What a game last weekend! Roots are coming in hot, with eleven goals in their last four games (ten in their last three in which they kept all their players on the field). This is a magnitude of firepower that most clubs simply cannot repel. I just dropped this stat in my chat with Aaron and he bravely predicts that if the Roots keep up a 3.3 goal/90 pace, they are likely to make the playoffs. You heard it here first. Anyway, the Roots look to keep it going this weekend with our old friends Las Vegas Lights. The match will be at 7:00 p.m. at Laney, preceded by a march to the stadium from <checks notes> freaking Rockridge.
I will be at the match much earlier than that, saving seats for most of my extended family. The last time my parents and nieces/nephew came to a game, the Roots turned their season around with a 2-1 win over Galaxy II. It would be a bold call for me to predict goals from Max Ornstil and Quincy Amarikwa, but I’m still feeling a Roots win this weekend.
A Look Around the Western Conference
In the Friday night feature, Colorado Springs thrashed Galaxy II 4-2 in Colorado, which they needed to hold second place, since they then fell 3-0 to San Diego in the Monday night game. Colorado was apparently devastated by COVID and had to play Colorado Rapids academy players signed to one-game contracts, and entered the game with one lone sub, before picking up two red cards. USL! The teams the Roots needs to gain ground on all created opportunities for that: Sac fell to Birmingham Legion, El Paso lost big, and New Mexico took only one point at home. Orange County and Monterey Bay each picked up only a single point in home fixtures, helping the Roots create distance from the bottom of the West. Lights beat RGV Toros, which is not the ideal result for Roots, who want both teams to drop points, but if Lights decline, as Aaron and I discussed on RootsPod, it might ultimately be the better result.
This coming weekend keep your eyes on a couple things: Colorado Springs will almost certainly not drop points hosting Charleston Battery on Friday. New Mexico travel to Detroit, which has 0-0 draw written all over it. El Paso host San Antonio, which is not the fixture El Paso want the week they stave off disintegration. Loyal host RGV, which is a great chance for Roots to gain more ground on RGV. Galaxy host Orange County and Phoenix host Republic. By 10pm on Saturday there could be some real movement in the Western conference–Roots could realistically move into 6th with a win (they are still on the wrong side of games in hand).
|3/13||New Mexico United||Away||L||0||2|
|4/09||Colorado Springs Troop Appreciators||Home||L||2||3|
|5/07||Monterey Bay Union Football Club of Seaside, California||Away||L||0||1|
The Lights are just better than even between wins and losses, and are dead even on goals for and against, with twenty-four each. What that comes down to is a pretty good defense and a lousy offense. Only Sac, with 22, and Monterey Bay, with 23, have fewer. This is very much the “even the guy who can’t think said something” of goals tallies. A full third of those goals came a three-game stretch from June 11 to June 24 when Lights beat OC, SD, and Phoenix over three weeks. Possibly the most critical factor in the Lights’ season right now is that they have three players with more than one goal, and one of those is Alvaro Quezada, who has two. The other two are Cal Jennings and Danny Trejo, both of whom have MLS call-ups this season, including both seeing play in LAFC’s July 2 game away to Vancouver, the same day that Lights could not get on the scoresheet at home against Detroit City. Trejo returned the following weekend, but Jennings was on the bench for LAFC. Without those two, this offense goes from lousy to non-existent.
On June 24, the Lights hosted Phoenix Rising in Vegas and took the game 3-2.
Phoenix thought they’d scored in the 4th minute with a header from a cornerkick that went off the crossbar and bounced down. It’s hard to tell from the youtube highlights if it should’ve been called a goal. Quezada’s opener was pretty great from short range. A midfield interception lead to Jennings getting the ball with room in front of him. He took three touches to get his angle right and hit a low, hard shot to beat the keeper from the edge of the 18-yard-box. Phoenix got one back, and then Trejo shut the game down right at the 75-minute mark, chesting a ball in uncontested at the back post off of a Jennings cross.
