Game Notes & Player Ratings: Oakland Roots tie Tampa Bay

The Oakland Roots walked out of Saturday night with a point after tying 0-0 with Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Eastern Conference Finalists, but Roots’ supporters wake up Sunday morning feeling like three points was snatched right out of their hands.

“Since Day 1, I’ve been telling the guys that I’m performance-oriented. Results are a consequence of a lot of good performances, that’s the way we’re going to keep pushing forward. Obviously, we want to win and I know that my job depends on results at the end of the day. To me, the boys played an unbelievable game. Not just what they displayed here, it’s what they did throughout the week. The match against Monterey, I think we were the better side and should’ve come out with more. And then to New Mexico against one of the top teams in the league, we played our way with our identity and style of play. And now a few days later, we get here and put this exhibition together for the people that came to support us. I’m proud of the boys, I know what they can do, I’ve known it since Day 1. I have a feeling that they know it too,” said coach Juan Guerra.

“I liked how we looked today. But we must keep improving, we must keep pushing. When we dominate like the way we did today, we can’t let teams go home with a point in their pocket. We should’ve grabbed three points tonight,” he added.

Oakland was the better team and three goal scoring opportunities reflected that. But with an inept referee and no functional reviewing system in the USL Championship, the match remained scoreless. Despite our obvious home-bias, the officiating mistakes were glaring.

Oakland should’ve had a goal in the eighth minute when Charlie Dennis smashed in a header after receiving a cross from Ottar Magnus Karlsson. However, the ref ruled that Tampa Bay keeper C.J. Cochran cleared the ball off of the line. You be the judge.

Another botched assignment by the officials came in the 68th minute when Karlsson was bowled over by Tampa Bay’s Conner Antley. In the buildup, Karlsson worked his way around the Rowdies’ defender, who then braced out his arm ready to make contact with the Roots’ Icelander and ran straight through his back. No foul called, the match continued.

The final mistake by the referees was on Oakland’s game-winner at 90+3′, wiping away some beautiful buildup and individual brilliance by Jose Hernandez. The ball fell to Hernandez after Darek Formella sent a cross targeting Edgard Rito. The ball flicked off of Rito’s head and to Jose’s feet, taking two touches into the area than whipping a ball toward Juan Carlos Azocar standing perfectly between two Rowdies’ defenders out of position.

Tampa Bay had no defenders within five feet of Azocar to either side. But instead of a Roots’ game-winner, the ref rewarded an out-of-position defense with a fortunate offside call. Again, you be the judge.

The stat-line itself shows how Oakland was the better side, although Rowdies progressed well in the second half. Roots finished with 12 shots with four on target, two blocked, with 11 attempts inside the box. Their defense had 11 interceptions, while allowing seven shots with three on target. In the first half, Roots SC had seven shots with three on target and one big-chance missed with Dennis’ header.

“I told them that we represent one of the most resilient cities in the world and they would be watching tonight. We’re battling adversity, we need results and want results, the guys showed that we can do it. The first half was a clear message to ourselves that we can do it. We need to keep getting those clean sheets, that was a positive tonight against a very-strong side. To get a clean sheet and create as many chances as we did; I have a headache right now and I’m sure I’ll get another one when I re-watch the game,” said Guerra.

It was the second-consecutive appearance for the backline trio of Tarek Morad, Danny Barbir, and Alejandro Fuenmayor. Guerra explained that their defense has been able to adjust well against New Mexico and Tampa Bay.

“I told them that we have to be able to transform without losing our identity; change, transform, adapt. I don’t want to call it a ‘change’ because we didn’t, we can’t change who we are. We have one identity, but we can be flexible and adjust depending on who we’re playing. New Mexico and Tampa are teams that play a back-three, sometimes it becomes a back-five. When we studied them, it made sense to make the switch. Now we’re a team that can play multiple systems and we can adapt–not just game-by-game, but during the game. That, to me, is more important,” said Guerra.

Hernandez was equally as effective in the midfield with nine recoveries and two key passes, including what would’ve been the game-winner to Azocar.

“It was a collective performance, and Jose being able to play the way he did was also because he had 10 players around him having a good game. This is what I need the boys to understand; that when we’re pushing forward, we’re pushing forward as a team. I told them that as a team we need to have collective performances. As individuals, we won’t go far. This is why Jose had an amazing performance, because he had 10 guys around him doing well. Jose is a top-player, he’s a top-class person, and he truly represents what a professional soccer-player is,” said Guerra.

