Oakland Roots took one step closer toward solidifying a playoff spot on Saturday with a big 3-1 win over Hartford Athletic in Connecticut with help from goals by Juan Carlos Azocar, Ottar Magnus Karlsson, and a Worldie by Johnny Rodriguez. The victory puts Oakland up to 46 points with one match to play at Pittsburgh Riverhounds in Championship Saturday, October 15.
The Function showed up to Line 51 in droves to watch the game with every table at the brewery jam-packed to watch the game and cheer on the win. Roots, meanwhile, are making a habit of turning up in visiting locker rooms.
The win briefly put Roots up to fifth place in the Western Conference, but RGV Toros were able to defeat Juan Guerra’s Phoenix Rising to push Oakland down to sixth. Meanwhile, El Paso Locomotive defeated Orange County 2-1 as well to put itself equal on points with Roots. For a moment, FiveThirtyEight gave Oakland an 82 percent likelihood to reach the playoffs, but the percentage dipped to 67 percent following all of Saturday’s results.
Here’s a look at the remaining games for teams in the playoff hunt.
- Oakland, 46 points: Pittsburgh (Oct. 15)
- New Mexico, 44 points: San Diego (Oct. 9), LA (Oct. 12), Colorado (Oct. 15)
- El Paso, 46 points: Tampa Bay (Oct. 15)
- RGV, 46 points: Monterey (Oct. 15)
- Las Vegas, 44 points: LA (Oct. 15)
- Monterey, 40 points: Tulsa (TBD), RGV (Oct. 15)
To finish with the highest ranking of fifth, which would pit them against Sacramento for the opening round of the postseason, Roots would need a win and an RGV loss or tie against Monterey while New Mexico also needs to drop points over the last two–including today. Roots can hold onto sixth place with New Mexico loss or tie on Sunday against San Diego Loyal. But overall, it’s looking like another must-win for Oakland in the season-finale at Pittsburgh.
Oakland is now 4-1-0 over the last five matches, with Noah Delgado at 5-1-2 since taking the reins–playing noticeably better defense along the way. He’s frequently commented on working to improve Roots’ low- and mid-block in our postgame discussions, showing that their attack doesn’t always need possession to create opportunities. Against Hartford, Roots finished with 45 percent of possession but were able to take 16 shots, five on target, and one big opportunity missed.
“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,” said Delgado following the 2-1 win over Birmingham.
“I think we need to work on continuing decision making and maybe some quality on our service, a little bit more quality on the final pass. Defensively, keep working on our mid-block,” Delgado also mentioned after defeating New York.
Roots got on the board quickly in Connecticut in the fourth minute of action when Azocar stole the ball off of Andre Lewis and reeled off a shot from around five yards above the penalty area. It marked JCA’s ninth goal of the season, which is second on the team behind Karlsson.
But Azocar’s strike was the majority of action for Roots in the first half. From there, Charlie Dennis had a shot trail high in the eighth minute, Darek Formella had a shot attempt go straight to the keeper in the ninth, and Memo Diaz had a shot from an odd angle go high in the 15th. After that, nothing was really clear for Oakland and they went into the half holding onto the one-goal lead.
But in the second half, Hartford forced a hand-on-your-head moment for The Function when Walib Yacoubou scored in the 48th minute when heading in a cross by Prince Saydee.
10 minutes later, a major turning point seemed to occur with the entrance of Edgardo Rito in for Formella. The move pushed Diaz over to the opposite side after starting at right back, putting Rito in his usual spot and Azocar into the left winger role vacated by Formella.
One minute later, Karlsson scored his 19th goal of the season after receiving a pass from Lindo Mfeka above the penalty area and held off a defender to take his shot. Karlsson has notably been wearing the captain’s armband since Emrah Klimenta’s injury against Phoenix and like a true leader, ran over to the Oakland bench to celebrate.
From there, Roots looked progressively better. Rito showed his pace in the 64th minute when springing down the right wing, despite dealing with a muscle strain, feeding Azocar in front of the net but his first-touch shot went high. In the same minute, Karlsson nearly bagged his brace after taking a first-touch shot after a failed clearance, but his shot trickled wide of the right post.
It arguably should’ve been 3-1 Roots in the 75th minute when Diaz sent a ball to Azocar storming into the box. JCA flicked the ball past the keeper and with a wide open net, somehow launched the ball to the right of the net.
But with a 2-1 advantage, Hartford wasn’t done. Their set piece in the 78th minute just a couple of yards above the penalty area required more heroics from Oakland’s Saint of Goal Keeping, Paul “The Wall” Blanchette, when diving to push away Hartford’s Daniel Barrera’s free kick.
In the 90th, Karlsson attempted to catch the keeper off of his line with a long shot from a five yards behind the midfield line after Jose Hernandez blocked a ball toward his direction. Soon after, Karlsson came off for Johnny Rodriguez.
