Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
SAN ANTONIO – As someone who won both an MLS Cup and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in a penalty shootout, having Jimmy Nielsen as your Head Coach isn’t a bad resource to have as a goalkeeper.
After saving two of San Antonio FC’s three penalty kicks to send his side through to a second Western Conference Final in three seasons after a shootout on Saturday night, OKC Energy FC goalkeeper C.J. Cochran was certainly grateful for the advice.
“Jimmy told me to stay moving on the line, and that if I pick a way to dive just go out and do it,” said Cochran. “It’s good advice. Jimmy knows what to do on PKs.”
The continuation of Cochran’s remarkable run in goal for Energy FC earned his side a 4-1 shootout victory after the regional rivals had played to a 1-1 draw after extra time in front of 7,032 fans at Toyota Stadium, a second consecutive road victory this postseason for No. 6-seed OKC. The side is undefeated since Cochran took over in goal after an injury to regular starter Cody Laurendi in September, a wave of form that carried through into another heated battle between the two regional rivals.
Cochran was glad to have the opportunity to redeem himself in his eyes after an early goal had put San Antonio FC ahead in just the eighth minute. Cesar Elizondo’s long-range shot took a big deflection toward the right corner, wrong-footing Cochran momentarily before sliding into the net.
“I slipped on the goal, it’s a ball I should be saving, but we didn’t panic, and the boys had my back,” said Cochran. “We fought back and won the game.”
It was a game that appeared to be there for the taking for Energy FC, which outshot its hosts 21-7 and earned 10 corner kicks to San Antonio’s four. But with less than 10 minutes remaining, San Antonio was still holding firm to its one-goal edge, a place in the next round within reach.
Then, the other hero of OKC’s opening victory in this year’s USL Cup Playoffs came through again. A perfectly-placed header by Wojciech Wojcik earned the breakthrough for Energy FC off a cross by Jose Angulo, and with five minutes to go the game was all square.
“We’d been trying to find pockets and seams and trying to get out wide and get crosses in,” said Wojcik. “It was a little more difficult in the beginning. It was just about finding the opportune moment to make a play, and fortunately I was able to get my head on that one and get it into the back of the net.”
For Nielsen, the determination his side showed to battle back against a San Antonio side that had fallen just once at home in the regular season was testament to the spirit the side has built after a season filled with setbacks that is now in full bloom.
“I think we showed good confidence,” said Nielsen. “C.J. pulled out two amazing saves, and we’re onto the next round.”
With a trip to face the defending Western Conference champion Swope Park Rangers up next for a chance at the club’s first trip to the USL Cup, Wojcik and Energy FC’s players are brimming with belief.
“Overall, great team performance,” said Wojcik. “Everyone stepped up and won their individual battles and we put on a great team performance. We all stepped up when we needed to. It wasn’t just me, it wasn’t just C.J., it was everybody on the team, and we keep it rolling, keep it moving to the next one.”