in hand with which to possibly gain ground.