Game Notes & Player Ratings: Oakland Roots dispatch San Diego Loyal, move on to Conference Semifinals

How we feeling RootsFam?!? Oakland Roots fly out of SoCal with their heads held high after a mighty 3-nil upset of the No. 2 seeded San Diego Loyal. It marks the second consecutive year for Roots to defeat a higher seeded team in the playoff’s opening round, and furthermore, have yet to conceded a goal in 300 minutes of postseason action.

The Function of over 200 strong made themselves heard and seen.

By the final whistle, chants of “Lets Go Oakland” rang around Torero Stadium while the Roots players ran over to section 111A to celebrate. As music blasted from inside the tiny visiting locker room, interim coach Noah Delgado stepped to the mic for our postgame interview, knowing he helped accomplish one of the marquee moments in the organization’s young history.

“We’re enjoying it. Tough game here, tough game on the road. San Diego is a very good and talented team. We played in a few games considered somewhat finals before this, we’re enjoying the moment right now,” said Delgado as players celebrated in the locker room.

The game was marked by San Diego’s trio of red cards in the second half while trailing 2-nil, starting with a double yellow by Thomas Emang in the 76th minute. He got his first yellow away from the ball due to get handsy with Jose Hernandez and then, seconds later, loses his cool when walking up to Hernandez and shoving his finger in the Roots’ midfielder’s face for his second yellow. Flopping aside from Hernandez, Emang truly let his team down in the moment.

But in the same instance, Alejandro Guido gained his second yellow when arguing with the referee. Charlie Dennis reflected on the unraveling of the Loyal as the game went on.

“Obviously, they had a few red cards. We stayed as professional as possible, we understood that; that was one of the halftime messages. No matter the occasion, we’re professionals–we need to execute the game plan, we can’t lose our heads, and we can’t let the moment get the better of us. We stayed calm, controlled the game, and managed it well,” said Dennis in his postgame interview.

Keeping a strong mentality is a mark of this team. Despite being low on the table through much of the season and transitioning from one coach’s guidance to another, they battled into the playoffs and pulled off the biggest upset of this year’s postseason. So many situations could’ve forced the organization to go south, but as Mr. Juan Guerra would say, they’re north became clear.

“They just face adversity. They are ready to work, they come into work and trainings are super intense; they’re getting at each other. We’re fighting for one goal and united in fighting for that goal–to win the next game,” said Delgado.

Dennis gave praise to Delgado for the character he’s helped instill on his players.

“I think it speaks volumes. It shows the character that we have in the dressing room. It comes from coach Noah, his messages that he gives across to the lads and we went out there and executed,” said Dennis.

Dennis, meanwhile, scored his prettiest goal of the season in the 36th minute. In the buildup, Juan Carlos Azocar tried to foot a close pass to Lindo Mfeka, but it deflected to Dennis nearby–who took a touch with his right foot and followed through with his “magic wand of a left foot.” The man from Brighton said he felt “in a dream” after he scored the go-ahead.

“It’s a playoff game, the game was going to be tight. I found Lindo with the ball out wide and I kept my run going inside. I knew that I wanted to take a touch inside the defender and hit the ball before it came to me, so I just waited for the ball to bounce. That’s why you put those hours in on the training ground, it felt comfortable, and it felt like I was in a dream after I scored it. It was amazing,” said Dennis.

Dennis role was different than the previous six matches, being slated on the wing after appearing as a midfielder alongside Hernandez. It allowed Joseph Nane to come into the midfield to provide defensive stability.

“I was loving my time in the midfield, but ultimately I don’t make the decisions, and the manager told me this week that I’d be going in on the right side. I was playing earlier there in the year, if you’re told you have to do so, you have to do it… Obviously coaches like versatility, I’m happy as long as I’m on the field playing,” said Dennis about the quick adjustment.

Delgado explains the plans they had for Dennis tonight higher up the field.

“Getting close to Ottar, movement with him and Lindo in between the lines, he scored from the left side when he’s playing on the right. It shows his movement; what a strike that was,” said Delgado.

Another big change was an unplanned use of substitute when Emrah Klimenta came on in the 31st minute when Alejandro Fuenmayor had to be carried off of the field. Klimenta heeded his moment, making a big impact in his role.

