Back in January the Chicago Fire announced that they were renewing their affiliation agreement with the Tulsa Roughnecks. The USL Western Conference side served as a proving ground for no less than six Fire players in 2017.
When announcing the renewed deal, Fire president Nelson Rodriguez described their affiliation in 2017 as “mutually productive” and said he intended to “grow [their] relationship.” The arrangement has so far done well enough to keep depth signings on the squad fresh and ready to return to Bridgeview should injury befall a senior first team player. With Tulsa eager to establish themselves as playoff contenders, they’ll be looking to get their borrowed MLS players in fighting shape and ready to compete for minutes— with the hope at Toyota Park that when they’re eventually called home, they’ll return with sharpened skills and some meaningful experience.
Let’s take a quick look at our USL affiliates for 2018.
Everything Old Is New Again
The current iteration of the Tulsa Roughnecks are relatively new on the American lower league soccer scene. They were formed in 2013 as a sort of side hustle for the owners of the Tulsa Drillers, the minor league baseball team.
But the team invokes some real history, with their name and orange kit color being derived from the original Roughnecks that played in the old NASL in the 1970s and 80s. The old Roughnecks hit their high water mark in 1983, when they beat the Toronto Blizzard to win Soccer Bowl ‘83.
The Roughnecks’ current head coach is David Vaudreuil, a former midfielder and defender who spent nearly 13 years in the professional game. Vaudreuil ended his playing career in Chicago , making 26 appearances for the Men In Red in 2001 and 2002 and scoring one goal.
Here’s what Vaudreuil said last year when the partnership was first announced.
Tulsa Loanees Are Already Breaking Into The Fire’s Gameday 18
Last year, six Fire players spent time in Tulsa: Joey Calistri, Matej Dekovic, Collin Fernandez, Brandt Bronico, Stefan Cleveland, and Jorge Corrales. The latter three are still on the Fire roster, with Cleveland getting a fair amount of preseason minutes in goal and Corrales making a substitute appearance in last weekend’s MLS season opener against Sporting Kansas City.
Obviously the partnership is still in its germinating stages, but there’s every reason to believe that the loan pipeline could bear fruit for many seasons to come.
Sooner Or Hater
No soccer team is complete without a rivalry.
For Tulsa, their biggest rivals are fellow Oklahomans OKC Energy, with whom they contest the Black Gold Derby. The Roughnecks played OKC four times in 2017 and posted a record of 1W, 1L, 2D.
Incidentally, that fixture kicks off the 2018 USL season for both teams.
(Side note: the owners of OKC Energy are also minority owners of the Roughnecks. WAKE UP SHEEPLE.)
Done With One-And-Done
The Roughnecks squeaked into the 2017 USL Western Conference playoffs, finishing in 7th place with just a two point cushion. They didn’t get very far in the big dance— they got bounced out of the first round in a 2-1 loss to San Antonio FC.
In the offseason, Tulsa has reloaded with a wealth of attacking talent. Some of Vaudreuil’s signings include attacking midfielder Christian Rodriguez, Argentine striker Fernando Arce, and experienced defender Enrique Montano. And this is all before the Fire start sending down loanees.
Of course, with all the new teams in the league following the slow and painful asphyxiating death of the NASL, competition will be much stronger in 2018. But the Roughnecks aren’t planning on rolling over. They’re building a squad to compete— and if 2017 is any indication, some up-and-coming Fire players may yet play a role in their fight for USL supremacy.