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New Age Thinking

After a disappointing 2016 campaign that focused on younger legs, the Roughnecks are undergoing a non-youth movement, bringing in older talent with wins and veteran leadership.

Richard Linihan
February 15, 2017

Often professional soccer clubs will have to call in the veteran players to let them know future plans call for younger legs. Instead, the Tulsa Roughnecks are going to adhere to a philosophy that George Costanza of the Seinfeld sitcom would appreciate. 

Costanza became a success on the show when he decided that he’d had such a losing persona that the only thing that could turn it around was to do exactly the opposite of what his natural instincts told him to do. In the case of the Roughnecks, call it opposite year in the fashion of Costanza. After expecting a move into the United Soccer League playoffs following a .500 season in their first year of play, the Roughnecks took a step backward with its young team and fell under the .500 mark in 2016.

So it might not be that surprising that management has decided to go full Costanza in 2017.

“Last year we had a very young team with a lot of talent and expectations,” says Brian Carroll, Roughnecks vice president of media and public relations. “Consequently, we’re moving toward the older players with experience this year.”

On the field last year, the Roughnecks proved that young legs often do not fulfill the equation of a winning season, and maybe, just maybe, players with experience and who are strong of mind will be the answer.

The regular season for the Roughnecks begins March 25, the first of three consecutive matches at home at ONEOK Field. Tulsa hosts the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC club on opening night at 7 p.m., followed by two more against the Rio Grande Toros FC and the Sacramento Republic FC, respectively.

At press time, the Roughnecks were negotiating an agreement with the Major Soccer League’s Chicago Fire to work as an affiliate. That would mean a pipeline of professional players with ties to Chicago.

But that’s not the only change that may impact the Roughnecks in 2017.

In December 2016, the team hired former MLS player David Vaudreuil to replace former coach David Irving, who moved into a role as the director of football operations and technical director.

Vaudreuil (Vawd-REE-uhl) has a wealth of connections and contacts throughout the game of soccer thanks to a substantial amount of playing and coaching experience. The former defender and midfielder played several seasons in MLS with D.C. United, Colorado Rapids and Chicago Fire. He appeared in 131 MLS matches from 1996-2002. After his playing days, Vaudreuil moved into coaching and has served in a number of roles, including a stint as head coach with the Atlanta Silverbacks in the old USL First Division. Other coaching stints have included time as an assistant coach to Jay Heaps with the New England Revolution in the MLS and as the general manager and head coach of the AC Milan USA Academy.

“We’re very excited about him. He has hit the ground running,” says Carroll. “We felt like we put a better team on the field in 2016, more talented than our .500 team the first year, and yet it didn’t pan out. It was certainly a disappointment on the field. So we’re starting over.

“The good news is, fans will see a much more polished and talented level of play this year because we’ve moved from Division 3 play to Division 2. That’s just below the MSL. So even though it will be much greater play, it also will be much tougher to win.”

New to the roster is Kosuke Kimura, who is going to fill a player-coach position with the team. He won the MSL Cup with the Colorado Rapids as a strong defender on that team. He is a leader and will offer a lot of experience as a coach to the team.

A striker whom Tulsa will look to for shots that slam the back of the net is Juan Pablo Caffa from Argentina.

“He has played in Spain at the highest level and has scored many goals for them,” says Carroll. “He also is 30 years old, which will be more of a regular thing on this team. Now, we still will have some young players, players who may turn into local favorites like Cristian Mata, who played for Tulsa Union High School and then two years for the University of Tulsa. Mata had a brilliant camp in 2015 and then when he was expected to have a breakout season, he injured his ankle severely the day before the start of the season last year. He was only able to join us for the second half of the season. We hope he is back to 100 percent this year.”

Another familiar name is Brady Ballew. He was a finalist for Rookie of the Year in 2015 for Tulsa but then oddly had the curse of the sophomore season in 2016. “No one works harder than Brady,” says Carroll. “So we’re expecting big things from him.”

Goalkeeper is less settled going into this year.

“We gave up the most goals of any team in the USL last year,” says Carroll. “But one thing that should really help is naming Donovan Ricketts as goalkeeper coach. He has had extensive experience in the MSL with the Galaxy and Portland Timbers. And he may end up playing some himself.” The two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year has made nearly 200 appearances for the Los Angeles Galaxy, Portland Timbers, Montreal Impact and Orlando City.

The top eight teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences will make the playoffs and will play a one-and-done match against opponents with the top seeds or teams with most regular season points playing host.

The entertainment value of a Roughnecks game is a reasonable outing price-wise and offers tons of fun for the average fan as well as the top-schooled soccer buff. There will also be giveaways again this season. One of the favorites is soccer ball night when the Roughnecks give a soccer ball to the first 1,000 or so fans through the gates. The nice thing about that is that the players always stay after the game to sign those offerings.

Carroll says the club will also renew the contest where a fan gets the chance to win $500 by kicking a ball into a small net from about 30 yards away.