What an electric night at Laney Stadium. Oakland Roots won 2-1 over Birmingham Legion, responding from a 1-nil deficit after 21 minutes but powering back with goals in the 24th and 84th minutes by Ottar Magnus Karlsson and Juan Carlos Azocar. The victory put Oakland above the playoff line, catapulting them to sixth-place, tied for points with El Paso–which holds one game in hand but are behind Roots on head-to-head goal differential.
With two matches left, Roots are at 43 points and would be set for a trip to Colorado Springs if the season ended on Saturday night. Here’s a rundown of teams ranked 5th-10th:
- Oakland, 43 points: Hartford (Oct. 8), Pittsburgh (Oct. 15)
- New Mexico, 44 points: LA (Oct. 5), San Diego (Oct. 9), Colorado (Oct. 15)
- El Paso, 43 points: Colorado (Oct. 5), Orange County (Oct. 8), Tampa Bay (Oct. 15)
- RGV, 42 points: Memphis (Oct. 5), Phoenix (Oct. 8), Monterey (Oct. 15)
- Monterey, 40 points: Tampa (Oct. 2), Tulsa (Oct. 8), RGV (Oct. 15)
- Las Vegas, 40 points: Miami (Oct. 8), LA (Oct. 15)
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Oakland jumped to having a 44 percent chance of qualifying for the playoffs after walking into the night with a 22 percent chance. They note that Roots have 25 percent odds of finishing in seventh, 15 percent chance to place sixth, and five percent chance of landing in fifth.
For a California playoff draw, Oakland would have to finish seventh to face San Diego or fifth for a NorCal Derby against Sacramento. Conversely, finishing sixth and Republic jumping to third would also pit the two rivals against each other.
The atmosphere on Saturday night started in the parking lot with a march in by The Function and it certainly carried into the match. There was a playoff intensity from the crowd and the videos were outstanding.
Interim coach Noah Delgado reflected on the big victory and what it means for the organization, calling the current stretch “crunch time.”
“Everything we’ve been through this season and how we’re coming together right now. It’s a tough stretch of games; Birmingham is a very, very good team. We wanted to get more out of Colorado, but Colorado is tough as well, they aren’t an easy opponent. Three of the last four, we’ve gotten some wins. It’s crunch time; players know it, training are intense, everything is heightened. For us to come out and give an effort like we did tonight was nice,” said Delgado.
Roots fell behind in the 21st minute when Enzo Martinez received a pass from Juan Agudelo after breaking past Alejandro Fuenmayor into the area. Martinez took a left footed shot that went off of Paul Blanchette’s hand and into the back of the net.
However, Oakland took just three minutes to respond when Ottar Magnus Karlsson hammered home a failed clearance by Mikey Lopez. Roots went into half with five shots, three on target, and a big chance converted–eventually finishing with 10 shots, seven on target, and finished two big chances.
“Birmingham came out in the second half pretty well, they were pretty good to start. But we were holding up well with good shape and staying organized; we’ve gotten better in our mid-block, defending type of area that we’re improving on. Now we’re waiting on our chances to come. We made a couple of subs and they helped the game and raised the game level. And then, played an intelligent game seeing out the result,” said Delgado.
The game-winner in the 84th minute was a product of Memo Diaz sending a perfect cross to Azocar in the area. Diaz, who entered the match in the 69th minute, received a pass from Fuenmayor and sent the ball between two defenders while Azocar rotated in behind the defense to launch a perfect header off the side of his head and into the net. We named Memo and JCA our two RootsBlog Man of the Match recipients.
“I know what Memo is going to give us; he’s stable in the back, I’m asking him to play on the left side when he’s right footed–so that’s tough but he’s good at hitting balls with the outside of his right. He’ll give you good service in the box and a high percentage of passing, he doesn’t lose the ball much and he can go forward. He’s played a role for a lot of the season, for him to come in here and deliver that ball is just a credit to him for the type of player and person he is,” said Delgado.
Aside from conceding in the first half, Roots did well to prevent opportunities to Agudelo and Martinez from then on. Delgado said that shutting down the duo was a big focus in training throughout the week.
“We knew they were going to be special. We worked on the this week on the movement inside with Agudelo receiving it and turning and their penetrating runs in behind. That’s something we continue to work on but we had a good idea of what they were looking to do. At this point, there’s not many surprises,” said Delgado.
Paul “The Wall” Blanchette also came up big with some big saves. He had a huge kick save in the 28th minute and another leaping stop in the 38th to stop a shot from distance by Anderson Asiedu that was heading to the top bin. In the closing minutes of second-half stoppage time, Blanchette closed out a play to Martinez following a set piece to help kill the game.
Delgado commented on Paul’s big stops and how the crowd reacts to the keeper’s actions on the field.
“It means we’re not playing good defense, or it means he’s doing something special,” said Delgado with a laugh. “That’s our all-star goal keeper, he made a great save in the first half too. He was outstanding tonight.”
