By William Engels/NPSL.com
Entering into the 2023 NPSL National Semifinals, Tulsa Athletic goalkeeper Bryson Reed described the team’s mission as winning a championship or nothing. Two weeks later, Reed and Tulsa Athletic find themselves the NPSL National Champions.
“It was still really hard to put into words at the time,” said Reed about winning the championship. “My mind was in two places. One, I couldn’t believe that we had won the championship, but at the same time, it was not very surprising that we were in the position that we were in. It’s definitely a dream come true, but at the same time, not too surprised.”
Following a highly competitive 120 minutes, the 1-1 deadlock between Tulsa Athletic and South Region champions Apotheos FC necessitated the first penalty kick shootout in NPSL National Championship history. The resulting shootout saw Tulsa Athletic defeat Apotheos FC 8-7 after nine rounds of penalty kicks. Reed was named the Capelli Sport Man of the Match for his performance after making two saves in the shootout.
“That is something I would never have thought would happen,” he said about the honor. “I knew that eventually we would win a championship, but me being named the Man of the Match – it was just a surreal moment. Getting that award – I wouldn’t say necessarily means that I performed the best – I think that especially being a goalkeeper, the other ten in front of me really stepped up to make my job a little bit easier the times I was called upon. I’m really blessed to have the award, but it’s not just for me, but for all 11 plus guys that were out there.”
After Tulsa Athletic’s previous NPSL National Championship appearance in 2021 ended in defeat to Denton Diablos FC, Reed said that this season’s national championship provided extra motivation for the team.
“Going into the game, me and a couple of other guys who played in that championship – we decided to actually wear the silver medals to the game on Saturday just as a little bit of extra motivation for everybody. We had been in that situation before. We knew that we wanted the outcome this time to be different. We all knew that there was a job to be done Saturday night.”
The 2023 NPSL National Championship, hosted by Tulsa Athletic, saw the second seed hosts face the fourth-seeded Apotheos FC. While the first half of the match saw the two sides remain scoreless, highlighted by a combined seven-save performance by Reed and Apotheos FC goalkeeper Henry Pleitez, it wasn’t until the 80th minute when the match’s first goal came from Apotheos FC’s Junior Sandoval.
Tulsa Athletic responded in second-half stoppage time, as a long throw-in pinged around the goalbox and eventually found Chris Taylor, who blasted in a 91st minute goal to equalize the match and send the game to added extra time. Reed credits the team’s mentality for maintaining their composure.
“You could tell heads were down and the fans were all quiet,” said Reed about the Apotheos FC goal. “But, as soon as the ball got put back to the center spot, we still had plenty of time to get the job done. We knew that we were going to put them on the back foot of the last few minutes of whatever stoppage-time we had. Chris Taylor’s goal just shows that whether it’s the first minute or the 95th minute, we’re always going to be focused; we’re going to be driven. We knew that we were capable of getting at least one more effort, and I’m glad we had Chris Taylor up there to put it away for us.”
With a scoreless 30-minute added extra time period, penalty kicks awaited for Tulsa Athletic and Apotheos FC. Though the NPSL National Championship had advanced to added extra time twice in its history before (2003, 2015), Saturday’s match was the first time that the Championship was to be decided by penalty kicks. In the moments leading up to the shootout, Tulsa Athletic head coach Jason Rogers and owner Sonny Dalesandro gave their side some final words of encouragement.
“He’s got complete confidence in not only me, but all of the penalty kick takers we had selected,” said Reed about Rogers. “Sonny came up to me before the penalties started and told me to go out there, have fun, and do what I do. I told him don’t worry about me; just be ready for the trophy to come home tonight.”
“We’re all pretty confident whenever it goes to penalties just because we’ve been in quite a few penalty shootouts before. We knew that as long as I saved a couple, there was no doubt that we’d be able to put the game away.”
After five rounds of successful penalties, the sixth round saw Reed save Samaan Williams’s attempt, while Pleitez matched with his own save in the round. Two more rounds of penalties followed, until Reed opened the ninth round with a save on Emmanuel Alerte. With Francisco Lopez’s successful kick, Tulsa Athletic clinched their first NPSL National Championship win, giving the Oklahoma side their revenge from the 2021 National Championship loss. The raucous home crowd were quick to celebrate with the club, streaming onto the field to join the players.
“Just thinking about it again, I get chills,” he said. “It’s still so hard to put into words. Just the fact that we were able to do it on our home field, in front of our fans. You couldn’t write it up any better. It was the perfect ending to the perfect season with the perfect team with the perfect supporters. I caught myself just laughing at how everything ended exactly how it needed to. I’m just glad we gave the fans what they came for.”
The championship capped off a 12-match unbeaten run for Tulsa Athletic, who also saw success this season in being the furthest Open Division side to advance in the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“In my mind, there was no other way this year was going to end other than with a championship,” said Reed about the season. “Everything was set in place. As soon as the Open Cup ended, we knew going back into league play we were going to have a big target on our back with the success we’ve had in the last few years. Ending the season with a championship at home – no other way I’d want to end it.”
Photo Credit: Brett Rojo/NPSL.com