Roots are on the road this week, which my liver appreciates. Roots will play at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday on April 23 at Southwest University Park in El Paso. The match will be on ESPN+ and KTVU+.
Roots have played El Paso Locomotive before. You may recall that game.
Lokomotiv Prokhod did not lose a game at the SWUP in the 2021 season until they lost their last game there. They won the Mountain division with 64 points, 12 over their closest rival, which was good enough for third overall in the USL.
Lokomotiv lost some important players from last season, each of whom played 20+ full 90s–defenders Mechak Jerome and Macauley King and keeper Logan Ketterer . Otherwise the team has largely returned, but their form has noooooooooot.
El Paso’s Form
The one good thing that can be said for El Paso is that they have played some pretty good teams so far.
|3/23||Las Vegas Lights||Home||L||4||5|
|4/03||San Diego Loyal||Away||L||2||3|
|4/09||Monterey Bay Union Football Club of Seaside, California||Home||W||5||0|
I don’t like to review four games, but my god, how do you not start with that 4-5 Vegas loss?
We did not really expect Vegas to be better this season than last, but at this point we have to admit that they are. Vegas have lost to New Mexico, Memphis, and Colorado Springs, but beaten Phoenix and Pittsburgh in addition to El Paso (Vegas also beat Charleston, but Charleston are terrible). For a 5-4 game, this was surprisingly chill in the first half, with four yellow cards the only thing going into the box score. El Paso got completely opened up in the 53rd minute and then again 100 seconds later and then AGAIN another 100 seconds later. Manager John Hinds then made five substitutions in two minutes, on either side of an opener from El Paso, but Vegas would open the defense up again before the clock hit 60. The score went from 0-0 to 4-1 in seven and a half minutes. Locomotiv’s goals were quality, but there is no silver lining for them on the goals they gave up–their defense played like absolute trash.
El Paso’s losing streak to start the season continued with a 3-2 loss away to San Diego.
The opener from Vassell is more of the same–El Paso’s defense just gets completely run over, and 90 seconds later they almost concede in exactly the same way again. El Paso’s equalizer is pretty impressive, although dependent on an unlucky rebound from a save. No real criticism of El Paso for the second Loyal goal–they probably should have defended the attack better, but ultimately the goal comes on a great shot from Moshobane. In similar fashion, Loyal’s goal to go up 3-1 is a great shot from Amang, although only after he utterly thwarts the El Paso defender. El Paso would get one back, but this game was a redux of the Vegas game–El Paso’s offense has some tricks up its sleeve, but it’s stuck fighting back from utter capitulation by the defense.
El Paso’s only win of the season was 5-0 thumping of Monterey Bay.
It’s hard to watch this game and not rue the points the Roots dropped at home to Monterey. The opener is an easy header off of a cross in the 20th minute, and the second came 14 minutes later on a penalty called for a foul on another corner. Doesn’t seem like much doubt from the highlights that El Paso were dominating the game, but any hope of competition ended when a Monterey Bay player was sent off with a second yellow in the 45th. The Union player was in the wall defending a free kick from a good angle, but a bit of a distance. He flung his arm up over his shoulders and elbowed the ball away in a way that I guess is a nailed-on yellow card, but one of the dumbest things I have seen a player sent off for (that, and the entire Arsenal body of work from David Luiz). The third and fourth goals were good bits of skill, but made the most of Monterey Bay being completely out of the game.
This past weekend, El Paso fell 1-0 to San Antonio, who are currently third in the Western Conference, and a point off of first.
So if you watch the highlights, San Antonio gets several huge changes early, and 2:34 of the 3:41 of highlights are before the 30 minute mark of the game. The stats I have found have El Paso tallying 3 cards and 4 shots, with an xG of 0.87. Based on stats and highlights, this game may have been called at half-time. This is more or less what you’d expect from a match at San Antonio–San Antonio have conceded 4 times in 6 games, but only scored 6 themselves.
So what should you make of El Paso? They have not been very good. They might be okay–you would expect a pretty good team to lose a close game to San Diego, beat Monterey, and lose a close game to San Antonio. The highlights and the stats make me think those scorelines really flatter El Paso. That said, it’s also probably improvement from the first two weeks of the season, which makes sense with a new manager (an opinion a Roots fan has to hold right now). Their offense can do things, but their defense is very beatable.
|3/26||Monterey Bay Union Football Club of Seaside, California||Home||L||2||3|
|3/30||New Mexico United||Away||D||2||2|
|4/02||Tampa Bay Rowdies||Home||D||0||0|
|4/13||January 6 Apologists SC||Home||D||2||2|
These Roots are only growing one direction and that’s up!
Here are the San Diego highlights, which I discussed in the last preview.