On July 2, Lights hosted Detroit City, who are either a good or great defense (top 5 in goals conceded, but they play in the east, with a bunch of teams that genuinely suck).
Vegas had a shot off the cross bar on a quick break in the 23rd, and that is the only highlight from the first half. Detroit scored off of a passage where the ball bounced around Vegas’s box without anyone managing to get a clearance. These highlights are really boring. Detroit’s keeper’s name is “Steinwascher” which translates to “Stone Washer” and sounds like a euphemism, tbh.
Morten Bjorshol scored in the 27th, and I am going to repost here what is, frankly, my favorite non-Roots USL content I’ve had this season:
Apparently USL deleted the tweet I was QTing and I am LIVID about it. I suspect it is because they spelled the player’s name wrong, leading ME to spell the player’s name wrong (should be o with the diagonal line thing, not o with the two dots). Fotmob has this game with RGV on five big changes and Vegas on zero, and 538 has Vegas on 0.1 Shot-based xG and 0.1 Non-shot xG, which is to say–Vegas stole three points. The Morten Bjorsgoal is a thing of beauty in the 27th, about 25 seconds into the highlight video above. Watch that and then ignore the rest.
|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|
|6/15||New Mexico United||Home||L||1||2|
|6/22||Five Shades of Gray, F.C.||Away||D||1||1|
|7/01||“The Two” but California||Away||L||1||3|
|7/16||More like Ex Paso, Right? Is that a thing? What about Lol Paso?||Home||W||4||0|
No, you’ve watched these highlights a dozen times.
I still need to go back and watch the full game, in part because it’s glorious, and in part because I want to mine this one for gifs. As I recall, the Roots looked good out of the gates, then took a step back around the 10 minute mark, and did not take control against until shortly before the opener. I love the opener. Like Karlsson’s head at Sac, I love this goal because I feel like it shows an offense that is getting it’s act together. Hernandez’s takes a bit of a gamble with his pass to Rito, but Rito controls it excellently. Rito takes the open space his defender gives him, choosing lots of space for the pass to Karlssonw, rather than running into traffic in the box. His pass is exceptional. Karlsson still has a tight angle with the keeper by choosing to go near post, but he hammers it in and it’s basically unsaveable. My initial thought was that the penalty was a bad call, but on rewatch, I think that the penalty is called on the follow through. The Lokomotiv defender fails to clear the ball, so even though the tackle was clean, having won the ball, the follow-up trip of Rito is a penalty. Either way, Karlsson did his last-second hesitation penalty routine and bagged his 15th of the season, what we in the industry call a “triple Bokila” of goals. Formella made it three with a tricky bit of interplay that did not quite come to fruition, but through sheer force of will he managed to overcome the save. Finesse and force in one play. With the news out of El Paso that rocks of the team are requesting transfers, we probably should have felt completely comfortable with three goals, but this league can be weird and the Roots’ defense can get shaky. When Hernandez got the bookends play, though, stealing the ball with the surprise press, and then finishing the move with a rocket to the near post top corner, it was over. You could see in El Paso’s body language that they were unlikely to score two, much less four. In the second half we got to see Javier Mariona play for a bit, which was an exciting glimpse at the future.
Players to Watch
As I mentioned above, Jennings has been on the team sheet for LAFC the entire month of July, and Trejo made a 13-minute appearance in the Vancouver match on July 2 before returning for Lights’ win over RGV Toros. Gareth Bale’s LAFC play in the central time zone this coming Saturday, so we should know by 4:30 pacific (at the latest) whether Jennings and Trejo are even in the state of California. If you made me guess I’d say Trejo is back and Jennings is not, but I don’t think we can count on either. For that reason, I will not be featuring them here, and I have to pick from the twenty-three other players who have featured for the Lights this season and combined for seven goals.