Oakland now achieves their first winning percentage of the season at 10-13-9 after reaching the .500 mark several times. Now in playoff position, it’s important for Roots to play their absolute best soccer of the season with just two matches left. Oakland is currently undefeated through its last four matches at 3-1-0.
“I think we’ve gotten better defensively, just overall working on transition defense and things like that. The players are really focused at the moment; we didn’t get a shutout tonight, but have gotten a couple of shutouts in the prior games. We know that we have a strong, fluid offense–we know most likely we’re going to score a goal. That’s key for us, but I think it’s now just tweaking a couple of things and finding things that we’ve done well but we could do better,” said Delgado.
Closing the season in positive form isn’t an easy task in any regard after the sudden departure of former coach Juan Guerra to Phoenix. When asked on which players have made the difference in keeping people unified and focused, Delgado responded that it’s been a total team effort and is difficult to pinpoint on any one player in particular.
“From the start, it was a team thing. They met and talked about what they had to do and that they had to keep working; they know that. They welcomed me with open arms, it’s been good, it’s a transition. I think the core players have been a big part of it, but I don’t know, there’s a lot. I can’t really pinpoint a couple of them, it couldn’t be just one or two–it’s a lot of them coming together, understanding the situation. It’s like a family, you’re going to have great moments and others where there’s going to be back-and-forth. But we all have the same goal in mind,” said Delgado.
Oakland looks ahead to next Saturday’s match at Hartford, which is 10th in the East with 45 goals scored and 52 conceded, while they are also playing well under new head coach Tab Ramos. The following Saturday on October 15, Roots travel to sixth-place Pittsburgh. It’s going to be a wild ride to the end, yet again.
FotMob Top-10 Ratings
- Charlie Dennis, 8.4
In 90 minutes, Dennis recorded two shots with one on target and one blocked, completing 31 of 40 passes, 11 passes into the final third, 3/9 crosses, 6/11 long balls, took eight corners, created two chances, 2/2 successful dribbles, won 1/3 tackles, 10/10 ground duels, two clearances, two interceptions, eight recoveries, drew five fouls, and finished with 67 total touches.
2. Juan Carlos Azocar, 8.0
In 89 minutes, Azocar scored once and recorded two shots with one on target, completing 15 of 25 passes, three passes into the final third, 3/5 long balls, had 1/2 successful dribbles, won 1/4 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, two clearances with one by header, one interception, seven recoveries, and finished with 45 total touches.
3. Ottar Magnus Karlsson, 7.9
In 90 minutes, Karlsson scored one goal with two shots and one on target, completing 18 of 21 passes, 1/2 crosses, 1/1 long ball, one pass into the final third, created one chance, won 3/4 tackles, 4/8 ground duels, 2/3 aerial duels, two clearances with one by header, and finished with 39 total touches.
4. Jose Hernandez, 7.4
In 90 minutes, Hernandez completed 32 of 38 passes, five passes into final third, 1/2 crosses, 4/7 long balls, 1/2 successful dribbles, dribbled past one defender, won 1/2 tackles, 6/10 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, two clearances, two interceptions, six recoveries, drew three fouls, and finished with 57 total touches.
5. Tarek Morad, 7.3
In 90 minutes, Morad completed 47 of 57 passes, 6/9 long balls, seven passes into the final third, dribbled past two defenders, won 1/2 tackles, 2/4 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, five clearances with two by header, two interceptions, five recoveries, and finished with 72 total touches.
6. Memo Diaz, 7.3
In 21 minutes, Diaz recorded one assist and one shot attempt, completing six of eight passes, one pass into the final third, created one chance, 2/2 ground duels, two recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 13 total touches.
7. Danny Barbir, 7.2
In 90 minutes, Barbir completed 31 of 45 passes, 3/10 long balls, eight passes into the final third, dribbled past three defenders, won 1/3 tackles, 5/9 ground duels, 3/6 aerial duels, four clearances with one by header, one interception, drew two fouls, and finished with 71 total touches.
8. Alejandro Fuenmayor, 7.0
In 90 minutes, Fuenmayor completed 43 of 60 passes, 6/17 long balls, eight passes into the final third, five clearances with one by header, dribbled past one defender, won 2/3 ground duels, 2/4 aerial duels, two interceptions, three recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 75 total touches.
9. Lindo Mfeka, 7.0
In 69 minutes, Mfeka recorded one shot attempt and completed 21 of 23 passes, 2/3 long balls, three passes into the final third, created one chance, dribbled past one defender, won 1/2 tackles, 4/6 ground duels, one clearance, one recovery, drew two fouls, and finished with 34 total touches.
10. Paul Blanchette, 6.8
In 90 minutes, Blanchette recorded six saves with one by diving and stopped five shots inside the box, completed 14 of 24 passes, 5/15 long balls, five throws, 10 recoveries, and finished with 36 total touches.