TULSA, Okla. – When FC Tulsa unveiled its new identity in December 2019, it wanted to send a signal that things were changing at ONEOK Field.
What followed in the weeks leading up to the 2020 USL Championship season was a raft of new signings that amplified that message, with players with sterling reputations within the Championship such as Lebo Moloto and Bradley Bourgeois and notable returnees Rodrigo Da Costa and Marlon each signing multi-year contracts.
If that was the opening act to Tulsa’s rejuvenation on the field, the second act this offseason – which on Friday included the signing of forward Jerome Kiesewetter to a multiyear deal, adding a big name to the returning squad at Head Coach Michael Nsien’s disposal for 2021 – could result in an even bigger step forward.
“Before you can ever compete on the field, you have to compete off the field,” said Nsien at Kiesewetter’s introductory press conference. “When you’re negotiating with players, you have to show that you have a vision. You have to also deliver, so being able to bring in a player like Jerome with some of the other players we’ve brought in, it shows a consistency. These aren’t one-offs. We’ve been able to get guys of his quality who are good players in multi-year deals, so that shows sustainability in the model we’re looking to create.”
With some notable additions in free agency, Head Coach Michael Nsien's vision for FC Tulsa's on-field product came into focus during the 2020 USL Championship season. | Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC
Last Thursday’s announcement was the culmination of a process that began midway through Tulsa’s push to reach the Championship Playoffs last fall. With Kiesewetter seeing little action during Inter Miami CF’s inaugural Major League Soccer season, Tulsa reached out to see if it could strike a loan deal to bring the player with Bundesliga and U.S. Men’s National Team experience on board for a postseason drive.
Those efforts came up short, but the dialogue that began between the club and Kiesewetter left a positive mood between the two camps.
“We tried to see if we could make it work to get him here,” said Tulsa President James Cannon. “Obviously it didn’t work then but those talks were fruitful and the fact that we were able to stay in touch and announce him today as what we believe will be a key part of what’s already an exciting roster with many exciting pieces left to come.”
For Kiesewetter, the approach also drew his attention to what had transpired in Tulsa since he had faced its previous iteration with El Paso Locomotive FC during the 2019 Championship season. The difference not only in the club’s colors but the on-field approach the club was building with Nsien at the helm was noticeable.
“I was surprised, honestly, because I remember when we played them two years ago, the dynamic and the team completely changed,” said Kiesewetter. “I was surprised, I was asking [Nsien], ‘did you do it, or what happened?’ The franchise looked completely different. If they can do that much progress within one year, what can we do in two, three years? [I think] I have a big role, a big part and I hope from there it only goes up.”
Jerome Kiesewetter scored 12 goals for El Paso Locomotive FC in the 2019 Championship regular season at a strike-rate of 0.53 goals-per-90 minutes during the 2019 Championship regular season. | Photo courtesy Ivan Pierre Aguirre / El Paso Locomotive FC
There will be plenty of eyes on Kiesewetter as he dons the Black and Gold of Tulsa next season. It’s a pressure he welcomes. After a prolific spell with Locomotive FC – where he recorded 10 goals in his opening 10 games at the club – the belief in Tulsa’s camp is he will be among the players that helps the side take the step forward from reaching the playoffs to being a serious contender in the new campaign.
“He’s a dual threat,” said Nsien. “When he’s not creating for himself, he’s creating for teammates. Just the pressure he puts on opponents with good movement, I’m very excited not just for him but for the pieces we’re putting around him. He’s going to thrive in our environment, for sure. If he’s causing problems, he’s going to free up other players, and those great players are going to be able to supply him the ball. I’m looking forward to putting all that together.”
As Tulsa aims to put Kiesewetter in a position to thrive, it’s also setting out its stall for others who may now look at the club as one of the desired destinations to be in the Championship moving forward.
“I think Tulsa is defining itself as a market where good players are comfortable staying,” said Nsien. “By the results on the field and word of mouth from other professionals it’s starting to show itself as a destination for players who are serious about the game.”