Welcome back, Roots Family! Roots kick their season off on the road with a trip down San Antonio-way where they will face the defending champions San Antonio F.C. at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time on March 11, 2023 at Toyota Field. There’s folks meeting to watch at least at Old Kan in West Oakland, and you can catch the game at any of the Roots’ pub partners.
The Roots last faced San Antonio in the conference semi-finals, also at Toyota Field. In that match the Roots took a beating, which I will look at below, but this is a new-look Roots, including with the active manager’s input in transfers. Plus, weird stuff happens in week 1. Still, make sure the action is really good before you bet on the Roots in this one.
Here’s to Daddy Klaxton, may his name forever stand;
will he be remembered through parts of all our land;
his earthly race is over, the curtain round him falls;
we’ll carry him on to victory on the Wabash Cannonball
This week’s song is in honor of my father, who passed away last week at the age of 78. He was a big Pete Seeger fan, and fan of this song in particular, although he maintains I was not named after Seeger. I was able to be home with him and my mother in Mobile. My dad was a great guy. He was supportive and caring my whole life and he made a lot of sacrifices to get me where I am now. The two big new joys in his life the last several years were his grandkids—my nieces and nephews—and soccer. He started watching the premier league around 2018 and the last two years was watching 2-3 matches per weekend, favoring Manchester City (a total glory chaser, but he loved watching Kevin de Bruyne, and how can you blame him?). I managed to wheedle him into following the Roots, as difficult as that is remotely. He read RootsBlog to support me, even though he understood few of my references (not like you, dear reader, who gets all of them because the references are timely and insightful and you’re urbane and sophisticated). He was at the 2021 game at Merritt College against Galaxy II when the Roots turned that season around, and at an otherwise forgettable game last summer against Lights at Laney. Just this past Christmas we went to Oaklandish to get him a new Roots hat, as he’d lost his last one, and he was wearing it proudly every day–the Roots’ primary ambassador to Lower Alabama. I had hoped to spend this week teaching him to use his new ESPN+ account so he could watch the Roots weekly. I miss him terribly already. He was just the best. I think the world is better for him having been in it.
Having played the Roots three times last season, I will refer you back to my prior discussion of San Antonio FC. Many teams would be thrilled to have within their organization some of the greatest athletes in the history of France and Argentina. Luckily for us, that’s PSG in soccer, and SAFC only in the 2000s NBA.
Forced jokes aside, San Antonio are the class of the USL. They were decent in their first season in 2016, good in 2017, and decent in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, San Antonio finished 10-3-3, good enough for third in the Western Conference, but fell to New Mexico United 1-0 in extra time in the first round. In 2021, San Antonio went 14-10-8, finishing second in the Mountain division behind an unstoppable El Paso team (loljk). San Antonio knocked off San Diego Loyal in the first round, 2-0, and RGV Toros in the second round 3-1, to earn the right to travel to Orange County. Fresh off their shootout victory over Oakland, Orange County took San Antonio to another shootout and again emerged victorious.
Last season, San Antonio won the newly reborn Western Conference with a stunning 24-5-5 record, 31 points ahead of the Roots in the last playoff spot. That earned San Antonio a bye, which might have helped the Roots carry momentum into the game but instead meant that San Antonio was freshly rested to pummel the Roots, soundly beat Switchbacks in the Conference Finals, and soundly beat Louisville City for the USL crown. San Antonio’s attack last season put up 54 goals in the regular season, which was good, about comparable to the Roots. However, they conceded only 26, which is 7 better than Sacramento (2nd in the Western Conference), and another 6 goals clear of the next best defense in the West.
San Antonio is doing a special “REDOUT” kit this year:
The kit is fine, I suppose, but I’ll confess I read it as “redoubt” the first several times, which is a word a learned primarily playing Skyrim and I’m hoping as many as five (5) readers will have learned it there as well [I guess I thought it might be an Alamo thing? Idk].