Nathan Ordaz #95 – 18-year-old central striker Nathan Ordaz signed with LAFC in April as their fourth ever homegrown player. Ordaz is from Encino, and is eligible for the US, Mexico, and El Salvador national teams, having played in both the Mexico and El Salvador youth set-ups. In May he apparently committed to playing for El Tri, but that doesn’t mean much until he gets capped. Ordaz only has three starts this season, but two have come in the last two matches for Lights, plus nearly 30 minutes off the bench in the two matches prior. He has five shots and one shot on target total in his time in the league, and two and one of those, respectively, came against the Roots. He’s 5’9″, so, uh, I guess he’s probably fast.
Daniel Crisostomo #15 – Lights’ captain and highest rated player on Fotmob, Cristostomo has just shy of the most minutes on the team, and although he has only one goal, he leads the team with five assists (the league leader has eight). Crisostomo is from San Francisco, California, and spent a year each in the Cosmos Academy West, Chivas USA’s academy, and Galaxy’s academy, before playing a full four years as a UC Irvine Anteater. Crisostomo is a full player on the Lights (rather than an academy player), but apparently had a brief two-game loan up to LAFC in mid-May with 30 minutes of playing time against Columbus and San Jose. Crisostomo is a right-footed central midfielder, with I guess arguably defensive tendencies.
Mohamed Traore #3 – Leftback Traore hails from Dakar, Senegal, and was signed by LAFC in August 2020, where he managed to get 45 minutes of game time in before the end of that season.. Traore played basically the entire 2021 season with Lights, registering a goal and three assists, and has played most of the 2022 season as well. At only 19, Traore will also probably leave Lights midseason in some season, but there is no reason to think it will be this season or this soon.
Lineup and Score Predictions
With a full week off, why change what’s working? Get the three points here, and it will be much more comfortable to rotate if necessary for the Phoenix game mid-week. I have heard that Nane says he feels good, but I cannot imagine he is back yet, and the Fissore/Hernandez partnership is working pretty well right now. You can’t drop Rito, and Guerra obviously prefers Azocar over Diaz when fit. As for this game, if Trejo is in, and my guess is that he will be, Roots won’t keep Vegas off the score sheet. Which is worrying, because Vegas’s defense is pretty good, but I think the Roots are firing right now and Vegas won’t be the team that stops that. My prediction is 2-1, but I think there is reason to have hope that the Roots have hit a new gear and this could be 3-0 or 3-1.
Two to make it true! After last week’s 4-0 win, I’m thinking Guerra reloads the same lineup to see if they can pull off a similar result. Johnsen did come off early, but the coach mentioned in our postgame interview that it was more about precaution and maintenance of a tight calf. Guerra said earlier this season that he likes Johnsen in the attack, and I think the combination of Formella/Johnsen provides a lot going forward.
As for my score prediction, I agree with Aaron’s prediction below about a 2-1 Roots win. Goals by Karlsson and Johnsen.
I have a sneaking suspicion that last weekend’s win will ultimately look not as good as it does now, as it came with two important Lokomotiv players unavailable and apparently two others with a foot out the door. But even if, on paper, that win was not too impressive it was a nearly complete performance, and Vegas is not so good that a similar performance does not also run them off the pitch. I think we’ll see a little bit of rotation here, in light of the quick turnaround between Vegas and Phoenix. Neither Azocar nor Rito plays the full 90 here, I’m guessing, and this seems like a good time to get Chuy some run, although Dennis missed the Sac game on a red card suspension and only got 23 minutes against El Paso, so he might start and get spelled around the 70th. I’m guessing Johnsen starts in central midfield because Jose surely needs a rest (he has now played more minutes this season than in any other professional season), but they seem to be treading carefully with Johnsen’s minutes, so who knows. Barbir’s only played twice in the last 5, and one of those was a 1-minute cameo, so he should be due for some run.
Anyway, I don’t see any of this preventing Oakland from coming out victorious. The offense is chugging along right now, and I can’t see a Jennings-less Lights keeping up, especially on the road. 2-1 Oakland.