“We made a couple of changes in the lineup, Jojo came in and looked strong in the middle, Charlie moved and had a really nice goal. And then the guy who’s been so steady for us, Alejandro, takes a knock and we had to make a sub and it changes the whole dynamic with subs and rotations. Emrah coming in, he hasn’t had that much time lately and played a strong game. Credit to him, everyone battled tonight,” said Delgado. “Emrah is a captain. He has to put in a performance and be a leader even when he’s not in the team, it’s a credit for him to keep his head and his heart with the forwards that San Diego has. I thought he did well.”

By Dennis’ goal in the first half, San Diego was controlling the action through much of the first 45 minutes with eight shots and four on target compared to Oakland’s two shots with one on target. Delgado describes that they were aware Loyal would control much of possession and they had to make things compact on the defensive side.

“The game plan was we knew they were going to have a lot of the ball and they were dangerous up front. We knew we’d have to sometimes suffer and defend, and then run through in those opportunities… We got a little bit lower in the block than we would’ve liked, but sometimes when you’re lower, the spaces between the lines is more difficult to find. But I thought the boys worked hard and did fine, there were a lot of individual battles that they had to win,” said Delgado.

But Oakland came out visibly stronger in the second half, finishing the night with nine shots and six on target. The second goal came before the streak of red cards when Lindo Mfeka pounced on a lackadaisical pass from center back Kyle Adams towards his goal keeper.

And then in the first minute of second-half stoppage time, Roots stuck in the dagger with Matias Fissore’s goal. Ottar Magnus Karlsson assisted Fissore when the Argentinian fed Ottar, to which he flicked it back to Fissore for the shot. It marked Mati’s first goal in a Roots’ uniform, and in fact, was his first professional goal throughout his nine year career.

Now, Oakland travels to San Antonio looking to pull off another huge upset against the odds-on favorite to win the cup.

“My message is to enjoy tonight and enjoy these moments in life. Then, we’ll set out the week’s plan and go from there,” said Delgado.

FotMob Top-10 Ratings

  1. Paul Blanchette, 8.6

In 90 minutes, Blanchette recorded five saves with three by dives and stopped three shots from inside the box, completing 17 of 26 passes, 5/14 long balls, six throws, one punch, three high claims, 12 recoveries, and 44 total touches.

2. Lindo Mfeka, 8.6

In 67 minutes, Mfeka scored once and had one assist, recording two shots with one on target and one blocked, completing 14 of 18 passes, three passes into the final third, created two chances, had 1/1 successful dribble, won 3/5 ground duels, one clearance by header, one interception, three recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 31 total touches.

3. Ottar Magnus Karlsson, 8.2

In 90 minutes, Karlsson recorded one shot that was one target and completed 13 of 17 passes, three passes into the final third, created two chances, had 1/1 successful dribbles, won 2/2 tackles, 3/4 ground duels, 4/5 aerial duels, two clearances with one by header, and finished with 31 total touches.

4. Charlie Dennis, 7.8

In 90 minutes, Dennis scored once with three shots on target, completing 25 of 28 passes, 6/7 long balls, had 1/2 successful dribbles, dribbled past two defenders, won 6/13 ground duels, one clearance, four recoveries, drew four fouls, and finished with 51 total touches.

5. Juan Carlos Azocar, 7.6

In 90 minutes, Azocar completed 14 of 18 passes, 3/4 long balls, three passes into the final third, created one chance, had 2/3 successful dribbles, won 1/1 tackle, 6/10 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, two interceptions, five recoveries, drew three fouls, and finished with 38 total touches.

6. Tarek Morad, 7.3

In 90 minutes, Morad completed 50 of 55 passes, three passes into the final third, had 1/1 successful dribble, blocked one shot, won 2/2 ground duels, 1/4 aerial duels, 10 clearances with six by header, one recovery, and finished with 75 total touches.

7. Matias Fissore, 7.2

In 22 minutes, Fissore scored once with two shots and one on target, completing nine of 11 passes, 1/1 long ball, two passes into the final third, three recoveries, and finished with 14 total touches.

8. Joseph Nane, 6.8

In 68 minutes, Nane completed 28 of 31 passes, 1/2 long balls, one pass into the final third, won 1/3 ground duels, one clearance, two interceptions, five recoveries, and finished with 36 total touches.

9. Danny Barbir, 6.7

In 90 minutes, Barbir completed 34 of 41 passes, 3/7 long balls, five passes into the final third, dribbled past one defender, two clearances, two interceptions, five recoveries, and finished with 56 total touches.

10. Edgardo Rito, 6.7

In 90 minutes, Rito completed 17 of 25 passes, two passes into the final third, won 1/7 ground duels, seven recoveries, and finished with 40 total touches.

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