Oklahoma City FC returns to the WPSL field after almost two years away to face off against their in-state rivals in their season opener
Published Jun 11, 2021
Photo Credit:  Tulsa Soccer Club Media


Tulsa and Oklahoma City are separated by over 100 miles, but on the soccer field it has a neighboring town rivalry kind of feel. After all, the world of youth travel soccer and collegiate play has the tendency to shrink a state.

Saturday night, Oklahoma City FC welcomes Tulsa Soccer Club to Mustang Stadium for the renewal of a long-running Oklahoma rivalry that runs deeper than these two WPSL sides.


“There is a rivalry we have definitely, between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, not just from this match but it runs pretty deep in club,” Mike Schwarz, Tulsa SC co-head coach, stated. “Even back when I was playing many years ago.”


The dynamic of the relationships embedded in this match create a tangled web of relationships. Rosters between both teams consist of former teammates throughout club soccer and onto the collegiate level. Some players were teammates in their youth before separating at the school level, and others were rivals in high school then becoming teammates in college. As complicated as the playing history is between these players, the interwoven friendships fall away as the two teams meet on the field.


“They might be friends and friendly before the game but once that whistle blows you see their mentality change a little bit,” Schwarz said. “It gets chippy here and there, and that’s ok, it’s part of the sport but I like it.”



Each team comes into the match at different places in their summer development.

Having already played two games this season, Tulsa holds an advantage of strong chemistry with the addition of having 10 former, current, and future University of Tulsa players on their roster. Sitting at the top of the Northern Division of the Red River Conference, Tulsa has wins over SouthStar FC, which they won 1-0 in their season opener, and Texas Spurs FC, whom they be beat 2-0 on Wednesday night – standing out in those matches is University of Tulsa forward, Reagan Whitlow, who’s scored two of the team’s three goals.

In contrast, this match will be Oklahoma City’s first of the 2021 season. Having a mixed roster of players coming off a full spring NCAA season and high school-aged players, finding the harmony between the newcomers and the veterans may present a tough test for the scissor-tails so early in the season.

In addition to this being their season opener, Oklahoma City hasn’t played a competitive match since June 30, 2019 – outside of some training with non-collegiate players last summer. That extra push could be the piece that helps get a player to make an extra run, or stretch a little bit further for a pass, but OKC technical director, Evan Dresel, knows there can be a downside to that excitement too.


“We have players that are itching to get on the field,” Dresel said. “We can have all the tactics we want, but it’s going to be about the players managing themselves in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the game.”


While there are unlimited substitutions in WPSL competitions, players don’t want to exert themselves excessively early in the match, especially when match fitness isn’t all there this early in season play. An extra wrinkle to both team’s fitness is the weather conditions - for the 7:30 p.m. CT kickoff, the forecasted temperature is in the upper 80s.



For Oklahoma City, they welcome a new coach, Danny Gibson, to the team for this season. The Scottish-born manager has a deep history with the sport in Oklahoma and has the highest level of coaching license for youth soccer. Gibson has led youth organizations within the state to league, state, and national level titles.

As a technically focused side that concentrates in on their passing. OKC will play through their central midfield and give their forwards the opportunity to take chances. With a newly mixed roster and just their opening match, communication will be crucial for OKC in holding their defensive shape against a Tulsa side that build up plays from their own.

Tulsa plays a more traditional formation of four defenders, three midfielders and three attacking players – building plays out of the back through a possession style of soccer. Despite two matches in for Tulsa, it’s always a learning process to get players into formation.

Despite a young, rookie-centered roster for OKC, the scissor-tails have brought back a midfield full of veteran WPSL experience to spread confidence and composer throughout their side. Rebekah George and Jaclyn Purvine return for their fourth and fifth seasons, while Jaci Jones, 2019-2020 Big 12 Sportsperson of the Year, returns for her seventh season and Dria Hampton is back for her 12th season.

Even so, Tulsa’s depth on the bench could be the deciding factor of this match given the ample selection of substitutes available providing Tulsa with the flexibility that can exploit a fresh-legged Oklahoma City side. That’s something that current general manager, and former 2019 all-conference player, Rachel Hummingbird, sees as a big advantage.


“I know the first game is always tough for any WPSL team when you mix in the high schoolers, college and old cats like me,” Hummingbird said. “From the first game, to the second game, we have such a huge roster but whoever you put in within our team, it doesn’t change.”



After a unique collegiate season which consisted of playing in most-empty stadiums, extensive COVID-19 testing, and quarantines, players and coaches on both sides are excited to play this rivalry in front of a real crowd again.

In 2018, Tulsa’s first WPSL season under new branding, the rivalry saw close to 2,500 supporters in the stands – something likely to been seen tomorrow night. For Oklahoma City, however, getting back to normal isn’t just about COVID-19 restrictions lifting.


“Obviously, we do not want to lose to Tulsa. The last couple of times, we were ahead until late in the game and [Tulsa] made late comebacks to draw with us and beat us,” Dresel said. “We’re trying to right the ship on that.”


Supporters can stream the match live on Eleven Sports, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. CT.

Watch the WPSL site for a post-match recap following this friendly, yet heated, Red River Conference rivalry.



    Author:   Thomas Costello,  @1thomascostello (twitter)
                   WPSL Contributor, Central Region