Your Oakland Roots go on the road this Saturday, May 7 for a 7:00 p.m. at Great Park in Irvine, California. The match will be broadcast on ESPN+ and KTVU+.
The Roots are playing only their second match this of the 2022 season against a Pacific Division rival from last season. That means I have written a lot about Orange County. For those of you who have forgotten, or just can’t be assed to go read match previews from last season, Orange County has a special relationship with Rangers of the Scottish Premiership, who will be contesting the Europa League final against Eintracht Frankfurt. Orange County itself is most famous, of course, for third wave ska, serving as the setting for Arrested Development, and as the home to Los Angeles baseball team the Angels (famous for Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and not making the playoffs despite having Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani).
The “For County” play at Great Park, which was previously called “Orange County Great Park” and was renamed “Los Angeles Great Park of Anaheim.” Before that it was an Air Force base. The Wikipedia states that the land was “originally part of Rancho Cañada de los Alisos, granted in 1842 to José Antonio Serrano,” and, uh, that’s one use of the word “originally.” The most important thing to know about Orange County Great Park is the Orb. Locals claim that the Orb is “in no way threatening” and “lurks an appropriate amount.”
Orb County won the league last year, a feat they accomplished only by beating the Oakland Roots five god damned times (no one beats the Roots six times in one season!). County finished the regular season on 52 points with a 15-7-10 record, four points above third place San Diego but well behind Pacific Division winners Phoenix Rising. In late August, County replaced their manager with current manager Richard Chaplow. Power Bald Chaplow played for a number of English clubs you’ll have heard of (Burnley, West Brom, Southampton, PNE, Millwall [oof], and Ipswich) before finishing his career with Orange County in 2018. Following Chaplow’s hiring, Orange County conceded only 13 goals over their remaining 16 games (setting aside one meltdown against Tacoma, 9 over 15 games). This included a playoff run conceding 0, 0, 0, 1, and 1. Chaplow runs a damn defense.
Orange County’s goal differential was only +7 (slightly behind San Diego’s), but nonetheless they got to host Colorado Springs Switchbacks and beat them 1-0 in the first round. Because Oakland had so valiantly taken down Mountain Division winners El Paso, Orange County hosted the Roots in Orange County and the Roots blanked them over 120′, but could not find the net themselves. The Roots fell in penalty kicks. County then knocked off San Antonio on penalties to advance to a final against Tampa that Ronaldo Damus ended in the first half.
To be fair, Kuningas put in a stunning free kick to make it 3-0, and GK Patrick Rakovsky stopped a penalty. The good news for the Roots is that Ronaldo Damus is gone, but the bad news is that Kuningas and Rakovsky are not. This came up on the Orange and Black Soccer Cast that I was on earlier this week, but Mikko Kuningas edged on to the RootsBlog official Player Hate ranking last season for knocking some of our guys over in a way I took offense to.
Orange County’s Form
|3/12||Colorado Springs Troop Appreciators||Away||L||1||2|
|4/16||Central Valley Republic||Home||D||1||1|
Coming off a 1-1 draw to Sac, Orange County played away at Indy 11. Indy 11 thumped them.
Kuningas gave Orange County the lead in the 13th on a long goal kick from Rakovsky that the Indy defense terribly misplayed. Kuningas is not the guy you expect to pounce on a defensive miscue and then run half the field, but you would back him to put away a goal one-on-one with the keeper once he gets there. Indy scored twice to take the lead, the first in the 54th and the second in the 64th. Both goals are a little weird–probably not exactly how Indy 11 drew it up, but they took possession into the Orange County box and then pounced at the first error. The last one, in stoppage time, followed a similar model but was probably legs and Orange County pressing to equalize.
Orange County then traveled to Rio Grande Valley last weekend and got the result, but maybe not the performance they were looking for.
Erick “Cubo” Torres gave Orange County the lead in the 3rd minute “like a ghost in the night” and “like a robot” and “like a torrent” with a header at the back post. Orange County conceded the equalizer two minutes later, forcing a turnover by Orange County’s back line and poking the ball home. Torres snatched the lead back in the 39th with a simple header off of a perfect, long free kick. Basically nothing else happened, although the highlights show RGV had some opportunities.
|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|
|4/30||Colorado Springs Troop Appreciators||Home||L||0||3|
We talked about this on the RootsPod, and on the Orange & Black Soccer Cast, but the Roots outplayed Colorado Springs through the first 50 minutes of the game. It was really disappointing to see the game get away from the Roots. Formella and Rito each missed huge chances in the first half, and Karlsson botched his penalty for an easy save.