Roots’ goalkeeper Benny Diaz had a solid performance with three saves and connected on three downfield passes. When asked if he’s the undisputed No. 1 option, Guerra responded that every position is up for grabs.

“Every position in the organization is up for grabs. The guys know that, the guy who is performing the best is going to play. Taylor [Bailey] had two solid performances and has been fighting and will continue competing with Benny, Paul Blanchette also had a great year last season. At the end of the day, iron sharpens iron,” said Guerra.

As for Diaz, he faced no shots on target in the first half and made each of his saves in the final 45 minutes. Guerra made sure to keep the Lobos-loanee on his toes.

“Benny’s performance tonight was very good. I told him at halftime that he hasn’t had to block a shot for 45 minutes and the top keepers probably have to make two or three saves in a game, and to make sure that he’s ready to be tested in the second half,” said Guerra.

Another notable moment from Saturday was Lindo Mfeka leaving the game due to an injury in the 70th minute for Darek Formella. Guerra describes that Formella was initially set to replace Dennis until Mfeka went down. The South African appears to be fine and was walking around post-match without a limp.

“Formella was going to go in for Charlie, and then Lindo went down and we switched it right away. He’ll be fine, we’ll be sure to take care of him because he’s very important in our system,” closed Guerra.

RootsBlog Man of the Match: Jose Hernandez

We’ve come to a consensus that Saturday’s Man of the Match was Jose Hernandez, finishing with a 7.5 FotMob rating. He was a critical piece to the puzzle against Tampa Bay, often moving the ball into the attacking area by defenders, landing key passes, and providing defense to turn the ball upfield. His ball to Azocar in the third minute of stoppage time was on the button and should’ve been credited with the game-winning assist.

FotMob Player-Ratings

  1. Jose Hernandez, 7.5

In 90 minutes, Hernandez recorded two shots and completed 63 of 68 passes (93 percent), two key passes, 1/2 long balls, two successful dribbles in as many attempts, won one tackle in as many attempts, 4/8 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, nine recoveries, and drew one foul.

2. Edgardo Rito, 7.5

In 90 minutes, Rito recorded two shot attempts with both on target, completed 22 of 27 passes (81 percent), one key pass, had 2/3 successful dribbles, won 2/4 tackles, 7/9 ground duels, two recoveries, one interception, drew one foul, and missed one big chance.

3. Danny Barbir, 7.5

In 90 minutes, Barbir completed 51 of 63 passes (81 percent) with 5/14 long balls and won three tackles in as many attempts and won all three ground duels, won 3/6 aerial duels, blocked one shot, had four clearances, three interceptions, and three recoveries.

4. Alejandro Fuenmayor, 7.2

In 90 minutes, Fuenmayor completed 62 of 77 passes (81 percent), 6/12 long balls, blocked one shot, had three clearances, one interception, six recoveries, won one ground duel in as many attempts, and 3/5 aerial duels.

5. Ottar Magnus Karlsson, 7.0

In 90 minutes, Karlsson recorded four shots with one on target, completed 14 of 27 passes (52 percent), two key passes and one cross and long ball in as many attempts, to go along with one successful dribble in as many attempts, two header clearances, six recoveries, won 2/5 ground duels and 2/6 aerial duels.

6. Charlie Dennis, 6.9

In 81 minutes, Dennis recorded three shots with one on target and completed 21 of 28 passes (75 percent), five key passes, 1/1 long balls, and 5/7 crosses, took eight corners, two recoveries, dribbled past three defenders, won 4/12 ground duels, drew three fouls, and missed one big chance.

7. Tarek Morad, 6.9

In 90 minutes, Morad completed 78 of 87 passes and 9/10 long balls, recorded four clearances, two header clearances, one interception, three recoveries, dribbled past three defenders, won 1/5 ground duels and 5/6 aerial duels, and drew one foul

8. Lindo Mfeka, 6.8

In 70 minutes, Mfeka recorded one shot that was blocked and completed 21 of 26 passes (81 percent), one long ball in as many attempts, won 1/2 tackles, two interceptions, six recoveries, 4/5 ground duels, and drew two fouls.

9. Benny Diaz, 6.8

In 90 minutes, Diaz recorded three saves and completed 28 of 41 passes (68 percent) 3/16 long balls, five throws, and 12 recoveries.

10. Matias Fissore, 6.6

In 71 minutes, Fissore completed 43 of 56 passes (77 percent), 3/6 long balls, won 1/3 tackles, nine recoveries, 3/9 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, and dribbled three defenders.

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