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Game Notes & Player Ratings: Oakland Roots fall 3-1 to Pittsburgh but clinch playoff spot

Well, there you have it. Despite Oakland Roots losing 3-1 to Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the season-finale, the dominoes fell correctly with Las Vegas tying Los Angeles, enabling Roots to claim the final playoff qualification spot. Oakland is now set for a Sunday, October 23 clash at the San Diego Loyal.

It’s been a wild push to the playoffs. We said in RootsPod at the beginning of the season that Oakland wouldn’t be able to “back into the playoffs” like last year due to their difficult ending with road matches against three Eastern Conference foes, but they got the job done by going 4-1-1 over the last six including 5-1-3 over interim head coach Noah Delgado’s time since taking the reins.

When Juan Guerra forced his way out of the door on August 18, Delgado inherited a ninth-place team that was four points back of the final playoff spot and three points ahead the bottom of the table with just nine matches to play. Guerra, meanwhile, took over the 10th-place Phoenix Rising. At that point, things easily could’ve swayed in the opposite direction following a sudden departure of the head coach just six days prior to its next match; San Diego on August 24.

That 3-1 victory over San Diego Loyal was seemingly the turning point to kick things into high gear. After back-to-back losses against Sacramento and San Antonio, Roots dispatched Rising 2-0 in Phoenix’s stadium on September 10–bringing Oakland to a three-way tie in eighth place at 36 points with RGV and Los Angeles.

A week later, Roots defeated the Baby Bulls 1-0 to stick in the race. They stayed in eighth position following the victory, but were tied for points with Monterey Bay–which held a game in hand at the time. Oakland followed up with the 1-1 tie at Colorado Springs on September 24, which bounced them down to 10th at 40 points–tied with MBFC and Las Vegas at the time.

And then Roots dispatched Birmingham Legion 2-1 in front of the sold out home crowd in the Laney Stadium finale on October 1. At that point, they finished the night in sixth place but were in seventh once tying with Memphis on October 5.

Roots then reeled in a big 3-1 victory at Hartford Athletic last week on October 8, briefly putting them up to fifth but fell to sixth when RGV defeated Phoenix. At 46 points, Roots entered the final week with critical scoreboard watching at hand. During the week, Tampa Bay locked El Paso out of the postseason with a big 3-1 win last Wednesday while Monterey failed to put itself back into the discussion when losing 2-0 to Tulsa that same day.

With Roots falling 3-1 to Pittsburgh, RGV quickly jumped ahead of Monterey to assure itself the sixth-seed with New Mexico claiming the fifth with a 2-0 win over Colorado. It meant that it all came down to Los Angeles hosting Las Vegas. Los Dos took a 1-nil lead in the 15th minute thanks to Cameron Dunbar, but Vegas tied 17 minutes later with Danny Trejo. It was all nail-biting nervousness for the final 60 minutes of action. LA had no more shots on target, clearly playing for the tie.

Once the final whistle blew, it didn’t take long for the celebration videos to arise.

Now, Oakland is set to face San Diego Loyal–a club in which Roots have had its most success against regardless of the obvious strength from the SoCal organization. Oakland has lost just one time against San Diego, holding a 3-2-1 overall record against SD. The hope is that Roots can replicate the 3-1 victory that catapulted the positive momentum, and this time, do it in front of a larger visiting support section.

The Function is already making travel arrangements, including this writer. Hopefully we’ll see you there.

Game Recap

Oakland was first on the board in the Willie Stargell Derby when Juan Carlos Azocar sent in a rocket in the eighth minute following a corner. It was a clear play drawn up from the training-ground, where JCA lined up about 10 yards above the penalty area with Lindo Mfeka in front of him. Mfeka then made a run toward Kenardo Forbes with the ball playing in the gap between Lindo and Azocar.

JCA made the run toward the top of the area, unloading a curling shot from about two yards above the box, arching to the left of the goal.

But from that point, there was really nothing to write home about from Oakland’s attack. Goal keeper Paul Blanchette had a huge save in a the 23rd minute to stop a counter attack run by Russell Cicerone. Ottar Magnus Karlsson had a shot on target in the 43rd minute, but it wasn’t challenging for Pittsburgh keeper Jahmali Waite.

