The 2022 Season is upon us! Oakland Roots open the season on March 12, 2022 at 5:30 p.m. Pacific at H-E-B Park in Edinburg, Texas against new conference rival RGV Toros. The match will be broadcast on KTVU Plus and ESPN+.
*Note: I am checking preview posts I wrote last season to make sure that I follow form (I’m out of practice), and I almost went straight in with “the Roots must win this game to make the playoffs.” They do not need to win this game to make the playoffs.
Toros wisely include relatively little earnest explanation of their colors, stadium, team philosophy, or badge on their website. In fact, it is surprisingly difficult to even find their “About” page on their website, and that page primarily discusses USL generally. In the absence of any guidance, I’ll have to give you my own interpretation of the badge.
Rio Grande Valley FC’s badge is a shield of black surmounted dexter and sinister by horns of a bull, represented also by the word “Toros.” The shield is black, reflecting the nameless existential dread out of which 90 minutes of soccer rescues us, its supplicants. The gray represents the same but slightly less dreadful. The god damned red white and blue need no explanation or excuses. Amen. Roll Tide.
Toros were founded in 2015 and are owned by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Houston Rockets D-League team. Until 2020, the Toros were affiliated with the Houston Dynamo of MLS. Throughout that affiliation, Toros were largely terrible. They finished second in the Western Conference in their inaugural season, but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by OKC Energy (RIP). Toros would not make the playoffs again until 2021, after ending their direct minor-league status with the Dynamo.
Last season the Toros got off to a strong start, and were 7-4-3 going into their July 31 match against Phoenix in Wild Horse Pass. The ten-game stretch starting in Phoenix saw Toros pick up only 6 points, including a brutal 0-1-2 record against Mountain Division rival Switchbacks in that run. Toros managed to right the ship, especially with a crucial three-game winning streak against New Mexico, Real Monarchs, and a 4-1 win over El Paso in Edinburg. You may recall that El Paso only lost one home game last season.
Toros mirrored the Roots’ postseason, winning a shocking upset over the top seed from the other western division, before falling victim to a higher ranked team from their own division. Toros took Phoenix to penalties, a game that I described in detail last fall.
Toros couldn’t take another difficult road game against a team that knew them well, and fell 3-1 to San Antonio.
First game of the season. They have no form. Boom. Done.
Erik Pimentel – Pimentel is starting only his second season in USL after eight seasons in Liga MX. Pimentel was a bench player for América (the team that plays in the Azteca in Mexico City) including in their league-winning seasons in 12-13 and 14-15. Pimentel then played two seasons for Puebla, including his only pre-2021 season with more than 1,000 minutes. Before moving to USL, Pimentel played one season for Correcaminos UAT in the second division of the Mexican League, a team with this logo:
Pimentel put up good basic numbers for the Toros in 2021: 30 tackles, 50 clearances, 11 blocked shots, and 46 interceptions, according to the club’s press release.
Emilio Ycaza – 5’6″ attacking midfielder Ycaza transferred midseason from Austin Bold, and picked up 2 goals and 1 assist in his 11 matches for RGV Toros. Ycaza is in only his second professional season after playing college ball at USF. His goals probably don’t tell the whole story of his game, but they’re easier to find highlights than key passes or his defensive work-rate. Here’s Ycaza’s first:
and his second:
Tyler Deric – The 33-year-old keeper comes from Spring, Texas, a suburb of Houston. Deric has 13 seasons of soccer and 138 matches in that time, although 90 came for the Houston Dynamo in MLS. I don’t really know what to write about a keeper here, but I figured I would let you know about the players Edson mentioned on RootsPod. I am not sure what I am supposed to see in Deric, either. His save % last season was 62%, which puts him 34th out of 36 GK in USL with 990 minutes or more in goal. Roots need to put the ball on the target and see what happens.
Roots’ Offseason Primer
Aaron wrote a better version of this section here, but I had already written this.
The biggest change for the Roots is obviously bringing in Juan Guerra as Head Coach. Jon wrote up a post for the blog in December when the announcement was made with some background on Guerra. Jon also interviewed the new skipper at Roots Media Day in February. We don’t know a ton about how Guerra plans to organize the team. The open preseason game at Turlock had a standard back four, and ran two defensive/holding midfielders in Nane and Fissore.
