It may have not been the prettiest second half, but the Oakland Roots got it done with a 1-nil win over Los Angeles Galaxy II while down to 10 men. The victory improves Oakland’s record to 2-6-4 with 12 points, just three points shy of the seventh place qualification zone. Coach Juan Guerra knew how important the result was.
“We had to press with a high press and when we were in our block, it was very organized but still intense and aggressive. Everybody saw what the team did with 10 men, the intensity, and how much the guys wanted it. This is how much it means to them, it was a huge step forward for us tonight and get the three points. Now we have to focus on the next game,” said Guerra.
“We keep transforming and I think we’re improving game after game. It was a massive step forward to keep the zero and be able to defend the way we did with 10 men. Also, we were able to create chances as we were defending down a man. We have a lot of talent and we’re very hungry. We have the awareness of where we are on the table and understand what we need to do in order to get where we want to be. These three points mean a lot to us, we need to win the next game as well.”
The win required a huge contribution from 18-year old goal keeper Tim Syrel, who was officially promoted from Project 51O just 24 hours before his appearance. He entered in the 71st minute when Benny Diaz was red carded to put Roots at 10-men. With an ear-to-ear grin, the De Anza HS Class of 2022 graduate and soon-to-be U.C. Davis freshman knew he had an important job to accomplish.
“It was unexpected, that’s for sure. My adrenaline is pumping, I’ve never felt better. I was smiling all throughout the game, my heart is racing right now. It’s unbelievable, really,” said Syrel. See his full interview on Youtube.
Guerra quickly got the teenager on his toes.
“I’m so proud of Tim, just the way he behaves and showed up to training when we needed him, he’s done everything right. As soon as Benny went for the tackle–even before the referee blew the whistle–I turned around to him and knew he’d have to go in. I looked him in the eyes, our goal keeper coach Peter [Davis] explained to him what we expected. He stepped up and did what was necessary to keep the zero. I’m very happy for him, I think he deserves it, and now we just have to keep pushing,” said Guerra.
His interview reminded me why I love being a prep-sports writer. It was the biggest moment of his soccer career, and there’s only more to come.
“The coaches believe in me that I appreciate and that’s what drives me to make good performances. That was my mindset; to just execute the plan, not take any risks, stick to the game plan, and play how I know how to play,” added Syrel.
Diaz’s red card results in a one-game suspension for May 28’s match against Sacramento Republic, meaning we could see Paul Blanchette make his first appearance in 2022 if he’s able to be cleared in time or Syrel will earn his first USL Championship start.
“Benny will be suspended. We’re going to go in, move the pieces that we have available, and see how we can put together a team that gives us the ability to be successful,” said Guerra of the keeper situation.
Upon the red card, Guerra’s message to the team was to stay focused, keep the intensity high, but to also find ways to maintain possession.
“To stay focused, to keep the intensity, to be more aggressive in defensive phases but at the same time, to keep playing. We’re a team that wants the ball and we feel uncomfortable when we don’t have the ball. It’s a bit more difficult to have the ball with 10 men, but it’s not impossible. That was the message, to keep the ball as much as we can, progress through the field together, so when we lost possession we could press right away,” said Guerra.
Roots’ goal scorer Ottar Magnus Karlsson’s penalty kick goal in the 37th minute was his seventh score of the year. He’s tied for the league’s Golden Boot race with San Diego’s Kyle Vassell and officially surpasses Oakland’s leading goal scorer from 2021 in Jeremy Bokila after just 12 games. Although Roots SC is still waiting for the wins to pile up, the Big Fucking Viking’s production is a direct correlation to Guerra’s offensive style.
“There are a lot of things that are working, but we can’t relax because we can still be better and will be better. Offensively, we’re creating a lot of chances, especially from wide areas. Now we want to create more chances from inside-channels. We’re talented, technically gifted, and athletic enough to create more chances inside. But we also need to keep improving on the things we’re doing well. The guys took care of business today, I’m very, very proud of them,” said Guerra.
Oakland was the superior team in the first half with seven shots, three on target, an Ottar header off of the crossbar, and one big chance missed by Edgardo Rito in the 11th minute. They finished with 13 shots and four on target, but finished with just 48 percent possession following the red.
Guerra explains that their focus was to keep the clean sheet.
“I think we started strong, we created some chances early in the game. We had the opportunity to put one or two away before the penalty, but we keep doing a lot of things right. Offensively and defensively, we got a lot better. The most important thing was to keep the zero on the board; that was one of the things I asked before the game. I said, ‘Guys, I’m going to ask for one thing and that’s to keep a zero tonight.’ I know what we can do offensively, and all the other teams know that as well.
“Now we have to make sure that we keep pushing on the things we’re doing well and we have to keep working on the things that need improvement. We had to improve on the defensive phase and I think it showed today. I’m not just talking about goal keepers and defenders, but a collective effort that starts with the striker and finishes with the goal keeper,” said Guerra.
With the amount of chances in the first half, there was another feeling that the Roots left more goals on the field.
