18-year-old Angel Bernal could be one of the pieces that FC Tulsa builds around next season as it looks to cultivate young talent while aiming for on-field success. | Photo courtesy Hartford Athletic
The distinct end-of-season feel to FC Tulsa’s last game of the season at Hartford Athletic was summed up by the fact that Head Coach Blair Gavin’s five changes to his starting lineup were the most he’d made from one game to the next all season.
For Angel Bernal, at least, it was an opportunity to show what he could offer as the side moves toward preparing for the new campaign, and one he made the most of.
Making just his second start of the season, the 18-year-old right back put in work alongside some of his more experienced teammates. He was sharp defensively, winning 2 of 2 tackles while notching three clearances and one interception, completed 15 of 16 passes in possession, and made a crucial intervention to deny a chance for Hartford’s Antoine Hoppenot just before halftime.
Then, in the second half, Bernal made his mark at the other end of the field. Joining the attack with a late run into the penalty area he got handed his first goal in the professional ranks on a platter by a deft header from Moses Dyer.
“It felt good getting my first goal for FC Tulsa,” said Bernal. “Your mind kind of blanks out, and you just live in that moment.”
A product of both San Antonio FC and FC Dallas’ Academies, Bernal is among the young talents that joined the pro ranks in Tulsa to push their professional aspirations to the next level. He wasn’t the only player to bag a first professional goal on Friday either as 16-year-old Nate Worth capped his excellent late-season run in the starting lineup with the final goal of the night for the visitors in a 5-2 win.
As a glimpse of what Tulsa is aiming to become in the future, it was a fine showing for a club that has big aspirations both to earn success on the field and help players achieve their professional goals.
“I think that's what this club is about, continue to grow and develop players,” said Gavin. “These guys work hard daily on the training pitch and it’s nice when you can bring their youthful energy into the game to have this fearless nature about them.
“It was cool to see them score and the cooler part or the part that I love is the embrace from the team, from their friends, because they know how much they mean to the group. It's nice to see them get on the score sheet and I know it's going to be a memory that they'll have forever.”
Here are some other young talents that stood out in the final weekend of the regular season…
- Alex Monis, Rio Grande Valley FC – The 20-year-old helped spark the Toros’ comeback for victory with a great diving header for his first professional goal against Loudoun United FC, and also completed 25 of 32 passes while winning 4 of 8 duels.
- Bryce Jamison, Orange County SC – The United States U-17 international winger showed off his two-way capabilities, recording one shot on target while winning 8 of 10 duels overall and 2 of three tackles in OCSC’s win against Monterey Bay F.C.
- Dren Dobrunna, Hartford Athletic – The USL Academy product notched his first assist in the professional ranks as Hartford’s season came to an end, delivering the cross for Robin Lapert’s late goal, and completed 12 of 16 passes in 25 minutes.
- Erik McCue, El Paso Locomotive FC – The 22-year-old center back helped Locomotive FC hold out and earn a postseason berth, recording 12 clearances in a 2-1 win against Oakland Roots SC while completing 23 of 28 passes.
- Aldair Sanchez, Sacramento Republic FC – The 21-year-old held down another solid performance on the left, completing 21 of 23 passes and recording two chances created in Sacramento’s 1-0 win against Miami FC to wrap up the regular season.