We said goodbye to some favorites this offseason. Our BFG Wal Fall ended the season how he started it–hurt–and so did not appear for the Roots in either postseason game. Fall provided four goals and two assists for the Roots last season, but that simply does not do justice to the contribution he made to the team. Fall played in 75% of the regular season games, but 91% of the wins. Likewise, Roots’ top scorer Jeremy Bokila departed during the offseason. Jeremy Bokila will live in our hearts forever.
The Roots also parted ways with Quincy Amarikwa and Yohannes Harish. None of Bokila, Fall, Amarikwa, or Harish appears to have signed with new teams. In a move that surprised us, although makes sense given the players they brought in, the Roots also let Kai Greene walk. Greene logged the third most minutes among Roots players in 2021. It took me a long time to appreciate Greene’s defensive contributions last season, but the numbers say he was one of the best central defenders in the league. Greene has signed with our new local rivals Monterey Bay Football Club, where we at the Blog hope he does great against Sacramento and disastrously against the Roots.
The flashiest signing the Roots made this offseason was Dariusz Formella, who played last season at Sacramento, and we expect to be the focal point of the Roots new offense. Aaron wrote up the news about the signing here, and I did a dive into his USL goals here. The Roots also brought in Alejandro Fuenmayor and Danny Barbir at centerback, Edgardo Rito at rightback, and Charlie Dennis in central midfield. We think there is good reason to think that Fuenmayor will be the starting partner to Klimenta at centerback, but we expect Barbir to push for minutes. Dennis comes from the USL League 1, but has lit up the scoresheet in the preseason.
The Roots have also signed young Icelander Ottar Magnus Karlsson on a loan deal from Venezia in Serie A, potentially another loanee from Venezia, and have been training with Juan Carlos Azocar, who we understand will be signed when the paperwork clears the league front office. We don’t expect any of these three to participate in the RGV match.
There you have it. We don’t know what formation the Roots will run, we don’t know what strategy Guerra will employ, and we are only pretty sure we know the Roots’ 2022 Roster.
Score & Lineup Predictions
We went on the record on the RootsPod with our score predictions, but here they are with some explanation.
I am optimistic about this season. The Roots had a strong defense in 2021 and is building on that defense with a new-look attack. Every starter the Roots kept from last season is starting quality in this league, and every role-player brought back deserves a spot on a USL bench. I don’t think the Roots take a long time to get going. 3-1 to the Roots.
I shamelessly said on the pod that Roots would win 3-0. Although that may seem overzealous, the RGV Toros provide the perfect opportunity for an opening statement from Oakland Roots and Juan Guerra. Per John Morrissey’s hub, the organization lost eight of its top-10 players from last season and is projected to finish 10th of 13 in the Western Conference. So, I’m putting it in the universe once again, 3-nil Roots.
As for the starting 11, it will be most interesting to see how Guerra plans at central midfield and left winger. As mentioned in the pod, do Matias Fissore and Joseph Nane start side-by-side to provide defensive-shape in a 4-2-3-1 look? Or could it be Charlie Dennis next to Jose Hernandez in a more aggressive 4-1-4-1 type of system? For the sake of continuity, my guess is Hernandez, Mati, and Nane start, while Dennis enters in the second half.
At striker, we have Darek Formella due to Ottar Magnus Karlsson not yet being in town, which throws some question at left winger. My guess here is Johnny Rodriguez gets the start given he’s versatile enough to move into the #9, which would be similar to his role in the playoffs. I could also see Ariel Mbumba there with his ability to cut towards the net from the left side, but with Karlsson still out, Johnny’s versatility prevails.
I think this will be a cagey match between two teams still getting into a rhythm. I expect long stretches of play where neither side poses much of a threat. Ultimately I think Oakland takes it because (1) I’m a homer, and (2) I think the way Oakland has filled out its squad is superior to the way RGV has filled out its squad. Oakland retained a reasonably successful core, but added players who bring something new to the mix. I’m not as sure that RGV has replaced the production it lost from its squad last year. In particular, I don’t know if RGV has fully replaced the contributions of Juan Carlos Azocar or Rodrigo Lopez. Oakland, on the other hand, appears to have given Juan Guerra a lot of options to work with. And, in fact, I think the winner will be scored by someone coming off the bench. Perhaps Edgardo Rito.