By Daniel Cermak/NPSL.com
Former Tulsa Athletic and current OKC Energy FC midfielder Ray Saari has been named one of
the top ten NPSL players of all-time, as voted by the fans, and he was beyond thankful for the
“I made the list!?” Saari asked. After the news was confirmed, he said, “I’m very excited,
obviously, it’s an honor, the NPSL and Tulsa gave me a lot and those years that I played in 2014
and 2016 were two really good years for the club and I was very happy to be a part of the club
during that time, and obviously I think that was a factor in me receiving this accolade.”
Saari helped win regular season conference titles with Tulsa Athletic in 2014 and 2016.
2014 was a memorable year for Tulsa Athletic, with the club earning the #1 seed. After a long
postseason battle, including an injury time equalizer that led to a two-goal win in extra time in
the regional semifinal, Tulsa Athletic reached the national semifinal, meeting Chattanooga FC.
Despite playing well, Tulsa fell to Chattanooga FC 2-0.
In 2016, Saari helped Tulsa top the table in the South Central Conference with 11 wins and just
one loss before falling in the conference final. The wealth of experience he gained with Tulsa
Athletic helped improve his game and prepare him for the professional level.
“Tulsa helped me in a lot of ways, the summers I was with Tulsa were some of the summers that
I improved the most,” Saari said. “It pushed me being around some guys that had been pros
already, being able to learn from them was a big help for me and I think I benefited from that a
lot when I began my career as a professional.”
Saari started as a professional with Seattle Sounders FC 2 and moved on to play for Sacramento
Republic and two indoor soccer clubs before joining OKC Energy FC in 2020. In his limited
time with the team thus far, Saari has been extremely impressed.
“Energy FC is a great club,” Saari said. “I’m very happy to be here. I think Coach Pascarella has
put together a good team. I’ve seen a lot of good mentality from each player, and I think we’re a
team that can do really well this year. We have good players and good staff. I really have
nothing but good things to say about the club.”
Energy FC Head Coach John Pascarella can see why Saari was named one of the best NPSL
players of all-time, and has been impressed with the midfielder during his time with Energy FC.
“I’m extremely happy for Ray being named in the NPSL All-Time Top 10,” Pascarella said. “It
doesn’t surprise me having watched his progression through college and his early years in the
pros. Now, having a chance to work with him and coach him, I see all the talent and character
traits that led to that selection.”
Despite the delay in the season due to coronavirus, Saari is working with one or two other
teammates with touch passing and had just finished a Zoom workout at the time of this
interview. Though the situation is unusual, Saari is proud of the safety measures put into place
by the club and is working hard to achieve his individual and team goals.
“I have my own statistical goals, but I’m really focused on the team,” Saari said. “I think we are
a team that can finish top four in the West so we can set a few markers down, like not dropping
many points at home and being one of the better teams in terms of goals against average.”
Saari’s time in the NPSL and his great success with Tulsa Athletic show why the midfielder is
well-deserving of his inclusion on the NPSL’s All-Time list, and it showed to be one of the first
steps that helped launch his budding professional career.
Photo Credit: Steven Christy