If you’ve watched the USL/USL Championship at any point over the past handful of years, you likely recognize the man bun wearing, bearded goalkeeper Cody Laurendi. Well, former man bun wearer. The Oklahoma City Energy FC shot-stopper recently altered his trademark hair. “I’d had that hairstyle for about five years. There wasn’t any moment or anything that inspired the change, just wanted to try something new,” Laurendi explained. He added that he’s not cutting the beard anytime soon.
Just as recognizable as his trademark hair and beard are Laurendi’s goalkeeping credentials and abilities. The 2016 league-leader in clean sheets made his 100th appearance in the league last weekend, a shutout win for OKC. Since he entered the USL in 2014 with LA Galaxy II, the league has grown exponentially. Cody notices the changes, on and off the pitch. “I’ve seen the exposure with highlights on social media and player spotlights. When I started in the league, that wasn’t really there,” he said.
“With more franchises coming in, there’s obviously talk about the level of play being diluted. But, I actually think it went the opposite way. The more teams in USL Championship, the more quality players getting their shot and taking advantage of their opportunity. I think the talent, league-wide, top to bottom, we’re at a place where it’s never been better.”
As I mentioned, Laurendi started his USL Championship journey with Los Dos, then he played for the Austin Aztex before finding his way to the Sooner State. After one season stints with each previous side, he’s playing in his fourth season with Energy FC. “I think it’s important to grow where you’re planted. Energy FC was the first team I felt this strong of a connection to, simply because they valued what I brought to the table,” the goalkeeper reflected. “As players, we tend to latch on to teams that will “have you” and try to just stay in the game. That was my experience until about 2016, just being grateful for the opportunity. That hasn’t changed but on top of being grateful for the opportunity, OKC was the first place to say “we value what you bring to the table and you’re our guy”. When you put that extra emphasis onto somebody, it made me look at OKC as a whole and say, what a minute, this is an amazing place to establish yourself on and off the pitch and not look for the next great thing.”
“The trajectory of the city and the team, and I’m obviously biased, but you would be hard pressed to find more caring and nice owners of a franchise than we have here. People that are interested in growing the game and are appreciative of our efforts. You bring everything into consideration and this has turned out to be the best possible place for me.”
No longer a young, rising star, the established veteran Laurendi turned 30 last August. I asked him how much longer he thinks he has left in between the sticks. “I kind of have one foot in the present and one foot in the future. Obviously, I understand the number of years I can play is finite. I’d like to maximize my professional playing career and I’d never want to say I want to play until I’m 35 or 40. Lord willing, I’ll stay healthy” he said. “I want to continue on as long as I can positively affect results and my teammates. I view this sport, and goalkeeping, as a big challenge that I love. I love getting up everyday and learning. I’m never going to be a fully completed, or perfect, goalkeeper. I really love being around a locker room with so many cultures. Because we learn so much about one another. Whether we have different religious beliefs or different color skin, we are alike in a lot of ways. That side of the game is something I really, really value. I don’t want to say I’m going to play three or four more years or something like that. I’m just going to play as long as I can.”
What’s the plan after he retires from playing the beautiful game? He answered, “I want to get into the general manager side of the sport or be a player agent. Looking at those two paths, I’m thinking to myself, every single season, I can develop positive and strong relationships with 20+ players and multiply that by the years.”
Not only has he had a successful club career, but he’s also blossomed into a national team goalkeeper for Puerto Rico. In 2018, he was nominated as a finalist for CONCACAF Goalkeeper of the Year, alongside stars like Keylor Navas and Memo Ochoa. Didn’t know that Laurendi had Puerto Rican heritage? Well…
“I’m actually not Puerto Rican at all,” he shared. “It’s an interesting dynamic and how futbol kind of works. I lived there and played there for a few years. Because they’re a territory of the United States, as long as you can prove you lived there for two years, you can play for the national team.”
⚽ @CLaurendi23 fue reconocido ayer como el Mejor Atleta masculino de la FPF en lo que fue la 53ra Premiación Olímpica del @ComiteOlimpico l #FútbolPR #FedeFútbolPR #CodyLaurendi pic.twitter.com/ZteXB8kCW2
— Federación Puertorriqueña de Fútbol ⚽️🇵🇷 (@FPFPuertoRico) December 17, 2018
“I played there with the Puerto Rico Islanders. They folded and I moved onto the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Honestly, I had the opportunity to play with the national team earlier, around when I was 23, but I put it off because I had aspirations to possibly get into the USMNT camp. At 28 or 29, you have to be honest with yourself and realize that the window has closed and you go where you’re celebrated. I had this great opportunity to represent such fine people in a fantastic place where I still have great relationships. It was a no-brainer.”
Back in the USL Championship, Laurendi and Energy FC face off with their in-state rival tomorrow, Tulsa Roughnecks FC. Ahead of the first Black Gold Derby of 2019, Laurendi said, “First and foremost, I know it’s cliche, but in the derby matches, everything is elevated. You don’t want that match to take precedence over another, but I believe me and my teammates want to win it for the city, the fans that support us, and selfishly, we want to beat our rival. It’s great that they put together a roster of quality players. In years past, there could be times where you take them lightly due to a lack of results. With the team they have this season, it will get the best out of everyone. That’s the way I prefer it.”
Currently sitting 7th in the Western Conference, what expectations does Cody have for this season? “I expect us to compete for the Western Conference championship,” he said. “That’s a legitimate goal. I’m not blind to the fact it’s going to take a heckuva lot of hard work. There’s not really a bad team in the conference. The “2” teams are hard to prepare for any given week because their rosters are so fluid and the standalone teams have the influx of talent because they can potentially pay a top performer more. but, I know we possess the skills, drive, and focus to compete for the title.”
You can see Cody Laurendi and OKC Energy travel to ONEOK Field to take on Tulsa tomorrow night on ESPN+, kickoff is set for 7 PM Central Time.
No matter how many more years he plays, or what he decides to do in retirement, the USL Championship and its fans will have been lucky to have had Laurendi represent them, even if a certain writer (me) is disappointed he moved on from the man bun.