Fresno native and LB Elijah Martin has started in seven of the last eight matches for the Foxes. (Photo by Kiel Maddox/Fresno FC)
FRESNO, Calif. - Los Zorros return to Chukchansi Park for the first time in three weeks, playing host to OKC Energy FC as they look to bounce back in the Western Conference race after dropping their first road match in Week 13 at Colorado Springs.
Fresno will look to rely on its defense that has conceded a conference-low 12 goals against an OKC side that is unbeaten in its last four matches. Leading the way for the Energy is Alexy Bosetti, with a team-best 30 chances created that also ranks fourth in the West. Scoring the brunt of those chances is forward Deshorn Brown, whose 7 goals lead the club and are tied for sixth-most in the entire USL. Defensively, OKC has goalkeeper Cody Laurendi between its posts, where he has made a USL-high 47 saves (74.6 percent success rate).
It'll be a battle of two Western Conference contenders with both clubs holding 20 points, with fifth-place Fresno holding two games in hand over seventh-place OKC. Leading Los Zorros is Juan Pablo Caffa with a team-high 24 chances created and Arun Basuljevic (18 chances created).
Leading scorer Qudus Lawal (four goals in USL Championship) returns to the lineup after missing last week's match on family leave. Out of the fold will be forward Christian Chaney (ankle), assists leader Jackson (hamstring) and left back Alex Cooper (hamstring), due to injury.
Q: What's your take on this matchup vs. fifth-place OKC Energy FC
AS: It's a huge game. It's what you would call a 6-pointer really. It's been a tough couple of weeks for us as a club, but that's part of it, and what a great way to be able to bounce back and get on a high again to get the 3 points again tomorrow night, which is what we hope to do.
Q: How well rested is the club?
AS: I certainly feel that we'll be fresh from Saturday. We haven't really been fresh now for a few weeks now just with the schedule. We'll be fresh, meanwhile, El Paso has had to travel and just played Wednesday night. It's a good opportunity for us.
Q: How have injuries to Jackson, Cooper and the likes affected the gameplan?
AS: We're still missing some key players in key positions, but we've got a strong squad and you know, it gives other people a chance to show what they can do. Aside from the key people we're missing, I still feel we can put a good 18 out there and we can compete.
Q: How do you feel about Qudus Lawal's return to the lineup?
AS: Disappointed in the last game, when you miss your leading goalscorer that is an issue, but it's an opportunity for him to continue from where he left off. Also, anyone else that gets in, you know, whether its Jaime or Renato, or Arun, or JJ, or Caffa because Chaney is out, they all have the opportunity to get on the scoresheet.
Q: How is the vibe after a busy month of May?
AB: First and foremost its been great to be back in Fresno just to regroup and recharge the batteries has been really positive for us. It was a tough week for us last week and guys were really feeling it and I think that showed in our performance in Colorado, but the best thing about our group is that we've remained positive and we really look forward to this next game and being back in front of our fans. We feel really strong about getting those 3 points. We just know we need to stick to our gameplan when Saturday comes and we'll be ready.
Q: How is the team approaching the final 2/3 of the season?
AB: I think we know we have a good team and internally we know we have a lot of quality in our locker room. We're a tight-knit group, we have a good blend of experience and young guys, and everybody knows their roles, so that's a huge reason as to why we've been successful to start the season and we know that these next couple of months and this summer will be difficult. But playing here in Fresno in the heat, we think is an advantage for us and we want to take it one game at a time. We think we can put together a good run of results. and if we do that, then the standings will take care of itself.