What a difference a year makes.
After winning just three games all of last season, the Tulsa Roughnecks FC already has matched that total in 2019, defeating the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros 2-1 Friday night at ONEOK Field, taking over first place in the USL Western Conference.
First-half goals by Rodrigo Da Costa and Fabian Bastidas gave the Roughnecks a 2-0 lead and, despite Rio Grande Valley controlling the play for most of the second half, Tulsa (3-1-1) managed to hold on for the victory.
“We’ll take the three points. At home, we don’t want to drop points, so the guys really dug in late in the half,” said Tulsa coach Michael Nsien, who utilized a completely new roster from the one he ended last season with.
“We matched our win total from last year. I know a lot of the guys won’t understand that, but for me, it’s a good achievement to get off to the right start. Three games, last year, it was hard to come by, so I’m glad we’re getting off to a good start and hopefully, we can continue with this momentum.”
Bastidas said he believes this is a special group that can accomplish a lot.
“We’re taking it step by step,” said Bastidas, whose goal in first-half stoppage time stood up as the winner. “From the first day I got here, I’ve been saying, ‘Nothing less than going to the championship.’ I’m very happy with this new family that we’ve gathered. We’re getting better and we’re very happy for the work we’re doing. We’re dreaming big.”
Roughnecks goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar made two saves in his professional debut, after arriving on loan from the MLS’ Orlando City last week. Top goalkeeper Sean Lewis is out with a quad strain injury.
Da Costa gave Tulsa the lead in the 19th minute after Christhian Altamirano was pulled down in the box by Rio Grande Valley defender Andrew Samuels. Da Costa stepped up to the dot and drilled a shot into the upper right corner, past diving Toros goalkeeper Michael Nelson.
“Christhian typically takes them, but he got fouled, so I’m glad I got multiple guys that can step up and take those,” Nsien said.
Rio Grande Valley picked up its performance after that and had several opportunities, but Stajduhar made a nice leaping save in the 30th minute to deny Camilo Monroy’s blast from 20 yards out and made another stop on Jesus Enriquez in the 33rd.
Bastidas made it 2-0 just before halftime, off a spectacular shot from 25 yards that curled into the upper right corner, off the right post, just beyond the diving Nelson.
“In practice, I’ve been doing pretty good hitting that from the outside, and I got it, I didn’t even think about it, I ripped it and it went in,” Bastidas said of his second goal of the season.
Rio Grande Valley made it 2-1 in the 72nd minute, when Nico Lemoine received a nice pass from Isidro Martinez on the left wing and popped home a shot from 15 yards past Stajduhar.
The Toros controlled the play for most of the second half, but Tulsa’s stout defense prevented them from getting many good scoring opportunities. Monroy’s free kick from 30 yards out curled just wide of the left post in the 76th minute and Michael Salazar’s shot from 8 yards out sailed just over the crossbar in the 87th, but other than that, the Roughnecks defended well.
“I think typically in games you see that, and hopefully, we can get past it, when you have the lead early in the game,” Nsien said of holding on in the second half. “In the second half, you don’t really want to drop the level (of play). We have to continue to close out games and be more effective in the last half. We just got to find that right balance that we’re able to compete over 90 minutes.”
ROUGHNECKS 2, TOROS 1
Rio Grande Valley 0 1 — 1
Tulsa 2 0 — 2
Goals: RGV, Lemoine (Martinez). Tulsa, Da Costa (PK), Bastidas. Saves: RGV, Nelson 2; Tulsa, Stajduhar 2.