Will San Antonio be as good this year as last year? You can always hope that they’ll regress. Unfortunately, they have basically the same roster as last year but have added players their fans will be happy to see. So that’s ass. Of the 11 starters from the playoff match, 7 are returning including defensive player of the year Mitchell Taintor and goalkeeper of the year Jordan Farr. They lost Sam Adeniran and Santiago Patino, the two players who scored against Roots in the playoffs. They kept Justin Dhillon, who has 13 goals and 11 assists over his two seasons with San Antonio, and may feature more this year. San Antonio picked up Niko Hansen, a winger/forward with fewer goals than you’d think, but is moving down from the MLS level and may find more joy in USL. San Antonio also, sadly, signed Juan Carlos Azocar on loan from Deportivo La Guaira, F.C., Azocar’s parent club of several years. You’d favor San Antonio to continue to run its back five system with which it found so much success last season, and that means Azocar will likely thrive with the reduced defensive responsibility.
USL’s inhouse power rankings have San Antonio as the best team overall coming into the season. USL Tactics by our friend John Morrissey has San Antonio as the best team overall coming into the season (with a prediction that Taintor wins back-to-back player of the year awards). 538 has San Antonio as the second best team in the West behind Phoenix (I’ll believe it when I see it). San Antonio are really good, and most people will be expecting them to blow the doors off of Oakland in San Antonio to start the season.
The Roots are 0-1-2 all time against San Antonio, having avoided them in the 2021 season.
Fair warning–you don’t have to do this to yourself. You can skip ahead to the next header.
Delgado ran a pretty similar starting 11 against San Antonio that he had in the dismantling of San Diego, the only change being Emrah in for Alejandro Fuenmayor (who must have been hurt, which I vaguely remember–he did not make the bench).
Just over 100 seconds into the game, two guys on the right, I think Parano and Maloney, have some great quick interchanges, ultimately springing Parano into the box well clear of Danny Barbir and just ahead of Jojo. That resulted in Emrah, Morad, and a recovering Rito up against Adeniran, PC, and Patino.
Parano’s pass found PC, to PC’s surprise, and he whiffed his shot, and before he can take a second touch, Barbir comes sliding in for the tackle, neatly passing softly to Adeniran who is on his way back from trying to tap-in a rebound.
Adeniran fields the pass somewhat behind him (Emrah thinks he’s offside, but (a) JoJo would be playing him on, and (b) the pass was from Barbir), then he turns and shoots through Emrah’s five-hole and beyond Blanchette like, honestly, a guy who is supposed to be in MLS.
The highlights show some opportunities from the Roots that I had forgotten about. A great whipped freekick from Dennis found Barbir towering (unsurprisingly) over his markers, but he narrowly missed the target with his thumping header. In the 34th Karlsson played Azocar into the box where he ran into the SA defense, but the defenders didn’t manage to clear, so Ottar scavenged the ball for himself and got a rocket shot off from center left. Farr’s save didn’t require much movement, but a worse keeper might not see that coming at all. There was supposed to be a gif here, but I’m fighting with wordpress.
The Roots hung with SA for 74 minutes, and if the highlights tell the story, had the lion’s share of the chances during that time. SAFC is not really built to blow teams away, and they conceded the majority of the possession to the Roots after going ahead early. It took a truly special finish for SAFC to solidify their lead. A weird passage of play with a debate over a handball resulted in another 3-on-3 around the Roots box, but rather than crashing in on Blanchette, the ball fell to Patino around the D who unleashed a whipped shot square in the upper right corner of the net–Blanchette was close, but I don’t think anyone saves that.
In the 88th, the Roots almost pulled one back. For the sake of Johnsen’s mental health, I’m glad this was not the equalizer, or this would haunt him and us forever.
A couple minutes later off of a throw-in Patino pantsed Jose Hernandez, in another moment that only avoided being shattering because the game was basically over. That sprung Patino free one-on-one against Blanchette, who had to come out despite the tight angle. Rito is chasing but can’t really tackle without giving away a penalty. Patino saw his opening and rolled the ball to the back post around Blanchette. 3-0 and the job done.