“We need a bit more better decision-making in the final third and be a bit more calm. We’re a team that knows how to progress through the field very well, we like to play through lines and progress together. We arrived to the final third very comfortably, and now we have to stay composed and put those chances away. That, decision-making, better execution, and probably a bit of luck too. I think we’ve hit the post in each of the last three games, you create your own luck and we do that playing with our identity, playing with no fear, and arrive in those moments with the ball under control,” explained Guerra.
Featuring in the midfield for a third consecutive game was fellow Venezia-loanee Mikael Johnsen. He’s been an influential member since his inclusion against Orange County and proving he needs to be included. Guerra provided his thoughts on the 21-year old Norwegian.
“These last two games against Vegas and Galaxy, we knew that they would be very dynamic and transitional matches where we have to cover a lot of space with a lot of speed. Mika [Mikael] provided that for us in both games. We have 24 players on the roster and every game is different, now we have the ability to adapt to any given game and still play with our identity and exploit opponents’ weaknesses. Our individual strengths become a huge muscle in the collective. Mika has been showing since Day 1 that he’s hungry; He’s very respectful and wants to absorb so much, but wants to win above everything. This is the character that we want and type of player who fits our model. We have a lot of competition on the roster, this is very good for me as a coach because now the guys have to make me think,” said Guerra.
Oakland now looks ahead to bitter rivals Sacramento on May 28 at Laney College Stadium. Roots defeated Republic 2-1 last season on October 6 and drew three times throughout the year. Guerra doesn’t want to get wrapped up in the emotions and knows what three more points will do for his club.
“I’m suepr excited, but at the end of the day, every game is worth three points. Beating LA and beating Sac gives the same amount of points, so we’re going to be focused and concentrated. I’m very aware what this game means to our fans and our organization. I can tell you that we’re going take this game with the same responsibility and focus that we’ve had from Day 1. We keep improving, we keep getting better, and the next game for us is a Final,” said Guerra.
FotMob Top-10 Player Ratings
- 1. Ottar Magnus Karlsson, 8.2
In 90 minutes, Karlsson scored once with six shots, one on target, and one blocked, to go along with completing 19 of 22 passes, 2/3 long balls, 1/1 successful dribbles, one interception, four recoveries, won 1/4 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, and finished with 33 total touches.
2. Charlie Dennis, 8.1
In 71 minutes, Dennis recorded three shots with one on target and one blocked, to go along with completing 22 of 28 passes, 3/4 crosses, 4/6 long balls, took five corners, created three chances, had 1/2 successful dribbles, won 3/3 tackles, four recoveries, 7/11 ground duels, drew three fouls including the penalty kick, and finished with 47 total touches.
3. Tarek Morad, 7.9
In 90 minutes, Morad completed 50 of 57 passes, 4/7 long balls, had 1/1 successful dribble, won 3/4 tackles, three clearances, eight recoveries, 6/7 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, drew one foul, and finished with 68 total touches.
4. Danny Barbir, 7.9
In 90 minutes, Barbir completed 40 of 53 passes, 4/9 long balls, had 2/2 successful dribbles, blocked one shot, had nine clearances with four by header, one interception, seven recoveries, 3/4 ground duels, and finished with 68 total touches.
5. Emrah Klimenta, 7.7
In 90 minutes, Klimenta recorded one shot attempt and completed 39 of 59 passes, 4/11 long balls, created one chance, 1/1 successful dribble, dribbled past two defenders, won 1/2 tackles, 3/6 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, blocked two shots, four clearances, one interception, seven recoveries, and finished with 77 total touches.
6. Jose Hernandez, 7.7
In 90 minutes, Hernandez recorded one shot on target and completed 44 of 54 passes, 7/10 long balls, created one chance, 2/2 successful dribbles, dribbled past three defenders, won 4/8 ground duels, had one interception, 10 recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 65 total touches.
7. Mikael Johnsen, 7.7
In 78 minutes, Johnsen recorded one shot that was blocked and completed 31 of 38 passes, 1/1 cross, 2/4 long balls, created one chance, had 2/5 successful dribbles, dribbled past one defender, won 2/3 tackles, 6/11 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, blocked one shot, one interception, six recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 57 total touches.
8. Edgardo Rito, 7.4
In 90 minutes, Rito recorded one shot on target and completed 28 of 36 passes, created two chances, 1/4 crosses, 2/3 long balls, one corner, had 3/6 successful dribbles, won 3/10 ground duels, 1/3 aerial duels, three clearances with two by header, one interception, nine recoveries, and finished with 61 total touches.
9. Darek Formella, 7.0
In 90 minutes, Formella completed 20 of 24 passes, 1/4 long balls, had 1/2 successful dribbles, past two defenders, won 3/3 tackles, seven recoveries, 6/14 ground duels, drew two fouls, and finished with 40 total touches.
10. Juan Carlos Azocar, 6.8
In 90 minutes, Azocar completed 24 of 33 passes, 1/4 crosses, created one chance, took two corners, had 2/3 successful dribbles, won 4/9 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, six recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 60 total touches.