Oakland Roots came out of Saturday’s match against Atlanta United II with a 3-1 victory, improving their record to 5-9-5 with 24 points and up to eighth place in the Western Conference standings. It was an important result for the team in order to remain in the playoff discussion.
“Last time I told you guys that we had a necessity now [to win], and tonight we had the necessity to get the three points. The boys put in a very good shift tonight, I believe we probably could’ve put the game away earlier and these are things we could keep improving pushing forward. But, it was a good game. I saw a lot of the things that we worked on during the week and executed on the field, as a coach, that’s all I can ask for,” said coach Juan Guerra.
“We put together a game plan, we gave them information when we do video and have training sessions; that information becomes knowledge, and then we have to see if that knowledge can be executed on gameday. I saw that during the week and during the game today, so today was positive for us.”
It was an aggressive performance from Roots with a total of 29 shots, eight on target, with seven big chances, and five missed while allowing five shots and two on target. Despite the one-sided stat line, Oakland went into halftime tied 0-0 with 16 shots and four big missed opportunities missed.
In fact, Roots could’ve had multiple goals in the first 11 minutes of action with a shot from Charlie Dennis trailing high of the left post in the third minute. Three minutes later, Alejandro Fuenmayor had a header sail high of the net. Dennis, again, had an opportunity in the ninth but he couldn’t make square contact on his attempt, while Mikael Johnsen had a shot that got by Atlanta keeper Justin Garces, but his shot was cleared off of the line. Dennis had one more good look at net in the 44th but his shot was saved by Garces charging out to press the ball.
Guerra was reminded of the Colorado Springs 3-0 loss on April 30, where Oakland had several opportunities in the first half but couldn’t capitalize.
“The boys reacted in the second half how we were expecting. They started the second half the same as they finished the first; on the front foot, going forward, taking shots, running in behind, and trying to create as many chances as we could. But at some point, when you don’t put teams away against young guys who are very talented and technically gifted, if you don’t put these teams away–you’re going to get burned. All it took was one very good play from them to get behind you, and they punished us. We have to keep learning and pushing forward, this is a part of the process. The first half reminded me a lot of the first half against Colorado; we were dominating, felt confident, we were on the front foot, but we’re creating chances and not putting them away,” said Guerra.
It wasn’t until the 49th minute when Mikael Johnsen broke the deadlock after receiving a perfect cross from Memo Diaz right on the door step. In the buildup, Emrah Klimenta pounced on an attempted clearance to send pass on the volley toward Diaz. With space, Memo sent a ball from the right side over the defense to Johnsen at the left post for the header goal. It was his first goal in a Roots’ uniform.
It was one of Diaz’s seven chances created, which was good enough for him to earn a nomination alongside Johnsen for RootsBlog Man of the Match. Diaz was in the lineup to fill in for Edgardo Rito, who is still on the mend after sustaining an injury against New Mexico.
Approaching our postgame interview, Diaz was all smiles with the crowd in front of him chanting his name. You can see his full interview on Youtube.
“I took a little bit in the beginning just to catch a rhythm after a while being out, but I’m glad to start at home, it had been a while to be in front of the fans and family here in Oakland. But overall it was a good performance from the team; we showed up and had our chances, we just need to finish,” said Diaz.
Diaz explains that Guerra’s message that tonight was a must-win game.
“[His message] was pretty much this is a must-win; we’re at home, go after them, and we need to climb up the table. If we lose points at home, then making the playoffs is going to be even harder,” said the fullback.
Diaz’s effort stood on the words of Guerra calling him one of the best passers in the league.
“I told you guys two weeks ago, that in my opinion, Memo is one of the best crossers in the league. He showed it today, I’m just so happy and proud for him. I enjoy watching him train and I enjoy watching him play. I can tell you guys that every player who is starting or stepping on the field as a sub is because they’ve earned it. That’s the culture we have from when we started until the end of the year, they earned the right to be in the 18. Memo starting today and having the game that he had, he absolutely earned every minute he’s gotten,” said Guerra of the fullback.
“As a staff, we’re happy. I’m happy for Memo, I’m happy for the team, because now it means the guys who haven’t been playing much are also pushing, and the gap is getting a lot closer from the starters; that’s what we want.”
