With San Antonio FC winning the USL Championship Finals, the page has officially turned on the 2022 season–marking the second consecutive year for the Oakland Roots to fall to the eventual champions. With a lot of time to reflect on the season, we’re ready to name our three honorees for RootsBlog Player of the Year and three honorable mentions: Edgardo Rito, Juan Carlos Azocar, Ottar Magnus Karlsson, and Paul Blanchette.
RootsBlog Player of the Year: Edgardo Rito
Edgardo Rito was visibly Roots’ most influential player on the pitch every match he was available this season, earning first-team All-USL Championship in the process. Bombing down the right wing, Rito always stretched out the defense to create pockets for the attack to operate. His seven assists led the team and he contributed toward 12 total points with his five goals scored–which puts him second on the team in points behind Karlsson’s 21. He finished the season as Oakland’s third most active player with 2,652 minutes in 31 appearances and 30 starts.
It marked a career-year for Rito in several categories, including goals, assists, minutes played and amount of starts. FotMob, meanwhile, ranked his 11 Big Chances Created as tied for No. 12 in the USL Championship.
Juan Carlos Azocar
Juan Carlos Azocar was another stellar addition to the roster, finishing second on the team in goals with 10 and also recording one assist. Similar to Rito, his presence at outside back was instrumental towards Oakland’s success. He was Roots’ most active player this year with 2,787 minutes in 32 starts and 33 appearances. His bicycle kick goal in the 3-3 tie against Sacramento was another goal of the year candidate.
2022 marked a career-year for Azocar in minutes played, appearances, and goals scored. His minutes total was 800 more than his previous high of 1,920 in 2017 with Dep La Guaira of Venzuela’s first division, which was the second year of his professional career. There is a real case to be made for Azocar for player of the season.
Ottar Magnus Karlsson
How could we leave Oakland Roots’ all-time leading goal scorer off of this list? Ottar Magnus Karlsson came on loan from Venezia, earning second-team All-League honors. He made his presence in the lineup instantly felt as Oakland’s 90-minute striker after the organization struggled to fill that role in the previous season. Karlsson was the Orange County killer in 2022 with two scores against the 2021 champs in stoppage time by way of free kicks. His game-winner against OC on June 1 is a contender for goal of the season, while his May 8 free kick lifted Roots to a 2-2 tie on the road.
His 19 goals were good enough for fourth in the league and he was clinical from the penalty spot by converting seven of eight opportunities. It was also a career-year for Ottar; his 2,573 total minutes was five times his previous high of 539 minutes with Mjällby of Sweden’s second division. He capped off this fall with two starting appearances with Iceland’s national team on Nov. 6 versus Saudi Arabia and Nov. 10 against South Korea.
It felt wrong to leave it all to the attack despite Rito and Azocar technically being listed as outside backs. Paul “The Wall” Blanchette was a rock in goal for the second consecutive year after originally starting the season on the bench behind Benny Diaz. Blanchette returnied to the starting lineup 13 matches into the season., and finished the season sixth overall in the league for saves per game at 3.6 and fourth overall in save percentage at 74 percent.
Blanchette was instrumental for Oakland reaching the playoffs, coming up big in key moments throughout the season. His six saves in a 1-1 draw with San Antonio was paramount in Roots leaving the eventual-champions with a point. He also had six saves in their 2-1 win over Birmingham, five in the 1-1 draw at Sacramento, and five in the 3-0 playoff win against San Diego.