Those Oakland Roots did it again, scoring two goals in the waning minutes of the second half to pull a 2-2 draw out of their back pocket against RGV Toros thanks to goals by Juan Carlos Azocar in the 78th and Charlie Dennis minutes later in the 88th. It marked the team’s 12th goal in the last 15 minutes of action, which leads the USL Championship, and stretches Oakland’s unbeaten run to seven matches.
It was another appearance where Roots weren’t at their best. A poor first half forced coach Juan Guerra to quickly change the system to a 4-4-2 straight out of halftime and it wasn’t until around the last 25 minutes that Oakland began to turn momentum. They were credited with zero shots in the first 45 minutes and closed the game with nine attempts, two on target.
Guerra called it their “worst game of the season.”
“I’m not happy. Tonight was probably our worst game of the season. Games are 95-90 minutes, they’re not just 25, I’ve been saying this now four a couple of games. If we decide to play for 25 minutes, it’s going to be a long season until November. I know what my boys are capable of, and everyone knows it too, we have to start putting together 90-minute performances. The first 65 minutes were not good; the first half wasn’t good. We stepped to the field not ready,” said Guerra.
“We’re going to reflect on what happened tonight, I’ll start with myself first. In the first half, we could’ve done things a lot better. We could’ve adapted and transformed differently because of the way they were pressing. It’s me first and then the rest of the boys. But listen, they fought back, we get a point, we keep adding points, and we have to start thinking about Wednesday night. I’m not happy. When we play at home with the team we are and the culture we’re trying to build; at home, we win. Tonight, it feels like we can celebrate the tie because we weren’t good, but we have to be better Wednesday night.”
But Oakland fought back, once again. The energy in the final 25 minutes of action culiminated in another exhilarating game when things seemed to be trending towards a loss.
“Credit to our guys, I won’t want to discredit our guys. It’s not easy to break down a team that sits deep in those to lines of four, and then try to break them through lines and create opportunities. Our boys did that, what bothers me is we did it too late… We started creating width on both sides, pushing Azocar a bit higher to try and stretch the back four as much as possible. We changed to a 4-4-2 and try to make sure we were stretching the depth of the field, but also have our wingers try to keep that back-four narrow so we could utilize wide spaces with Rito and Azocar. It worked well. But, we put ourselves in that situation,” said Guerra.
Guerra thinks that Oakland took too long to build their attack in the first half, along with some systematic confusion in the midfield and losing possession far too easily.
“It took us too long at times when we were building out of the back. They were pressing us with two, sometimes it was three–it was shifting. We know how to adapt to those things, that’s what was bothering me. Sometimes we would drop a midfielder when it was not necessary to drop the midfielder. Other times, they were pressing with two and the midfield could’ve stayed higher–and we didn’t–and then when they were pressing with three and we could’ve dropped a midfielder, and we weren’t doing it. Credit to [RGV coach] Wilmer Cabrera, I respect him a lot, I’ve had to face him a few times now and it’s never easy,” said Guerra.
“It was too many easy giveaways where we were losing possession too easily. I don’t want to discredit RGV, but it’s not like they created a lot either. It was a cross, second-ball header; and then a corner where we flick the ball and it ends up in a corner, then we lost the second ball and they serve it into the box. We have to make sure we’re avoiding mistakes, and we have to keep our foot on the pedal,” said Guerra.
Missing out on the three points was on the mind of Guerra in his post-match discussion. With the table in mind, he quickly mentioned that he had to look at where Roots were after gaining a point. Guerra closed each thought by reiterating that Wednesday’s match will be better when the Roots host fifth-place New Mexico United. Oakland has four (!) more games played than NMU, but are currently one-point behind.
“It’s a point. I’m going to see how the other results went tonight to see how far we are on the table. But, again, we play a Final Wednesday night versus New Mexico,” said Guerra. “Wednesday night, guys. We have to make sure that we fix some stuff, but I have no doubt in my guys. Every time we play at home, we feel how the crowd gets behind us and that’s important too.”
Guerra doesn’t think the intensity was where it should’ve been in the first half, and perhaps with the energy showed in the last 25 minutes would’ve created a win in a full 90-minute performance.
“I didn’t like the attitude in the first half. We probably thought we were just going to step on the field and it was going to be an easy game. We don’t have easy games, we’re not going to have an easy game from now to November. We must make sure that we’re ready to fire and ready to play right when we get out of the locker room. What would’ve happened if we put a performance together for a full game like we played in the last 25 minutes–that’s what I want to see. I have to find a way to make that happen.
“Our guys did a good job at the end to fight back. But for 60, 65 minutes, I wasn’t happy,” said Guerra.”
Oakland’s first goal came in the 78th after Charlie Dennis sent in a cross that was headed high by a defender. Emrah Klimenta then leapt to head the ball centrally from the right side, which was flicked on by another RGV defender conveniently to Azocar at the left post for the free header.
