ROOTS FAMILY! Somehow, some way, the Roots are playing in the second round of the playoffs. The road to the championship always seemed likely to run through San Antonio, and so while we’re never thrilled to see them, it’s this round or next round. Weirdly, especially after getting a Sunday night fixture in the first round, the Roots kick off at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time away at San Antonio. The match will be on KTVU Plus and ESPN+, and you can catch it at any of the Roots’ Pub Partners. The team has said that the official watch party at Line 51 is at capacity.
I was not on RootsPod this week, but you should go listen to it, and then retweet the RootsBlog tweet releasing it for a chance to win some Wendy’s money.
You see, my issue here is that San Antonio’s logo has a lot of gray in it.
These teams met the first time on June 18, the Roots’ eighteenth match of the season, and the Roots came in 4-8-5 good enough for ninth, but with way more games played than other teams, and a point behind Phoenix, who had three games in hand (LOL). San Antonio was 10-0-3 and somehow tied on points with Colorado Springs. On June 18, San Antonio had one win fewer than the Roots would finish the season with.
Jojo Nane’s opener was canceled out by a little quick thinking from big Sam Adeniran in first-half stoppage time. Blanchette stood on his head, as he has often had to do this season, and the Roots earned a point on the road in San Antonio.
The teams then met again in the Roots’ twenty-eighth match of the season on September 3, this time with Noah Delgado at the helm. Oakland again started the game in ninth place, twenty-four points behind San Antonio at the top of the Western Conference.
Somewhat due to necessity, the Roots ran out an extremely defensive lineup in this match. With Karlsson just back from paternity leave and Hernandez out on yellow card accumulation, Delgado picked both defensive midfielders, the only time he has done so. Formella got the start up top. I have wondered whether Delgado was trying to brace the team for impact against San Antonio, or if he just had to play who was available. Either way, the last thing you want to see when you pick your defensive team is an early goal. San Antonio didn’t do anything particularly fancy–Abu picked out Adeniran behind the Roots’ defense in the fifth minute and Adeniran controlled it and poked it past Blanchette. The Roots kept San Antonio off the score sheet for the next eighty minutes, but Morad misplayed a clearance opportunity and then got beat to the ball by Gomez, who put the ball across the 18-yard box to big Sam who took a touch and then made an awful shot but the deflection completely wrongfooted Blanchette and the shot farted across the line past a kneeling Blanchette.
Are San Antonio Good?
Oof, yes. San Antonio ended the season with 54 goals, compared to the Roots’ 51. That’s only good enough for seventh in the league. This is consistent with how the teams play, but San Antonio has only four games where they have scored three or more goals, but have only been shut out five times (they have never lost when scoring). The Roots have scored three or more goals on eight occasions, but have been shut out seven times (including two draws).
The concerning part is that they only conceded twenty-six goals. The next best overall is Louisville with twenty-eight and Detroit with thirty, but those teams played in the Eastern Conference. In the West Sacramento conceded thirty-four, New Mexico and RGV each conceded forty, and the Roots were next best on forty-six, just under 0.6 more goals conceded per ninety.
San Antonio have no periods of bad form this season. They only dropped points in back-to-back games twice this season, a draw to Galaxy II followed by a 3-0 loss to Loyal in July/August, and a draw to RGV followed by a 1-0 loss to Indy Eleven in late August. The good news is that their last result of the season was a 2-2 draw at home to Orange County, so maybe they will hold to form and lose the game following the draw. San Antonio had already qualified for the playoffs obscenely early, but after beating the Roots on September 3, they beat Loyal 1-0 (playoff team), drew New Mexico (playoff team) then beat in order, Switchbacks, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, and Birmingham, all playoff teams. However, on their last game of the season, San Antonio had that 2-2 draw at home against Orange County. It looks like San Antonio played a mostly full-strength team. Adeniran was on the bench, but Ignacio Bailone and Christian Parano are not bench players, I don’t think, and instead have not started at other times this season for other reasons. Either way, Farr, Taintor, PC, Dhillon, Garcia, Khemiri and Maloney are all normal starters.
Brian Iloski’s opening goal twenty-five minutes into the match is high quality, but it’s one you could see Azocar or Rito scoring (wrong side for Rito, but the same basic idea). Likewise the goal to make it 2-1 is one you could see the Roots scoring, so it is encouraging that San Antonio’s defense is not infallible. Unfortunately (there’re few optimistic ways to look at SAFC), the second San Antonio equalizer was an absolute missile from Christian Parano from well outside the box into the far top corner. That goal would have gone in against any keeper in the world. Hopefully it is the only one Parano will get this season (few players get one in their career).
San Antonio are very good. They had one of the best seasons in USL history and did it against a Western Conference that was competitive top to bottom. The Roots will need to play very well.
The good news is that the Roots are in very good form. The Roots are 5-1-1 since they lost that match to San Antonio, meaning San Antonio is only a draw better than the Roots in that time. Anyway, that’s not what you’re here for. This is what you’re here for:
I don’t know if there is anyone on this team more deserving of an apology from me than Charlie Dennis, who has found new life under Noah Delgado. Delgado shrewdly moved Dennis back into an attacking position for this game, presumably to shore up the defensive stability in a match where a 90-minute draw is no longer a bad result (as it had been for Delgado’s entire regular season tenure). Anyway, Dennis rewarded Delgado’s faith with an absolute banger in the 36th minute.
