FC Tulsa kicks off season Saturday at OKC Energy

FC Tulsa head coach Michael Nsien said there’s no better way to kick off the 2021 season than a rivalry game.

Coming off its best season in franchise history, Tulsa looks to follow last year’s playoff campaign starting at OKC Energy FC Saturday (televised on My41, 7:30 p.m.)

It is the first of four matches against the in-state rival.

“I can’t think of anyone better to go and compete against and get the passion and the rivalry and the season kicked off at the right speed than Oklahoma City,” Nsien said. “You want players to get back that competitive spirit and that mentality to go and compete and win. Oklahoma City should out the best and worst in us. In terms of our mentality, our players are really up for it.”

Newly-appointed captain Bradley Bourgeois said Tulsa’s defensive unit has come along together well in preseason camp. It’ll be no easy task putting up a clean sheet in the first installment of the Black-Gold Derby.

“Keeping the ball out of the back of the net, right? Simple as that,” Bourgeois said. “Defending in numbers, starting in the front and keeping a really good shape. I feel like the group’s come together quite well. It’s nowhere near perfect, obviously it’s the first game of the season. It’s about putting in the hard work and sacrificing.

“They are definitely a threat in behind,” Bourgeois said. “I don’t know if he will be there this weekend, but [Jaime] Chavez is a handful, their number 9 who likes to win balls in the air. They’ve acquired [Villyan] Bijev who is a good player with good feet who likes to get isolated. It’s going to be a group effort.”

Tulsa won the rivalry series with September’s tie-breaking win, part of a prolific three-game win streak that sealed its spot in the playoffs.

“It’s a derby. It’s the guys down the road,” Bourgeois said. “This is for our state. I can tell you what, we don’t want to lose it. This is our Wrench, and we’re going to keep it.”

2021 will mark the second season the club has operated under the “FC Tulsa” brand and new ownership, following five seasons as the Tulsa Roughnecks.

The club announced Friday it had added former defender Cyprian Hedrick as an assistant coach to Nsien’s staff.