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Energy FC's Byars taking advantage of opportunity

An athlete often just needs an opportunity to play. Energy FC goalkeeper Bryan Byars feels his chance to shine is now.

After not playing all season, the former Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Oklahoma was thrust into action in the second half of Energy FC's 1-1 draw with Colorado Springs on July 7 when starting goalkeeper Matt VanOekel was injured.

“It was like a routine clearance,” Byars said of the play where VanOekel was hurt. “I saw the ball go back to Matt and I kind of looked away for a second and the next thing I know everyone is yelling at me to get ready.”

Byars trotted on the field and less than two minutes later made a leaping deflection of a shot. He saved what looked like a sure goal and helped keep Energy FC's unbeaten streak alive.

Byars expected VanOekel to miss a week or two from the non-contact injury. He learned 72 hours later that VanOekel had ruptured a tendon after landing awkwardly while clearing the ball and would miss the rest of the season.

“It was definitely a big shock,” Byars said.

The former Putnam City North High School star has filled in nicely in VanOekel's absence. He had four saves in The Greens 1-1 draw at Sacramento on Saturday.

Byars will be making his third start of the season Wednesday night when Energy FC hosts Fresno FC (7-7-7) at Taft Stadium. Energy FC will be looking to run its unbeaten streak to eight, going 4-0-3 in the last seven matches.

“I think I have been playing pretty well,” said Byars, who was a four-year starter at PC North and the Oklahoma Player of the Year in 2007.

“Coming off many months of not playing, I knew I had to be prepared for when my opportunity came. I definitely feel like my opportunity has come, and I am taking full advantage of it.”

With the season-ending injury to VanOekel, Energy FC head coach Steve Cooke signed goalkeeper Cody Laurendi to a contract. Laurendi is the franchise's leader in most goalkeeping categories, including wins (18) and clean sheets (20).

Laurendi had been training with Energy FC while recovering from injury and has now been cleared to play. But Byars doesn't plan to give up the starter's job.

“Obviously, I would love to continue to be the starter,” Byars said. “The way this business works it's performance-based. I am going to make sure I am playing to my 100 percent all the time and at the end of the day it is a coaching staff decision on who is No. 1, but as of right now, I am the No. 1.”

When Byars signed with Energy FC this season after playing last year for Tulsa, he was reunited with his former club coach and college coach at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha.

Lexi Vizarelis joined The Greens this season as goalkeeper coach after leading the University of Oklahoma's women soccer team.

Vizarelis was an assistant coach at USAO where Byars set school records for career wins (46) and shutouts (31).

“I have known Lexi since I was about 10 and now he is my professional goalkeeper coach,” Byars said. “It's very comforting. I know I can go to him with any question. He still pushes me, even harder now that he is used to."

Energy FC (6-10-4) made its 10th roster move since the start of the season on Thursday as Cooke added forward Adam Jahn from the Columbus Crew.

Byars said the infusion of talent has Energy FC in position to make a playoff push.

“We kind of put ourselves in a tough spot,” Byars said of the club's 1-9 start to the season. “I think we have a finally found a group of guys and a group of teammates that are all on the same page.”

FRESNO FC AT ENERGY FC

Where: Taft Stadium

When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

Promotion: Kids ages 12 and younger eat for free

Related Photos
<p>Former Putnam City North High School star Bryan Byars is now the starting goalkeeper for Energy FC. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY, ENERGY FC] </p>

Former Putnam City North High School star Bryan Byars is now the starting goalkeeper for Energy FC. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY, ENERGY FC] 

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-12b4a9f783873e7aa696089345daf5f7.jpg" alt="Photo - Former Putnam City North High School star Bryan Byars is now the starting goalkeeper for Energy FC. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY, ENERGY FC]  " title=" Former Putnam City North High School star Bryan Byars is now the starting goalkeeper for Energy FC. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY, ENERGY FC]  "><figcaption> Former Putnam City North High School star Bryan Byars is now the starting goalkeeper for Energy FC. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY, ENERGY FC]  </figcaption></figure>
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