San Diego are good, although with their loss to Louisville City this past weekend, maybe not quite USL-elite. Nonetheless, the Roots really came good after going down a man in the 64th, and both of their goals showed things we have wanted to see, and that we did see somewhat more of against Loudoun: Rito->Azocar cross for a goal, and Magnus Karlsson putting away good service.
Roots completely trounced Loudoun, in the game that all of us were really waiting to see. The Roots were the better team in the first half, and were rewarded with a 1-0 lead at half-time thanks to a great free kick from Dennis that Klimenta slotted home unchallenged. It’s unclear if Karlsson had a brilliant dummy, or whether he redirected the kick (and therefore deserves the assist), but at minimum he drew all the attention allowing another player an easy goal. Five minutes into the second half, a referee finally punished a defender for bundling Hernandez over in the box, and Karlsson calmly put away the penalty. Loudoun largely decided to stop playing at this point, but the Roots did not. In the 67th, Rito put through Chuy to the touchline. Chuy held up the ball and returned it to Rito under pressure in the box. Rito’s defender let him play the ball towards the center of the pitch, but not forward towards the goal, so he slotted a pass low and across backwards that Azocar, uh, “shot” in. Ten minutes later Rito made it 4-0, charging between two defenders and beating the keeper to the far post. My voice gave out entirely at this point. Loudoun got a consolation goal at the end, but Roots held onto the 4-1 for their first win of the season.
Players to Watch
Given all of the above, it is no real surprise we are not highlighting any defenders.
Dylan Mares #10 – Attacking midfielder Dylan Mares is tied for the lead in goals for El Paso with 3 goals, all spread over different games. Mares also picked up an assist in the MB rout Mares is the top-rated player for the club on Fotmob with an average rating of 7.5. Mares was on the 2018 Indy Eleven team that featured two Roots legends.
Diego Luna #15 – Sunnyvale, California-native Luna has a goal and an assist already this season, and is getting profiled on the USL Website and in whatever AmericanSoccerNow.com is. Luna is only 18 and has appearances for the US’s U20 teams. Last season he scored 9 and assisted 5, which is a great haul for an attacking midfielder. Luna has a USL Team of the Week bench appearance (coming off the 5-0 win over MB).
Lineup and Score Predictions
I think the Roots stick with the current winning formula, but I could see rotation in the attacking midfield as Guerra searches for which two of Dennis/Formella/Mfeka/Enriquez gets the best results. I think Klimenta has likely earned his starting place back, but I don’t know that I ever thought he should have lost it. I am curious to see how the Roots fare against El Paso. I am surprised El Paso haven’t gotten their act together yet, and we just have to hope they don’t decide to against the Roots. El Paso’s defense makes egregious errors, and the Roots looked last week like a team that might capitalize on such errors. I think they will, but I don’t trust the Roots to avoid errors themselves. 2-2.
I think we could easily see the same lineup against Loudoun, which would result in Lindo Mfeka getting the start above Darek Formella, but I’m going with a return to Formella. I’m unsure if Matias Fissore is still recovering from an injury, so Joseph Nane gets the start alongside Jose Hernandez. As for my prediction, I said an Oakland 2-1 win would occur while on RootsPod, and I’m sticking to it. Goals by Ottar Magnus Karlsson and Charlie Dennis.
I predicted 1-0 on the pod, and I’m not about to shy away from it, but my cursory glance at El Paso’s first six matches gave me a different impression of this squad than what Pete presents above, which is that El Paso might be getting unlucky. Obviously, it takes some doing to surrender 5 goals to any team, and you might recall something very similar happened at the tail end of last season when El Paso lost 5-0 to LA Galaxy II, a game that was clearly used as a blueprint by the Roots in the playoffs and one which probably should have let us know that El Paso’s record might have been suspect. Anyway, unlucky or not, when you are surrendering 3 goals/game to every non-expansion opponent you’re going to be doing work shoring up your defense. The prediction here is that this focus results in a really tight game that Oakland ultimately nick. Personnel wise, I’m predicting a rest for Chuck D, who came off early in the last match. To me, it looked like a lingering injury that they were hoping he could push through, so probably a soft-tissue injury that needs some time to heal, though I’m guessing he’s available on the bench. Get ready for a heaping helping of underlapping runs from the wingbacks, and more advanced positioning from Jose Hernandez. If I’m right about the lineup, I think Mfeka spells Chuy around the 65th minute, and Johnny subs on for Formella around the 80th. If things are dire, Dennis will get some game time. Morad will return to the starting lineup following his yellow-card suspension. Fissore/Nane is a toss-up every game, assuming both are healthy. Because I think Dennis is getting a rest, I lean Nane here, for his ever-so-slightly better distribution. I also predict a return of the green jerseys.