As I mentioned on the podcast, the Roots had only three shots on target in this match, so the highlights showed all of them. I don’t think there can really be any doubt that SAFC were the better team in this match, but like they did all season, I think the Roots played well above the sum of their parts and although I won’t say that the score line flattered SAFC, I think that it was only a blowout because of the Roots’ desperation to save their season.
Clean slate, baby!
Jon and Aaron talked about the Monterey preseason game in the RootsPod last week.
I’m tentatively enthusiastic about the pieces the Roots have brought in over the summer. I wish there was another striker, not because I don’t believe in Pelaez, but more because I just don’t know anything about him, and also sometimes people get hurt. It looks to me like the Roots really favored defenders and defensive midfielders in the offseason, possibly because Delgado intends to try to replicate San Antonio’s model and possibly because he really believes in Lindo, Formella and Johnny in support of Pelaez, or even both! There may also still be a loanee to bring in who can provide more offensive firepower. Noah said in his press conference that Johnny scored a hattrick in the last preseason game against (an admittedly off-season) St. Mary’s.
I heard rumors that Pelaez found the net in his run-out there. Paul Blanchette also cited Trayvone Reid as an attacking player who he has enjoyed watching so far in training.
I think my concern about the team generally is just how much we don’t know about the attack. We know that this basic group of defenders can hang, and I think there’s reason to think we’ve upgraded in defense. Likewise, I think the midfield is likely to be much more stable than it was last season. The question is what the Roots will be able to create going forward.
Lineup and Score Predictions
I think we start with a lineup like this. The backline is hard to predict, but I just think Murray over Barbir because if you don’t have your first choice yet (Hackshaw), you’d rather look to the future. I suspect Reid and Pelaez get significant minutes off the bench basically regardless of the state of the game (maybe 30 minutes each).
Unfortunately, I don’t think the state of the game is going to be good. I believe in the Roots’ long-term project but I don’t think they’re going to be ready yet, with three of their most critical signings not ready to start (this is speculation, I don’t know something you don’t). And that’s okay. Away to San Antonio is a brutal start to the season, and I think we should be looking for signs that this team can hang, not demanding three points. I mean, don’t tell the team I’m saying that. I will deny ever having said this. In fact, forget you’ve read this. But 2-0 San Antonio with it more likely to be worse than better.
The three big missing internationals on media day were Bryan Tamacas, Kevin Wright, and Neveal Hackshaw, so that’s our starting point for lineup guesses. Beginning up top, I could certainly see the team going with Johnny Rodriguez up front given the lack of training time Anuar Pelaez has had with the team this offseason. But our Colombian striker has been here for at least some training, and my hope is we’re going to see him for a full game. The same goes for Trayvone Reid, who hasn’t been in Oakland for a full offseason but is another expected starter this year. Into the midfield, feedback from the club was Joseph Nane had the lead on Irakoze Donasiyano earlier this offseason, so I’m currently listing Nane as a starter. In the back, I’m going Drew Murray over Danny Barbir at left center back, Emrah Klimenta continues on the right, and Tarek Morad slots in the middle.
Editor’s Note: Jon predicted a Roots win on the podcast.
Look, your guess is as good as mine. Going back to front, thank God the club has seen the light and just handed Paulie B. the starter’s role between the sticks from the get go this year. Now watch him pick up some weird injury. On the backline, I’m thinking Murray starts in the middle because some of the later arriving signings (specifically Hackshaw and Tamacas) look like they’ll occupy the wider CB roles, so this is the spot I think he’s likely to play going forward and why not start now. Barbir starts in an “in the shop window” kind of appearance. The midfield and wingbacks practically select themselves at this point, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prentice or Kohler in there either. Up front, I’m predicting Formella to play a deeper lying role in the CF spot, allowing Reid and Mfeka to make runs in the half spaces. I *think* there’s going to be a lot of space in front of the midfield pivot, and for this game at least I think you trust Formella to make use of that space more effectively than the available alternatives. 1-1 draw with a lot of positives.