Blanchette came up huge throughout the competitive part of the game. In the 52nd minute, Loyal LCB Kyle Adams made a questionable decision to pass back to his keeper, but in his defense, Mfeka is very easy to overlook. Oakland are not the world’s most aggressive press, but it’s baffling that Adams would play the ball, and then turn away from the center of the pitch to play the ball back to his keeper. There is a full two seconds between when the ball is played to him, and he can see Mfeka, and when he completes his turn and plays the ball back, during which time Mfeka (correctly assessing what is happening), has covered fifteen yards and is in position to put the keeper under enormous pressure. Vegas came out but couldn’t clear the ball and it’s an “easy one to walk this one in” according to the San Diego play-by-play guy, working his way deeper into the bottle. The color commentator says “Mfeka there, just like Amang on the other side, pressuring there.” I mean, maybe not just like Amang. Speaking of not scoring, how did Amang’s game wrap up?
Hand-to-face, my guy, that’s a paddlin. Loyal fans were big mad on reddit about Hernandez going down to get Amang sent off, but if the hand face-hits you must go sit(s). The really impressive part of this meltdown was Alejandro Guido managing to evidently talk his way into a second yellow, a thing that the broadcasters never got an explanation for and I have yet to hear anyone with knowledge complain about. With ten men, I might honestly give Loyal a 10% chance of scoring two goals–their offense is ruthless. With nine? It’s just too big a hole. Azocar scored in the 87th and it was preposterously ruled offside. There is a limited amount of complaining you’re allowed to do about the refereeing in a game where your opponent received three red cards, but it’s a shame to see Azocar’s beautiful goal taken away from him. The Stoneman second yellow was very funny, as was his complaining about it as though a cynical tactical foul shouldn’t be a yellow because two of your teammates have already been sent to the showers for making ill-advised off-ball decisions. Scoring against eight men is not much to write home about, but I will end this season (hopefully in a month) thrilled that Fissore scored a goal. He has been an excellent servant of the club, and I really like the guy even if his playing time has tailed off this season.
This was an absolutely deserved win for the Roots on the road, and the bizarre last twenty does not take away that the Roots blanked San Deigo 2-0 for an hour before goading them into melting down. That kicks ass.
Players to Watch
Sam Adeniran #14 – Sam Adeniran accounts for 7% of all the goals the Roots have conceded this season. Adeniran is somehow 6’5″, young enough that he can still run despite that height, and has a solid left footed shot. On most of his goals this season he has scored after controlling the ball and taking a touch in the box. If the Roots can interfere with his, at times, ponderous first touch, potentially they can shut him down. Adeniran recently turned twenty-four, and is a native of Houston, Texas. Adeniran played in lower-tier Germany for awhile before being noticed by the Sounders academy, and netted thirteen for Tacoma last season before being signed to the first team roster in December 2021. Then this summer he was loaned to San Antonio, the last team in need of a great striker, and scored ten times in just twenty appearances.
Justin Dhillon #11 – Orange County native Dhillon is in his second season for San Antonio, also coming out of the Seattle/Tacoma system. Dhillon is right-footed and short by SAFC striker standards at only 6’4″. Dhillon has six goals and eight assists on the season, which is a little unusual for a striker, but I think is a result of SAFC’s conservative, defensive play style. The strikers are there to facilitate, not to go for gold.
Mitchell Taintor #3 – Centerback MitchTaint was named Copa Tejas MVP by whoever it is that organizes Copa Tejas. John Morrissey has consistently praised him, and has argued, somewhat convincingly, that Mi’Taint should be MVP:
(I don’t hate seeing Azocar and Rito on that chart, but it’s impressive for a CB).
Lineup and Score Predictions
I wouldn’t pick a lineup change at all, except that Fuenmayor was stretchered off and you have to assume Klimenta will be back in the starting 11. I thought Nane/Hernandez in the midfield looked more dynamic than it has recently, and if there’s any chance Dennis is feeling himself in front of goal, you gotta give him the chance. I think the Roots will look better than they did in the last game against San Antonio. They also come into this with a full week off, but not enough time to get rusty. I’m like actually sick trying to make a prediction here on score. I’m going to say 1-0 Roots in extra time, no penalties.
All three of us are in agreeance on the starting 11. The question remains whether Fuenmayor will be available, but on a short week of rest and rehab, I’m leaning toward Delgado coming back with the same lineup that closed the first half in San Diego. It’ll be interesting to see whether Formella has had enough time to recover as well, but I’m not expecting a big change to the attack. In the end, I feel Nane provides the defensive stability and leadership in the midfield to keep everybody in line.
On RootsPod, I said a 1-nil Roots win in regulation or a 2-1 win in overtime, and I’m sticking to it. As Aaron mentions below, I think Roots want to pounce early and then play defense the rest of the way. Breaking down the San Antonio back line will be tough, but Oakland has proven it can successfully run plays from corners and set pieces, and I think that can become a difference maker tonight. UP THE ROOTS!
Peter writes these things so he gets to put his predictions first, but that lineup prediction is the result of him blatantly copying my lineup card. So, same prediction here.
On the Pod, I waffled between a 2-1 win in 90, or a shootout win. Fingers crossed the long layoff for SAFC causes them to come out flat. If I’m Roots, I’m all over SAFC early on. You hope to nick a goal early then pack it in, and maybe put three guys on Adeniran. Honestly, you probably triple team Adeniran either way. SAFC is annoyingly good, but I’ll wager that Roots are able to keep up through some class finishing and out-of-this-world goalkeeping. This one goes to pens. 2-2, Roots advance 6-5 on penalties.