What Are They All About? Tulsa Roughnecks FC
Progress in the Process. This past weekend the Chicago Fire defeated Orlando City SC 3-2 in a closed-door scrimmage at Orlando City Stadium, but more importantly it saw the Fire roster begin to take a more solid shape. Super Draft picks Elliot Collier and Diego Campos were signed to contracts for the upcoming season with option years stretching into 2021. Additionally, after stating that there were no imminent trades earlier in the week, Nelson Rodriguez surprised everyone with the announcement of Tony Tchani’s acquisition. A defensive minded midfielder who showed great promise at Columbus before being sent to Vancouver last season, Tchani never seemed to settle into the Whitecaps’ squad and he’ll relish the opportunity to prove himself. His arrival does not answer many of the questions that hover around the Chicago squad, but he is an addition that would be welcome on any trophy hungry team in the league.
While the roster has been bolstered in terms of numbers – there are currently twenty-five contracted players in the squad – the Fire have also hit a snag in terms of injuries. Minor injuries to Grant Lillard, Daniel Johnson, Richard Sanchez, Johan Kappelhof, Luis Solignac, and trialist Alan Gordon kept those players out of full contact training this week. Additionally, Bastian Schweinsteiger continues his rehab process and limited contact minutes after sustaining a shin injury in preseason camp and Matt Polster is suffering from a knee injury in the same knee on which he had surgery last season. All of this is on top of the extended absences of Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic. For those counting, that’s fourteen fully fit players that are officially on the roster a week out from their first match.
Rodriguez is going to need to amend his “values” check list on potential signings or Fire fans are going to have to lower their expectations for the season. Either way, there is no time for rest as Chicago hosts Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Toyota Park this Saturday (Noon CT) in their final preparatory match before kicking their MLS campaign off against SKC the following weekend. With trialists being sent home, contracts being extended to draft picks, and a sense of urgency around being ready for the season, this match should give a little bit more insight into the tactics, system, and mentality heading into the season. Let’s see what’s in Store for the Men in Red.
Tulsa Form Guide: 2-0-1 in preseason.
Previous Result: A 3-1 victory over Oral Roberts University.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Cerda; Montano, Ugarte, Munoz, Gee; Mirkovic, Binns; Tavares, Gamble, Rivas; Arce.
Strengths: Tulsa is of course the Fire’s USL affiliate club and therefore many of their future strengths are likely to be wearing red in this particular encounter, but they boast their own qualities even at this stage of the preseason. Tulsa finished seventh in their USL conference last season, qualifying them for the playoffs where they lost to San Antonio FC in the first round. However, some consistency in the squad and a few offseason additions have given Tulsa a new look. Let’s see where they might succeed.
Ponerse las Pilas!: You know we can’t resist including our affinity for Argentines. This offseason’s major addition for Tulsa was Independiente youth product Fernando Arce, a twenty-two-year-old left footed striker. At six-foot one-inch, Arce will be a handful in the air if Tulsa can generate some set piece opportunities for him. Additionally, Arce was utilized as a lone striker when he went out on loan to Gimnasia y Esgrima de Jujuy in the Primera B, meaning he can be asked to hold up play in addition to his one v. one ability. Think of him as a bargain Lucas Melano (the Estudiantes iteration, not his poor showing in MLS for Portland).
Reggae Boy: The other notable offseason addition for Tulsa is Jamaican holding midfielder Michael Binns. A lack of leadership may have been one of the factors leading to Tulsa’s early ousting from the playoffs in 2017 and Binns’ eighteen Jamaican CAPs (including an impressive showing in the last Gold Cup), CONCACAF Champions League appearances, and Jamaican championship with Portmore United may just fill that void. He has a strong physical presence, tactical sensibilities, and is not afraid of going up against opponents that are “better” than the team he plays for. He’ll want to hit the ground running in this last encounter before the USL season starts and he’ll certainly be one to watch.
The Sky is the Limit: Many of Tulsa’s players will be entering this encounter with stars in their eyes. They’ll be looking to prove to themselves and to onlookers (potentially Paunovic and other MLS coaches) that USL is not their ceiling. With outside back Jorge Corrales earning a spot on the Fire roster in the wake of a successful loan stint from Tulsa, the example is certainly there to be emulated. The chance to play against “top tier” opposition can bring out the best in a side (see last season’s Open Cup matches against St. Louis and Cincinnati) and the Roughnecks will be looking to enter the start of their campaign on a high.
Weaknesses: We’ll try to be kind in this section due to the Roughnecks USL status and their affiliation with Chicago. Let’s see where they will struggle on Saturday.
We’ve Lost all of Our Firepower: One of the most baffling moves on Chicago’s part in the offseason seems to have impacted the Roughnecks as well. 2016 Fire Homegrown signing Joey Calistri played fourteen matches that season for Chicago before being loaned to Tulsa in 2017 where he notched nine goals for the Roughnecks. Calistri’s contract option was inexplicably not renewed this season and has left both clubs scrambling to find attack minded players in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the Deerfield Illinois native will surely continue hitting the back of the net in USL, this time for Louisville City.
As if losing Calistri wasn’t bad enough, Tulsa also lost their leading goal scorer in the offseason as Ian Svantesson moved to the Charleston Battery. After scoring eleven goals last season, Svantesson was sure to be a hot commodity and he didn’t blink at the chance to jump to one of the best teams in USL. He’s continued his form there, scoring in each of Charleston’s preseason friendlies. Finding consistency like they had with Calistri and Svantesson is not impossible, but they’re starting from scratch in terms of attacking chemistry.
As Long as We Score More, Right?: While they had no problem generating things going forward, Tulsa had significant issues at the back last season. They had the largest GA total (48) of any Western Conference playoff team, and NYRBII was the only post-season contender that allowed more goals than the Roughnecks. Although Jorge Corrales was signed by the Fire after a seemingly impressive loan spell, the Roughnecks elected to keep the backline relatively stable, adding just two defensive players in the offseason. Enrique Montano joined from Sacramento Republic after failing to feature in a single match for them in the 2017 season, and Adrian Jusino was signed after the end of his contract with second division Bolivian side Club Always Ready. Neither one of those inspire any confidence on paper and it could be easy pickings for Chicago.
Prediction: As has been the case throughout the preseason, we will not provide a score prediction here. Tulsa Roughnecks coach David Vaudreuil who spent the 2001 and 2001 MLS seasons with the Fire, is returning "home" in this match. Ultimately, this is the last match that doesn’t matter for Chicago and they’ll need to realize that sooner rather than later.