From there, the Roots kept on the front foot and found the equalizer 10 minutes later. In the buildup to Dennis’ 2-2 goal, Johnsen sent a pass down the right side to Edgardo Rito, who nutmegged his defender and played the ball short to Dennis. The Englishman took one touch with his left foot and followed through with a left-footed shot that was slightly deflected and trickled past the outstretched arms of keeper Javier Garcia.
“Rito and I have built a good relationship, even though we have a bit of a language barrier. We know each other’s movement, he picked that ball up down the right and he did a great job of beating a couple men. I knew that if the ball fell to me on my left foot, I’d have to get it out of my feet to try and get a shot off. I knew I wanted to get it on my left, the touch got a little bit away from me but I was going for it no matter what. I fell over and hit the ball, and as I got up, it was in the back of the net. It doesn’t matter how it goes in, a goal’s a goal,” said Dennis of the goal.
Oakland continued pressing into stoppage time and nearly found the game-winner when Azocar had a curling shot at 90+2′, which eventually was corralled by Dennis but his right-footed attempt was blocked.
“Another chance fell to me at the end, I saw the defender coming in and he managed to get the block off on my right foot,” said Dennis.
It was Dennis’ second goal of the season, his first score since against New Mexico on March 30. Although the scores aren’t going in as often as he’d like, Dennis ranks fifth on the squad with a FotMob rating of 7.09 and has the trust of his coaching staff.
“Second goal of the season, it took a bit longer than I expected. It was great to do it at home and get a point after coming back from 2-nil… Having a coach who believes in you is all you need as a player to go and express yourself. Someone who will believe in you if you have a bad game or a good game, he’s going to be there. He’ll get you right and prepared for what’s to come,” said Dennis.
Dennis joins the Roots’ group of late-game goal scorers. He mentions that Guerra is a key factor in Oakland’s late-game prowess and the inspiration he helped draw at halftime.
“There’s a lot of character in the dressing room. It comes from the staff, Juan does a brilliant job. At halftie, he gave us the motivation to really come out and put on a show in the second half. He identified points in the game and the areas where spaces are, where their team is going to struggle and where we had to exploit. It got us up and got us motivated,” explained Dennis.
The draw brings Oakland’s record to 4-8-4 and still in eighth. At 21 points, Roots are now five points out of San Diego in third, which has two games in hand, and four back of El Paso (on equal footing) after entering the night just three points back of both teams. A win over New Mexico on Wednesday would bring Oakland to equal-points with NMU and Sacramento–which has a favorable matchup with LA Galaxy II.
FotMob Top-10 Player Ratings
- Juan Carlos Azocar, 8.2
In 90 minutes, Azocar scored once with two shots on target and completed 21 of 26 passes, 1/1 long ball, 2/6 successful dribbles, won 1/4 tackles, 7/11 ground duels, 1/3 aerial duels, one clearance by header, one interception, four recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 56 total touches.
2. Edgardo Rito, 7.4
In 90 minutes, Rito had one assist and completed 26 of 32 passes, 2/3 long balls, created one chance, won 1/2 tackles, 3/8 ground duels, one clearance by header, two interceptions, five recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 52 total touches.
3. Charlie Dennis, 7.4
In 23 minutes, Dennis scored once with two shots and one on target, completing 7/14 passes, 1/3 long balls, took one corner, won 1/2 ground duels, four recvoeries, and finished with 25 touches.
4. Jose Hernandez, 7.1
In 90 minutes, Hernandez completed 39 of 43 passes, 2/4 long balls, 1/1 successful dribble, dribbled past one defender, won 4/6 ground duels, one interception, seven recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 54 total touches.
5. Tarek Morad, 6.9
In 90 minutes, Morad completed 84 of 97 passes, 7/9 long balls, one clearance by header, one interception, 11 recoveries, won 6/8 ground duels, and finished with 104 total touches.
6. Mikael Johnsen, 6.8
In 90 minutes, Johnsen completed 22 of 29 passes, 2/4 crosses, 3/5 long balls, dribbled past one defender, took one corner, won 1/2 tackles, 3/6 ground duels, three recoveries, created one chance, drew one foul, and finished with 42 total touches.
7. Emrah Klimenta, 6.8
In 90 minutes, Klimenta recorded one shot and completed 50 of 65 passes, 2/11 long balls, 1/1 successful dribble, won 2/2 tackles, 4/6 ground duels, 3/5 aerial duels, blocked one shot, two clearances with one by header, one interception, seven recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 82 total touches.
8. Lindo Mfeka, 6.8
In 67 minutes, Mfeka completed 16 of 20 passes, 1/1 long ball, created one chance, won 1/1 tackle, 3/6 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, one clearance, two recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 30 total touches.
9. Ottar Magnus Karlsson, 6.6
In 90 minutes, Karlsson recorded four shots with two on target and two blocked, completed 12 of 21 passes, won 2/6 ground duels, one clearance by header, one interception, two recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 36 total touches.
10. Danny Barbir, 6.6
In 67 minutes, Barbir completed 30 of 36 passes, 2/5 long balls, 1/1 successful dribble, won 2/3 ground duels, 3/3 aerial duels, one clearance by header, one interception, five recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 44 total touches.