Taking the place of Rito is no easy task. The two are totally different players where Rito utilizes his Usain Bolt speed to break down the wing. Diaz considers himself a natural fullback and was able to exhibit his skilled passing throughout all 90 minutes.
“The game plan was attack, attack, attack. We’ve seen it from our outside backs with Azocar and Rito, our game plan is to attack as much as we can and get the ball in there–we know we can find our opposite outside backs in the box,” said Diaz.
When describing the differences between this year’s system and 2021’s, Diaz admits that he’s still getting used to the changes, but feels progress is being made.
“I’m getting used to it. I’m more of a natural fullback, but I’m getting into it and learning from Rito and Azocar in the way they attack. It’s been good, I’m getting used to it and I’m working to get better,” said Diaz.
On top of his solid performance, it’s been an emotional time for Diaz after the recent passing of his father, Alejandro. The 26-year old has been using his difficult time as motivation, smiling wide knowing that his dad would be proud of being a major catalyst in Oakland’s win.
“I’ve been using my dad as motivation to come out and perform for him, the fans, and my family back home. It’s been a tough two weeks to come in against New Mexico, then San Antonio, and then to this game; mentally it’s been tough but I’ve been using this as motivation. That’s what my dad would’ve wanted,” said Diaz with his patented wide smile.
“It feels great [to have the fans behind him]. Seeing the way Ottar lifted my jersey after his goal [against Orange County], seeing the signs from the fans–it’s huge what the community and fans can do for someone,” he added.
In the second half, Atlanta was able to equalize on ball into the box. It was epically close to an offside call, it would’ve been an interest review if the USL had a system in place. Here’s a screenshot of the pass which led to a goal, and its close, you be the judge.
Guerra wasn’t surprised by Atlanta’s goal due to the nature of the first half. From there, his message didn’t change; keep pressing forward, continue attacking, and things will eventually go their way.
“I wasn’t shocked because of the first half, I was thinking, “We’re attacking, we’re attacking, we’re attacking; if we don’t put it away, somethings going to happen.” And then they scored in the second half, so I was probably already prepared for it. When it came, my first thought was to keep the boys mentally controlled so they understand we’re playing well, we’re creating chances, we don’t have to change a million things. Let’s make sure we keep pushing, let’s make sure we keep doing what we’re doing because they worked. The guys kept going forward, they kept running in behind, and we got the second goal,” said Guerra.
In the 73rd minute, Johnsen drew a penalty kick after Grant Howard swiped at his right leg–causing the Norweigan to trip. The penalty enabled Ottar Magnus Karlsson to step up for the shot, burying it by going to the right post. It extends Karlsson’s league lead in goals with 11, now one ahead of San Diego’s Kyle Vassell.
For Johnsen, he’s been used all over the pitch as a midfielder and even lined up in the outside back role on a couple of occasions. However, it’s clear that Guerra feels he is best going forward in the role he was deployed on Saturday.
“The good thing for us is that we can use him in many spots. He’s versatile, you just said it. I think he’s a bit better higher up the field, he has the ability to run in behind. We’re a team that’s so possession based, that we like the ball at our feet way too much, and that hurts us at times. This is a league that you have to exploit spaces behind and we do that a lot from wide areas. We always exploit spaces in wide areas, but I keep saying, in central channels we must keep trying to exploit spaces behind as well. With Mika in that pocket, he gives us that ability. Mika gives us the ability to play with the ball at his feet and run in behind, it’s good for us, I like him higher up the field,” said Guerra.
Oakland was able to kill the game in the 87th with Johnny Rodriguez winning the ball off of a defender and beating the keeper 1-on-1. It came after receiving a long throw in by Klimenta that was poorly handled by Atlanta’s Orji Chukumwa, leading to Rodriguez putting the shot away.
“I love Johnny, he’s such a great human being and a great soccer player. He has the ability to keep pushing and understanding that he has the No. 1 player on the Golden Boot race ahead of him. He’s smart enough to learn from him, developing, growing, and being humble enough to support him, but also at the same time, push him to keep him sharp. He’s another example of what I said about Memo; every player who steps on the field earned it, fought for it, and have been working to get on the field. He’s fighting, pushing, and developing. Not just tonight, but other games as well. This is all a part of that process,” said Guerra.