The defense, and specifically Morad, completely lost their marks on a quick turnover from a Benny Diaz goal kick, and Colorado Springs were able to quickly and cleanly play the ball through the lines for an easy goal. After that things just fell apart for the Roots.
As we discussed on RootsPod, Roots were the better team for 50-ish minutes. It is getting harder to appreciate moral victories, but the Roots are better than their record suggests.
Players to Watch
Milan Iloski #7 – Iloski is the youngest of three brothers from San Diego who all played in USL last season. Milan is the only brother currently starting (although he came off the bench last week), and is Fotmob’s highest rated player on OC. Iloski is a left-sided attacking midfielder and has contributed a goal in the league and a goal in the USOC.
Erick “Cubo” Torres #9 – 29-year-old Mexican Striker Torres was given the nickname “El Cubo” due to his “large, cubical shaped head,” per the Houston Dynamo website. Torres came up with his home-town club Guadalajara, but spent his last two years on loan with Chivas USA (also Chivas USA’s last two years). He signed with Houston Dynamo and was immediately loaned back to Guadalajara in the 2015 season and spent some games in Liga MX in 2016 on loan, and moved permanently for a season to UNAM in 2018 and Tijuana in 2018-20. He played the 2020-21 season with Atlanta United before coming to Orange County this season. Torres also has 7 caps for the Mexican national team. For a striker still in his prime, Torres has a pretty solid background for success in USL, but his productivity has been limited at all of those prior stops. Torres is 5’11” and two of his goals this season that I have seen were both headers that depended more on his positioning than height. Look for the Roots to either (a) mark him out of the game, (b) prevent any service into the box, or (c) concede goals.
Mikko Kuningas #25 – Large Finn Kuningas has not endeared himself to me (see above), or by extension, Roots fans who mistakenly think I know anything. Kuningas is only 24, and played his entirely career in Finland before coming to Orange County last year. Kuningas should have gotten at least one red last season in a game against the Roots, and in another match drew a red by inducing Hernandez to kick him firmly in the dick. The Orange & Black SoccerCast guys interviewed Kuningas last season and said he’s the kind of player that would be thrilled that opposing fans hate him. He also said he likes Orange County because he’s a big Social Distortion fan, which is frustratingly awesome.
Lineup and Score Predictions
I predicted and/or called for a change in formation for this game. A few weeks I was disagreeing with Aaron, suggesting that Guerra should stick with the three centerbacks, and now I’m doing a full 180 (and acknowledging it). I think our fullbacks have settled into the team, and can be counted on to contribute to the defense. I also think Nane provides a lot of cover for the centerbacks. Finally, I am not sure that the errors that have lead to Oakland conceding are likely to materially change by dropping a centerback. I am predicting Morad is dropped, but I think it’s a close call. I come down on the side of thinking that if Guerra changes things up, he will do so by going back to his original plan for the season, and that means his men: Fuenmayor and Barbir. Jon thinks, and I think he might be right, that Johnsen may not be ready yet. If he was, I put him in with Hernandez. As it is, I think we move Dennis back a little, and put Enriquez opposite Formella behind Karlsson.
I predicted 2-1 on the various podcasts, and I stand by it, but it’s a shot in the dark. I am more committed to my change of formation prediction, and the score is secondary. Generally, I don’t think Orange County offer a huge threat, even coming off of Torres’ brace, and although I think Oakland is unlikely to keep a clean sheet, I think the break-through on offense has to come.
I’m hitting Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V from Colorado Springs for my starting 11. It’s becoming clear that Juan Guerra has a first-choice lineup (at least in the attack) and I think he wants to see if continuity against a weaker opponent leads to a better result. On RootsPod, we talked about the potential of switching to a back-four in order to get Mikael Johnsen on the field, but I’ve been intimated that a similar lineup will return. At CDM, Joseph Nane continues to start until Matias Fissore proves he’s healthy enough to crack the 18. My score prediction; I’m biting off of Peter’s guess with a 2-1 Roots victory. Orange County brings a stout defense while Oakland is susceptible to a leak at the back. Roots will have to prevent the long ball and runs in behind, and I think it’s important to get on the board first in order to stop OCSC from parking the bus early to eke out a win.
I agree with Jon. For the moment, the first choice lineup appears to pick itself. At some point soon I expect Johnsen to get some run in the starting XI, but I’m not going to predict that until I actually see it on the field. This will be a tight 1-0 affair between two attacks that are finding their footing. Roots’ attack has shown more, though, and that makes the difference.