Johnny is building a reputation for Worldie-goals while in a Roots uniform, like when he scored a bicycle kick last season. This time, in the third minute of stoppage time, Alejando Fuenmayor cleared a ball out of the back in Johnny’s direction and won possession off of Yacoubou. From over 10 yards outside of the penalty area, Rodriguez sent a high arcing shot toward the net with keeper Yannik Oettle–once again–standing far off of his line while Johnny’s ball looking more akin to a frisbee catching the wind as it sailed into the net.
His shot could be the goal of the season given the playoff ramifications and skill required to hold off a defender and send an extremely well-placed ball into the net. It rivals Karlsson’s winning free kick against Orange County, which deflected off a defenders head and in.
Roots now look ahead to Pittsburgh in an ultimate deciding game to solidify their playoff fate and spot in the standings.
RootsBlog Man of the Match
This is coming late because I was at a baby shower two hours away *sigh*, but I stormed back to catch most of the second half. In those latter minutes, the person who truly changed the tide of the match was undoubtedly Edgardo Rito. His inclusion in the 58th minute changed the flow of the game and seemingly enabled Roots’ attack to create more opportunities with his presence alone.
His stats won’t show up in FotMob’s system without any goals or assists, but his running down the wing visibly strung out Hartford’s defense to help Roots create opportunities. For that, we feel Rito had to be recognized. He finished with 32 minutes of action, had one shot, and completed 10 of 14 passes, 1/4 crosses, created one opportunity, won 1/1 tackle, 1/3 ground duels, one interception, five recoveries, and finished with 25 total touches.
FotMob Top-10 Ratings
- Juan Carlos Azocar, 8.2
In 89 minutes, Azocar scored once with three shots and one on target, completing 20 of 26 passes, five passes into the final third, 2/3 crosses, created two chances, missed one big chance, had 3/3 successful dribbles, won 4/5 ground duels, two clearances, three recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 39 total touches.
2. Ottar Magnus Karlsson, 8.2
In 89 minutes, Karlsson scored once with six shots and two on target, completing 17 of 20 passes, 1/1 long balls, three passes into the final third, created two chances, dribbled past one defender, won 1/3 ground duels, 2/3 aerial duels, two clearances with one by header, one recovery, drew one foul, and finished with 33 total touches.
3. Alejandro Fuenamyor, 7.9
In 90 minutes, Fuenmayor recorded one assist and one shot attempt, completing 28 of 36 passes, 2/9 long balls, five passes into the final third, created one chance, dribbled past one defender, won 1/2 tackles, 2/5 ground duels, 2/2 aerial duels, six clearances with three by header, two interceptions, three recoveries, and finished with 50 total touches.
4. Lindo Mfeka, 7.9
In 77 minutes, Mfeka recorded one assist and completed 36 of 41 passes, seven passes into the final third, created one chance, won 1/1 tackle, 3/5 ground duels, four recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 49 total touches.
5. Tarek Morad, 7.7
In 90 minutes, Morad completed 49 of 53 passes, 1/1 long ball, six passes into the final third, had 1/1 successful dribble, won 1/1 ground duel, 3/4 aerial duels, five clearances with three by header, three interceptions, eight recoveries, and finished with 69 total touches.
6. Charlie Dennis, 7.6
In 90 minutes, Dennis recorded one shot and completed 45 of 51 passes, 1/4 crosses, 6/9 long balls, seven passes into the final third, took two corners, had 2/3 successful dribbles, created one chance, won 1/1 tackle, 5/8 ground duels, three clearances with one by header, one interception, six recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 72 total touches.
7. Jose Hernandez, 7.6
In 90 minutes, Hernandez completed 33 of 36 passes, 4/6 long balls, eight passes into the final third, created three chances, dribbled past one defender, won 2/2 tackles, 4/7 ground duels, one clearance, seven recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 45 total touches.
8. Paul Blanchette, 7.4
In 90 minutes, Blanchette recorded two saves with one by diving and one stop from a shot inside the box, completing 15 of 28 passes, 8/21 long balls, two throws, one high claim, 12 recoveries, created one chance, and finished with 35 total touches.
9. Danny Barbir, 7.0
In 90 minutes, Barbir completed 32 of 37 passes, four passes into the final third, dribbled past one defender, won 2/2 tackles, 2/4 ground duels, 1/3 aerial duels, three clearances by header, one interception, four recoveries, and finished with 46 total touches.
10. Darek Formella, 7.0
In 58 minutes, Formella recorded one shot on target and completed 28 of 29 passes, 1/2 crosses, two passes into the final third, created one chance, won 2/2 tackles, 3/7 ground duels, one interception, three recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 41 total touches.