How about that brilliance from Paul Blanchette? The 28-year old Palo Alto native reminded all Oakland Roots supporters why he became such a fan favorite in 2021, recording six saves with five by dives against the second-place team in the Western Conference, San Antonio FC, thwarting multiple big chances along the way to a 1-1 draw.
Walking out of Toyota Field with a point was no easy task in the 92 degree, 60-plus percent humidity weather, and Roots’ midfielder Lindo Mfeka suffered a foot injury to put Oakland down a man in an excessive 10 minutes of stoppage time. Blanchette, meanwhile, suffered several cramps in the closing minutes, which perhaps adds to the mystique of Saturday night’s performance.
The win keeps Oakland in the hunt for a playoff spot despite having more matches played than any USL Championship team thus far with 18, holding 4-9-5 record. Coach Juan Guerra knew how important taking at least one point was toward their standing on the table.
“This is all part of the process. Important point on the road. Building character and culture is equally as important as building our game model. Tonight we showed character and love. Tonight was a step in the right direction. We keep pushing forward, always together!,” wrote Guerra on Twitter.
Although Oakland walks out with their heads held high, it marks their second game in a row where they dropped points from a winning position after Joseph Nane scored in the 29th on a well-worked corner where Juan Carlos Azocar played the ball short to Charlie Dennis, who sent it back to Azocar. The Venezuelan’s dribbled into the area and sent a perfectly placed cross to Nane for the header. It was Nane’s first goal in a Roots’ uniform.
The Roots played a stronger first half with three shots, two on target, two big chances and one missed. They finished with five shots, three on target, but created no big chances in the second half. Despite Oakland being credited with 52 percent possession time, San Antonio controlled the action with a whopping 17 shots, seven on target, three big chances, and two missed. All that given, leaving San Antonio with a point is certainly a positive.
But Oakland had their chances, particularly in the first 25 minutes. Darek Formella had a chance on target after Memo Diaz did an outstanding job to free himself up between two defenders to send a ball forward. Formella took his attempt a couple of feet above the penalty area, but didn’t make solid contact on his shot.
In the 31st minute, Azocar had a chance of his own when Formella made a great run to get past Mohammed Abu in the area and centered a ball toward JCA. However, Azocar’s touch was heavy and the ball sailed high over the net. But from there, the chances became limited for Oakland as San Antonio maintained its high press.
Paul The Wall’s night started early, getting a glove on David Loera’s shot from the right side after SAFC played a ball short from a set piece. Blanchette perhaps made his most athletic save of the night in the 32nd minute when preventing a wide-open header by Justin Dhillon–who thought his shot crossed the line.
Blanchette struck again in the 36th when diving to his left to stop Diedie Traore’s shot attempt from the left side of the area, about seven yards in front.
Paul’s cramping began in the 62nd minute when sending a long ball out of the Roots’ penalty area. He often had to stretch from then on, but it didn’t prevent him from stopping SAFC multiple times when on the doorstep.
Blanchette came up big in the closing minutes, stopping a 1-on-1 situation when Santiago Patino was all alone after Tarek Morad, who wanted a foul for being shoved over, fell to the ground. Patino took a shot attempt from the top of the area to the right side of net, but Blanchette was already in good position at the right post to make the diving save.
And then in the 89th, SAFC’s Abu sent a perfect long ball into the area from a set piece. His ball over the top met Mitch Taintor for the header, but standing in perfect position was Blanchette, one again, to get his hands on the ball. The shot deflected high into the area and was sent back toward goal by Mikael Johnsen, Blanchette then fisted the ball back toward Abu about 10 yards above the area–but his shot trailed wide. Taintor grabbed his head in disbelief, while Blanchette went back to stretch his left calf.
The heat and physical game was difficult for Roots. Aside from Paul’s pesky cramping issues, Azocar left the match in the 58th minute for Mfeka after sustaining an apparent injury to his left knee/hamstring area. But after Oakland exhausted all of their substitution windows, Mfeka suffered a bad looking foot injury in stoppage time.
It was a difficult scene to watch, knowing that Mfeka battled against an ankle issue earlier this season and was showing signs of progress after re-entering the lineup on May 28 against Sacramento. He originally sustained his injury back on April 17 against Loudoun. We’d like to point out that SAFC goal keeper Jordan Farr is a classless dickhead for urging Mfeka to put his shoe back on while he was writhing in pain. The official opinion of the blog is Farr is a sanctimonious douchebag, and we’re informed The Function can’t wait to greet him at Laney College on September 3.
Oakland looks ahead to a favorable matchup on Saturday, June 25 at Laney when hosting Atlanta United II, which is currently 3-1-11 in the Eastern Conference. The Roots are still in eighth place with 21 points, meaning they’ll need to take care of the teams they are expected to beat.
FotMob Top-10 Player Ratings
- Joseph Nane, 8.0
In 71 minutes, Nane scored once with his only shot attempt and completed 24 of 26 passes, 1/2 long balls, had 4/4 successful dribbles, dribbled past three defenders, won 5/10 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, two clearances with one by header, one interception, seven recoveries, drew one foul and finished with 39 total touches.
2. Paul Blanchette, 7.8
In 90 minutes, Blanchette finished with six saves with five by dives and four inside the box, completing 16 of 32 passes, 9/25 long balls, one punch, five throws, one high claim, 11 recoveries, and finished with 48 total touches.
3. Darek Formella, 7.3
In 90 minutes, Formella recorded one shot on target and completed 25 of 33 passes, 2/3 long balls, created one chance, had 2/3 successful dribbles, won 5/9 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, seven recoveries, drew three fouls, and finished with 46 total touches.
4. Alejandro Fuenmayor, 7.1
In 90 minutes, Fuenmayor had one shot attempt and completed 31 of 48 passes, 4/16 long balls, won 7/8 aerial duels, five clearances with one by header, two interceptions, seven recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 60 total touches.
5. Juan Carlos Azocar, 6.9
In 58 minutes, Azocar recorded one assist and one shot attempt, completing 8/14 passes, created one chance, had one big chance missed, took one corner, 1/1 successful dribble, dribbled past one defender, won 3/7 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, blocked one shot, one clearance, three recoveries, and finished with 27 total touches.
6. Tarek Morad, 6.9
In 90 minutes, Morad completed 36 of 37 passes, dribbled past two defenders, won 1/2 tackles, 3/5 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, blocked one shot, four clearances with three by header, one interception, seven recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 60 total touches.
7. Emrah Klimenta, 6.8
In 90 minutes, Klimenta completed 21 of 29 passes, 1/1 cross, 2/5 long balls, created one chance, dribbled past one defender, won 1/2 ground duels, three clearances with two by header, four interceptions, four recoveries, and finished with 58 total touches.
8. Charlie Dennis, 6.8
In 71 minutes, Dennis completed 17 of 29 passes, 2/4 long balls, took one corner, created one chance, dribbled past one defender, won 1/2 tackles, 4/7 ground duels, 5/8 aerial duels, three recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 41 total touches.
9. Memo Diaz, 6.5
In 89 minutes, Diaz completed 18 of 28 passes, 1/3 long balls, created one chance, had 1/2 successful dibbles, dribbled past two defenders, won 2/9 ground duels, 2/3 aerial duels, two clearances with one by header, and finished with 40 total touches.
10. Ottar Magnus Karlsson, 6.4
In 90 minutes, Karlsson recorded one shot on target and completed 16 of 27 passes, had 1/1 successful dribble, dribbled past one defender, won 1/1 tackle, 5/8 ground duels, 4/12 aerial duels, blocked one shot, two recoveries, drew three fouls, and finished with 39 total touches.