In the first minute of first-half stoppage time, Pittsburgh’s Toby Sims found the equalizer when he sprang a run in front of Memo Diaz just a few feet in front of net for the easy tap-in goal.

Oakland went into the half with just two shots that were on target and finished the night with five shots and couldn’t put any more on goal. The momentum clearly carried into the second half for Riverhounds, scoring in the 54th on a free header by Cicerone and Forbes goal to kill the game in the 74th.

There were really no clear looks for Roots in the final 45 minutes, instead Blanchette coming up bit with saves in the 47th and 51st. It was arguably one of the most disjointed efforts of the season for Roots and clearly the lowest output in both phases under Delgado. Bag games are bound to occur, but it couldn’t have come in a more critical time. In the end, Oakland packs up and looks to build a strong week of practice ahead of the playoffs.

FotMob Top-10 Player Ratings

  1. Juan Carlos Azocar, 7.7

In 90 minutes, Azocar scored once with two shots, one on target, and one blocked, completing 16 of 26 passes, two passes into the final third, had 3/6 successful dribbles, won 1/1 tackle, 5/10 ground duels, 2/2 aerial duels, two recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 45 total touches.

2. Jose Hernandez, 7.7

In 87 minutes, Hernandez recorded an assist from the corner and completed 38 of 50 passes, 6/7 long balls, nine passes into the final third, created one chance, won 1/3 tackles, 6/6 ground duels, two clearances with one by header, seven recoveries, drew three fouls, and finished with 61 total touches.

3. Danny Barbir, 6.8

In 90 minutes, Barbir completed 59 of 76 passes, 8/16 long balls, 10 passes into the final third, won 2/5 tackles, 4/4 ground duels, blocked one shot, one clearance by header, one interception, 15 recoveries, and finished with 99 total touches.

4. Tarek Morad, 6.8

In 74 minutes, Morad completed 36 of 41 passes, 3/3 long balls, three passes into the final third, dribbled past one defender, won 1/1 tackle, 4/5 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, four clearances with one by header, three interceptions, seven recoveries, drew three fouls, and finished with 59 total touches.

5. Ottar Magnus Karlsson, 6.7

In 90 minutes, Karlsson had one shot on target and completed 13 of 21 passes, 1/1 long ball, three passes into the final third, created one chance, won 3/4 ground duels, 3/7 aerial duels, three clearances with two by header, one recovery, drew three fouls, and finished with 34 total touches.

6. Memo Diaz, 6.7

In 65 minutes, Diaz completed 13 of 23 passes, two passes into the final third, had 1/1 successful dribble, dribbled past one defender, won 1/1 tackle, 3/4 ground duels, 1/3 aerial duels, one clearance by header, one interception, five recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 38 total touches.

7. Edgardo Rito, 6.6

In 90 minutes, Rito completed 22 of 24 passes, 2/2 long balls, three passes into the final third, had 2/6 successful dribbles, won 2/7 ground duels, 2/2 aerial duels, one interception, six recoveries, and finished with 44 total touches.

8. Charlie Dennis, 6.3

In 90 minutes, Dennis recorded one shot that was blocked and completed 23 of 32 passes, 2/8 long balls, five passes into the final third, took four corners, won 2/4 ground duels, dribbled past one defender, one clearance, two interceptions, three recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 51 total touches.

9. Alejandro Fuenmayor, 6.2

In 90 minutes, Fuenmayor completed 50 of 62 passes, 9/15 long balls, 12 passes into the final third, created one chance, dribbled past two defenders, won 1/4 tackles, 5/11 ground duels, 3/5 aerial duels, four clearances with two by header, two interceptions, five recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 78 total touches.

10. Lindo Mfeka, 6.2

In 45 minutes, Mfeka completed 15 of 18 passes, 1/2 long balls, one pass into the final third, won 1/3 ground duels, one interception, three recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 22 total touches.

10A. Chuy Enriquez, 6.2

In 25 minutes, Enriquez completed four of four passes, won 1/1 tackle, 1/3 ground duels, two recoveries, and finished with 11 total touches.

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