By Matthew DeWitt/NPSL.com
Conference title after conference title. Playoff appearance after playoff appearance. And eventually, heartbreak after heartbreak.
It’s been an illustrious 10 years in the NPSL for Tulsa Athletic, filled with region and conference titles, but after all these years, one still eludes the club: the NPSL National Championship.
Playoffs have become the standard for Tulsa. Since joining in 2013, Tulsa has appeared in the postseason nine times, finishing in the conference final or better on six occasions. The previous two seasons ended in defeat on the national stage by falling in the national championship in 2021 and national semifinal in 2022.
“We’ve been close – a couple years ago it was in our hands,” Tulsa’s Aaron Ugbah said. “We get to experience it with our home crowd. Our supporters do a very good job of showing up and showing out. It’s also for them. They deserve it as much as we do.”
So, what makes this year different? What makes this the year Tulsa finally lifts the national championship trophy?
“We know how it feels to be on the losing side, and that is something we don’t want to feel again,” he said. “It’s not luck that we’re here, we’ve been here before. It’s a mindset. Our quality will show. It comes down to work ethic – are you willing to dig deep, fighting for your family?”
The forward has been involved heavily in Tulsa’s late season runs, dating back to 2018 when he first joined the club. He has seen the emotional toll of defeats for Tulsa and is ready for Saturday to put an exclamation on a successful season.
Ugbah’s side has been involved in some close calls getting to this point, including staving off a huge comeback in the Midwest Region Semifinal against Des Moines United FC as well as the forward hitting the game-winner in the Midwest Region Final in extra time against Steel City FC.
“With these close call games, we understand there’s a reason these teams are playing in these games,” said Ugbah. “It can go either way. At that point, we know what we have to do. We know what job needs to get done.”
This has been a banner year for Tulsa. Not only is the team making its second appearance in the NPSL National Championship in three years, Tulsa went toe-to-toe with MLS and U.S. Open Cup perennial powerhouse Sporting KC as part of their deepest run in the competition ever. The third-round exit under the bright lights of Children’s Mercy Park could be a learning aspect to help settle the nerves for Tulsa Athletic.
Tulsa has been as close to winning it all without lifting that final piece of hardware. Will 2023 be the year for them to finally bring home the title?
Photo Credit: Brett Rojo/NPSL.com