Oakland now looks ahead to another must-win affair against Los Angeles Galaxy II on the road next Friday, July 1. Los Dos also has 24 points but has one match in hand.
“The message to the team is what I’ve been telling you guys since Day 1. We’re in the West and everyone knows how tough this conference is. The next game is always our most important game and we have to view Galaxy as the most important game of the season. The message is let’s keep pushing forward. It’s important we learn from mistakes, as long as we keep learning from mistakes and keep doing the things we’ve been doing well, hopefully we’ll be in a good spot. Galaxy is a good team, it wasn’t easy when they came over here. This is a team I enjoy watching, they are well coached too,” said Guerra.
FotMob Top-10 Ratings
- Memo Diaz, 8.7
In 90 minutes, Diaz recorded one assist, two shots with one on target and completed 16 of 24 passes, 2/7 crosses, 3/3 long balls, created seven chances, had 2/6 successful dribbles, dribbled past two defenders, won 2/11 ground duels, 2/5 aerial duels, one clearance, one interception, seven recoveries, and finished with 50 total touches.
2. Mikael Johnsen, 8.5
In 89 minutes, Johnsen scored once with four shots, two on target and one blocked shot, completing 26 of 32 passes, 1/2 crosses, 1/3 long balls, created two chances, missed one big chance, had 1/5 successful dribble, won 1/2 tackles, 5/15 ground duels, 10 recoveries, drew two fouls including the penalty kick, and finished with 61 total touches.
3. Ottar Magnus Karlsson, 8.3
In 83 minutes, Karlsson scored once with nine shots, three on target, and three blocked, completing 13 of 20 passes, created once chance, missed one big chance, had 2/3 successful dribbles, dribbled past one defender, won 3/8 ground duels, 3/4 aerial duels, three recoveries, and finished with 43 total touches.
4. Charlie Dennis, 8.3
In 76 minutes, Dennis recorded five shots with one on target, and one blocked, completing 22 of 28 passes, 3/6 crosses, 2/2 long balls, took four corners, created three chances, missed one big chance, had 2/2 successful dribbles, dribbled past one defender, won 2/5 tackles, 9/11 ground duels, 2/3 aerial duels, one clearance by header, five recoveries, drew two fouls, in finished with 55 total touches.
5. Alejandro Fuenmayor, 8.0
In 90 minutes, Fuenmayor recorded one shot attempt and completed 57 of 69 passes, 11/15 long balls, dribbled past one defender, won 3/4 tackles, 4/7 ground duels, 3/3 aerial duels, blocked one shot, two interceptions, 16 recoveries, and finished with 82 total touches.
6. Emrah Klimenta, 7.7
In 90 minutes, Klimenta recorded one shot attempt and completed 38 of 50 passes, 1/3 crosses, 2/7 long balls, created four chances, won 1/3 ground duels, 4/4 aerial duels, blocked one shot, one clearance, eight recoveries, and finished with 77 total touches.
7. Tarek Morad, 7.6
In 90 minutes, Morad completed 57 of 61 passes, 5/7 long balls, created one chance, won 1/2 tackles, 3/3 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, one clearance, one interception, 10 recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 80 total touches.
8. Joseph Nane, 7.6
In 90 minutes, Nane recorded three shot attempts and completed 29 of 35 passes, 2/3 long balls, created two chances, missed two big chances, won 3/4 tackles, 4/7 ground duels, 2/2 aerial duels, blocked two shots, six recoveries, and finished with 56 total touches.
9. Matias Fissore, 7.4
In 90 minutes, Fissore recorded two shots with one blocked, completing 39 of 47 passes, 4/4 long balls, created three chances, dribbled past two defenders, won 2/2 tackles, 3/9 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, one interception, six recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 59 total touches.
10. Darek Formella, 7.4
In 90 minutes, Formella recorded two shots with one blocked, completing 39 of 47 passes, 4/4 long balls, dribbled past two defenders, won 2/2 tackles, 3/9 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, one interception, six recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 59 total touches.