Now 10 games through 2022 with a 1-5-4 overall record just two points from the bottom, pretty much every Roots fan would say the team isn’t where they should be. And rightfully so, the organization has undergone a serious overhaul since last season concluded. They have perhaps the best training facility in the entire USL Championship and made some big changes behind Juan Guerra—leaving some supporters wondering why last year’s players have struggled to get the nod.
It’s hard to compare to 2021, a team that somehow made its way to the second round of the postseason despite facing several prohibitive factors. It was a program that bounced out its former head coach Dario Pot two weeks before the season, traveled back-and-forth to Livermore, faced a COVID outbreak, and leaned on a cast that eventually formed throughout the season. That team started the first 10 games of the season 1-3-6 after suffering a 3-nil loss to Orange County and eventually sat 1-4-7.
The record over 10 games is eerily similar from last year, while the system on the field is clearly different. Oakland made defense its first priority with just seven goals at this point last season to go along with a -11 goal differential. This year, the focus is attack under Guerra. The success has been nominal, but there are clear signs of production with 12 goals and a differential of -3. Although two completely different teams, the goal is to now find sustained success.
Excuses are limited with this year’s crew, but with nine of 11 new starters from their final appearance of 2021, it’s clear that changing styles and learning a new coach’s system takes time. But it also begs the question of why last year’s players aren’t getting more time?
Guerra is getting a lot of shtick for sitting the bulk of starters from 2021, but it seems that the front office’s plan since the offseason was to start acquisitions who they want to develop. Technical Director Jordan Ferrell said as much when we spoke to him at the team’s media day back in February.
“So, there’s a couple of additions at center back, you seen Fuenmayor, you see Danny Barbir; We’re trying to give some balance to the position because we didn’t want all post-peak players, we wanted some younger guys, so the addition of Fuenmayor and Barbir gives us a sense there… And then at outside back, we made the addition of Edgardo Rito. He fits very similarly to Memo [Diaz] in that he wants to get forward,” said Ferrell at media day.
It certainly relates to Roots loaning in goal keeper Benny Diaz from Xolos and starting him above Paul Blanchette and Taylor Bailey. The situation has been among the largest criticisms against Guerra, but when factoring that Diaz is 23-years old, has expectations from Tijuana that he’ll be developed by Oakland, and being a talented passer—it becomes obvious why the keeper is getting time.
So goes the way of frequent roster changes in the USL Championship. As the Orange Soccer Cast told Peter in his appearance on their podcast, “welcome to the league.” Rapid changes aren’t unique to any organization, and now Year 2 in the league, Oakland isn’t an exception to alterations.
But it’s time to produce. The 2021 program didn’t get the wheels turning until after Game 12. With sixth-place Las Vegas Lights on the horizon, the Roots have an opportunity to put itself back into the postseason discussion and turn the page on comparisons to last season.
Stay tuned for this week’s RootsPod where we further discuss the goal keeper role, the OCSC 2-2 draw, look back at how the hell the team lost vs. Monterey Bay, and look ahead the weekend’s match versus Lights.