Coming off a totally chill Saturday night draw, the Roots host New Mexico United at 7pm at Laney on Wednesday, June 15, and are throwing in half-price beers if you’re trying to decide if you feel like leaving the house on a school night. The Roots’ first match against New Mexico was the Roots’ first last-gasp draw of the season, when Tarek Morad headed in a Chuy Enriquez cross in the 91st to equalize. If you can’t make the trip, the game will be on ESPN+.
Working on a Better Heading than “General Bullshit”
New Mexico is apparently not a hotbed of ska-punk, so I opted instead for Beirut, a personal favorite of mine, and local to Santa Fe.
These midweek games against teams I’ve previewed before are hard to drum up content, and hard to find time to sit around brainstorming content. I should spend some time playing around with stats on FBRef but I really couldn’t be bothered this week. One somewhat interesting note is that Azocar on four goals is now one goal off of Bokila’s total on goals for last season, and has matched the Fall/Enriquez/Mbumba three-way tie for second for goals over the entirety of the 2021 season. Likewise, Edgardo Rito has matched Mfeka’s team-leading assist total of four for the 2021 season. The Roots’ results so far this season are maybe below what we had hoped going in, but Guerra choosing and sticking by his own men at wingback does seem to be working on offense. It is somewhat at odds with his preseason discussion of controlling the game through the midfield, but at least there are results. Also noteworthy, there are twenty-seven teams in the league and the Roots are now tenth in goals/90.
New Mexico’s Form
|3/30||God’s Own Oakland Roots||Home||D||2||2|
The eye-popping result on this is Phoenix in late May. Phoenix had players test positive before this game, resulting in mandatory isolation for most of the senior players, and apparently the league did not allow them to reschedule the game, so they had to call up a bunch of academy players to get hammered by New Mexico. The @PhxRisingNation twitter account (a pro follow), was not happy, but did tweet this awesome graphic, before descending into incandescent rage over the course of the evening:
Anyway, the teenagers got fucking battered.
New Mexico scored early and also late, accounting for (not kidding) 1/3 of their goals so far on the season. Wehan’s opener is legit, a free kick that goes in, kids or not. Then Portillo converted a penalty and the game was basically over. The third came on a long cross where the Rising defender and keeper took each other out of the play, as though they had limited experience playing together. It’s not obvious if we should take anything away from this game–New Mexico had an opportunity to abuse a rival on a down night and did so.
Indy 11 got off to a slow start with two losses and two draws, but are 6-1-2 since then, with those losses coming away at top Eastern Conference team Memphis and this match in Indianapolis. Portillo’s opener is a beauty, and worth checking out. Under pressure from the edge of the box he laces a ball to the top corner on the nearside. The keeper is close but is justified in not expecting that shot in that spot. New Mexico got another in the 63rd on a Mechak Jerome (all-timer name) own goal. Right back McQueen plays a simple ball back to centerback Jerome who straight whiffs on it and the ball trickles into the net. This is pure nightmare fuel. Indy got one back,in the 80th, but could not find an equalizer.
Another Portillo penalty got the scoring started in the 18th. Some crisp interplay between Neco Brett and erstwhile Orb County-man Chris Wehan got New Mexico their second in the 32nd. Milan Iloski got one back in the 92st with a looping volley from distance, and Orange County managed win themselves a penalty and a chance to share the points. Hilariously, Erick “the Cube” Torres got his penalty saved, and New Mexico took all three.
|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|
|5/14||AFC Pure Uncut Nevada Chaos||Away||D||1||1|
|5/21||Galaxia de Carson, Two||Home||W||1||0|
|5/28||Central Valley Republic||Home||D||1||1|
|6/4||Monterey Bay Union Football Club of Seaside, California||Away||W||2||0|
|6/11||New Mexico United||Home||D||2||2|
For what turned into an okay result, I sure was miserable for most of Saturday evening.
The opener came off of a really egregious pass by Diaz intended possibly for Rito, but it was cut out by RGV well before it reached him. Toros played the ball wide left and then crossed the ball to Isidro Martinez who was in acres of space running behind a stationary Danny Barbir. Martinez headed it softly back to Robert Coronado for the free shot in the box.
I have highlighted the ball in red, it is traveling towards the center of the box from Martinez on the right side, who Barbir is closing down too late to matter. You can see Coronado right at the penalty marker, and I have put an arrow to Tarek Morad, who is apparently just trying to occupy space in the goal mouth. I am not sure why he did not stick with Coronado instead. Obviously Toros hit the Roots in transition, and so the defense was scrambling, but Barbir realized too late he had no wingback support, and had to cover two men (neither of whom he effectively covered), and Morad got back to goal but left Coronado open without Fissore able to catch up.
