Tulsa Roughnecks Embark on New Era


GTR Sports Writer

Change is the name of the game for the Tulsa Roughnecks 
 A new coach, a new team and new management; even the possibility of new ownership for the Tulsa Roughnecks. The renaissance has begun for the United Soccer League Championship franchise.
 Following a disastrous 2018 season in which the team won only three games, all under the guidance of interim coach Michael Nsien, the Roughnecks have secured a fresh start with Nsien moving in full-time and Welshman Wayne Farmer taking the reins as general manager.
 After a season operating the first year Fortuna Tulsa women’s club, the Roughnecks’ front office is now soccer specific, taking over from the Tulsa Drillers.  
 The Roughnecks, who play at the Drillers’ ONEOK Field, are in their fifth season since their rebirth in 2015 and hope to rekindle success both on and off the field. Attendance figures have dipped every year from a high of 4,714 in year one to 2,650 this season, 24th out of 36 league teams. Nsien and Farmer have a solution to the attendance deficit – winning matches. A return to the good old days of the 1980s is sought.
 “The people of Tulsa want a team that works hard and produces success on the field,’’ said Farmer, who has taken the Roughnecks’ GM role for the Evolution Group, a marketing and IT company headed by team president Barry Williams. “We needed a completely new start and a lot of things about the club are rebuilt.
 “We brought in young, hungry players with a lot of potential, players who will work hard and who want to be in Tulsa. They want to win for soccer fans, Tulsa fans and Green Country. It was important for us to hire a coach who represents the Roughnecks and the city and he (Nsien) has done that so far’’
 Nsien knows how to win. He played on two state championship teams at Booker T. Washington High School and was named All-Atlantic 10 Conference and All-Region at the University of Dayton, leading the team in scoring as a defender.
 “We’re off to one of our best starts in team history,’’ said Nsien, 38, a former Tulsa business owner who transferred his winning passion to soccer. “I’m happy with the team and I would like to create a difficult environment at home for our opponents. We want our players to feel the energy.”
Nsien said about 4,000 fans a game would do the trick and confirmed that winning more matches should place posteriors in seats. At this writing, Tulsa is off to a 4-3-3 start, fifth best in the league, and stands fourth in offense with 21 goals. Brazilian defender Luca Lobo leads the team with seven goals, second in the league, while Brazilian midfielder Rodrigo da Costa is second in assists with six.
Farmer said winning matches starts behind a desk in the front office.
“The effort we put into marketing is going up this year,’’ said Farmer, who played at TU and ORU and was a member of the Wales junior World Cup team. “We’re volunteering more in the community and helping our local soccer clubs. We’ve been received well by people of all ages and at games we have different promotions and groups interactive with ideas and concepts.’’
“Our first goal (on the field) is to make the playoffs and we’re off to a great start.’’
That could be surprising since the Roughnecks retained only one player from the 2018 roster, local midfielder D.J. Dean.
‘”I wanted players more on the upside of their careers rather than the downside,’’ Nsien said, “I wanted players who bought into ‘the harder you work, the more unacceptable losing becomes and the more gratifying the win.’ A win means more after you give everything.’’
That’s also true for Nsien, who is hoping to reach his potential and receive a shot at coaching in Major League Soccer someday. The Roughnecks gave him the chance to prove his ability.
“They wanted continuity and someone who knew the players,’’ said Nsien, who suited up professionally in Portland and Los Angeles. “I built trust with the players as an assistant coach.
“We have one of the top offenses in the league and most of our scoring comes from free kicks and corner kicks. We’re really disciplined. Defensively, we’re giving up more goals than I would like. It’s a trademark of our team to outgun opponents. I’d rather win 1-0 or 2-0 than 5-3.’’
 Nsien said through mid-May his team was in position to get where they wanted to go, namely the playoffs. Winning more consistently on the road was a concern, adapting to opponents’ home field advantages, such as altitude, snow and cold.
 Meanwhile, Farmer and Roughnecks executives see more good things ahead.
“Our Fortuna Tulsa women’s team was named Franchise of the Year (In the Women’s Premier Pro League) and the Roughnecks are gaining attendance every (home) game,’’ Farmer said. “Our league (USL) is very strong now and adding teams. We have very strong ownership groups.  The Roughnecks needed their own soccer management team and I think we have done a very good job with the switchover. There’s been an incredible amount of work needed.’’
  Now Nsien and his on-field team are hoping to match or surpass the front office’s achievements. There are plenty of signs it could happen.
“We want to become a playoff team,’’ said Nsien, a former financial planner and youth director of the Tulsa Soccer Club. “We’ve been in the top two or three spots all season and our goal is make the top eight positions to be in the playoffs. We want to play an up-tempo style and when a team possesses the ball we want them under pressure in constant discomfort. We want to maintain consistency and host a playoff game.’’
It would be a new experience for Tulsa, but after all, new is the operative word for the 2019 born-again Roughnecks.

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