The second goal for RGV was a thing of beauty. The Roots’ defense successfully defended a set piece, but Mfeka attempted a header to progress the ball downfield and immediately turned it over while RGV’s big men were still in the box. Ackwei’s volleyed finish was incredible, though, and it’s the kind of thing that happens sometimes.
Roots’ apparently dominated possession, although I seem to recall the Roots getting completely overrun in the midfield. Karlsson worked his ass off to try to get one in the 59th, but somehow RGV’s keeper and defense thwarted him about thrice, apparently legally. Formella and Johnsen plead there was a handball, but Karlsson either disagreed or was too gassed to say anything. When Azocar finally scored in the 78th it was the kind of penalty box pinball that feels like happens against the Roots, but that the Down in the Valley guys said also haunts RGV. The bigger concern here was the RGV keeper straight up tackling Karlsson when the Roots were trying to get the ball back to restart play. The Toros players were complaining that Azocar had decked Ackwei in the process of getting the ball, which looked accidental to me. The ref apparently agreed, but while breaking up that scuffle, missed the COMPLETELY OBVIOUS STRAIGHT RED when the Toros’ keeper went both arms around Karlsson’s waist and dragged him to the ground. Just infuriating the dead-ball crap teams are pulling on the Roots without punishment.
Some amount of justice was served when the keeper got wrong-footed by a deflect in the 88th and Dennis grabbed the equalizer with his second goal of the season. It really seemed like the Roots might grab another, with some great chances in the next seven minutes. Azocar and Karlsson each forced excellent saves from the RGV keeper. RGV wasted just over a minute of stoppage time, which was frustratingly not tacked on.
Players to Watch
In my preview for the first match-up I suggested we keep an eye on Neco Brett and Daniel Bruce. Sure enough, Brett (F #7) got on the scoresheet, and Bruce (RW #25) had a pretty good game as well. Brett has four goals and, uh, keep watching I guess?
Justin Portillo #43 – 29-year-old central midfielder Portillo grew up in New Orleans and played for the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
Portillo has played for several lower-division teams in the US and Canada, and got 11 games with Real Salt Lake in MLS over a three-season period with the club. Portillo leads United on minutes played, and is tied for the lead on each of goals and assists with four and three, respectively. All of those goals have come in United’s last three games, and three of them were penalties, including two in forty-five minutes in United’s caning of Phoenix’s backups.
Sergio Rivas #11 – Local stadium Sergio Rivas grew up in Albuquerque and played college ball at Seattle University before going full-time in USL with Reno 1868, where he was on the the 2020 team (featuring Chuy Enriquez) that finished tied for the best record in the USL. Rivas has only one goal and no assists so far in 2022, that one goal coming in the match against Oakland where Fotmob had him as United’s best player. That will earn you a spot on “Players to Watch” even when you’re struggling.
Lineup and Score Predictions
My lineup prediction was exactly right last week, and in celebration I am picking it again, even though rotation is likely. I just think that Guerra probably thinks this is his best 11 right now, but I would still love to see more forwards, since as Aaron points out below, the Roots score when there are more forwards. New Mexico are good, and better rested than the Roots. It’s a long flight out here, but not a big time zone change, and the elevation change is more favorable for New Mexico playing in Oakland than vice-versa (ironically, New Mexico have their better results away than home, but it’s pretty close). New Mexico are good, rarely concede, and I think this one slips away and ends the non-loss streak. 2-1 New Mexico.
My crack at the starting 11 is more guesswork after Juan Guerra enlisted Lindo Mfeka and Mikael Johnsen in the attack. I could certainly see both Johnsen and Mfeka returning up top again in similar roles, but after Guerra voiced some displeasure with how the midfield operated against RGV, I think he returns to the Jose-Johnsen midfield duo. Aside from that change in the midfield, you’ll notice I have Paul Blanchette in goal. If what I’ve been fed about Benny Diaz’s availability is true (non-injury related), expect Paul The Wall to start. And my score prediction, I’m going 2-1 Roots. Up the Roots!
The CW seems to be that Boston will stop trying to double Steph off screens because they were unable to defend the remaining Dubs 3-on-4. But role players especially tend to play worse on the road, so I think Boston is going to stick with the high double teams. Still, Steph never has 2 bad shooting nights in a row, plus we’re getting Game 6 Klay (knock on wood), so there should be more than enough offense to finish off the series, even if Wiggins comes back to earth, the crowd gets in Draymond’s head, and the Dubs don’t get 29 from Poole/GP2.
(Roots 1-NM 1. My kingdom for a match in which we start in the same shape we use to score goals when we need them in the dying moments of a match.)