Oakland Roots got the job done on April 1 with a 1-nil victory against New Mexico United for its de facto home opener at Cal State University East Bay’s Pioneer Stadium. The win improves Roots’ record to 1-1-1 and four points through three games, which already eclipses last year’s point total through the first six matches.
It was a good response to a stressful week for the organization after postponing its initial home opener against Memphis due to field conditions at Laney College. Maybe more impressive than the win was Roots’ supporters packing 4,695 into Pioneer Stadium on just four days notice.
“I just thought the group, in general, grinded the game out; just worked hard on and off the ball. We had some good moments where we created some good chances, but we also had moments where we didn’t have the ball, we had to defend and defend our box. Play-wise, I think we were okay, but I think we can definitely improve on some things,” said coach Noah Delgado.
Delgado’s message through the stressful week following the Memphis postponement was for players to put their heads down and “grind.”
“Throughout the week, my message was, ‘lets go to work, it’s time to grind.’ Nothing changes too much, we just have a game later in the season. We just really put focus on New Mexico; it’s a credit to how we played today, it was very professional all week as well. They wanted to see the field, so we trained here one day. I think its a credit to the culture of the team, they’re willing to play through adversity and perform for the club,” mentioned Delgado.
Johnny Rodriguez scored the game-winner in the 63rd minute just one minute after being substituted into the match. It’s just about as close to an assist as you can get for a coach.
We named Rodriguez our RootsBlog Man of the Match for his goal.
“He’s playing with some confidence right now, the staff believes in him. With his role, he started Game 1, and then came off of the bench to score a goal. Instead of saying he’s feeling bad, he came in and proven he can come off the bench; two goals, two games,” said Delgado.
Coming off for Rodriguez was Anuar Pelaez in the 62nd. Perhaps an underrated quality that won’t reach the stat sheets was Pelaez’s physical playing style wearing down the New Mexico defense. With Johnny coming on with fresh legs in the second half, he landed the finishing body-blow to crumble United.
“They are two different players. We feel like Pelaez works really hard and closes down defenders. You see in the first half, he had two chances by just winning the ball back. He wears down center backs, and I think Johnny was sharp through the preseason and this season so far. It’s been a spark having him come off of the bench,” said Delgado.
It hasn’t only been an impressive start to the season for Rodriguez, but Memo Diaz and Darek Formella are proving they are locked-in starters. Diaz had the pass to Formella, who then set up Johnny’s goal after a nifty move past New Mexico keeper Alex Tambakis.
Delgado points out squad rotation will be an important factor going forward.
“It’s going to be a lot of competition and rotations during the week, we have three games in eight days this week. There’s competition with the new players as well continuing to get 100 percent fit. Bryan Tamacas is off national team duty where he played 90 minutes, you want to take care of him to make sure he’s ready to go. He was ready tonight to come off the bench. We’re looking forward to having the new players come in and see what they can do,” said Delgado.
- Solid defensive night
A clean sheet is exactly what you want to see. It was a strong defensive night from Roots to limit New Mexico to nine shots with four on target, no big scoring chances, and no corner opportunities allowed–which might be the most important stat.
After conceding multiple set-piece chances against San Antonio and RGV Toros, Oakland was visibly better getting first to the ball on plays into the box. Paul Blanchette was never overtly challenged on the night; hopefully that can become a trend.
- Competition is tight at LB, LW
Competition is tight, notably at left back and left wing. I’ve mistakenly called for Trayvone Reid to start every match, but Darek Formella could be proving he must be unseated for the job. He had the assist on Johnny’s goal and continuously put himself in the right position. Formella probably should’ve been fed for a goal by Pelaez in the ninth minute, but the Colombian didn’t locate him after winning possession high. Formella also had a shot trail narrowly high in the 12th.
Memo Diaz is also showing he’s a starting-quality left back in the USL Championship. He had the hockey-assist on Johnny’s goal when sending a perfect outside-foot pass to Formella. Diaz has flat-out been a huge positive for Roots through each of his three appearances, showing an instinctive ability to play the ball into space. His quality and versatility is so high that it’s difficult to see him losing the starting job
- Pelaez not in the stats, but wore down the defense
Anuar Pelaez is still searching for his first goal in a Roots’ jersey and gaining form, but what’s not showing up in the stats is how his physical nature wears down defenses. What’s much different than Ottar Magnus Karlsson is Pelaez’s physicality in the striker role, seemingly always seeking to make contact and muscle off defenders. I thought Pelaez’s gritty nature tired out NMU’s center backs to enable Rodriguez to land the finishing body-blow, and Delgado seemed to agree.
Pelaez could’ve showed more quality in the final third, but I think his form will come with a little more time in training.
- Edgardo Rito is magic
Edgardo Rito is a problem, I’ll write it every week. Rito deserves his own Man of the Match award with his electric presence on the field. He’s always an outlet on the right side and a security blanket to just bomb the ball up to. His footwork is just nasty, nutmegging a defender in the 42nd minute. He’s simply a joy to watch.
- A lot of captains, this time Tarek Morad
There appears to be a lot of players with veteran captain status on Oakland Roots, which I can assume to only be a good thing. Tarek Morad wore the captain’s armband even with Emrah Klimenta starting alongside him and Joseph Nane entering in the second half. Morad is definitely one of those ‘mentality-monsters,’ team sources call him a clear leader on and off of the field.
- Good game from Napo and Irakoze in the midfield
It was also a good game from the midfield pivot of Napo Matsoso and Irakoze Donasiyano. “Koze” is showing he’s a field general with an ability to create turnovers, start counter attacks, and also hold the ball in possession comfortably. Delgado gave his thoughts on the midfielders:
“They close a lot of space and win a lot of balls. With the formation today, they were outnumbers 3 v. 2 in the midfield, but we had a system where we could play that. They picked up a lot of good balls, recovered balls, and got us out on the attack as well,” explained Delgado.
FotMob Top-10 Player Ratings
- Darek Formella, 7.9
In 90 minutes, Formella recorded one assist and one shot attempt, completing 28 of 42 passes, seven passes into the final third, 2/2 crosses, 3/5 long balls, created two chances, had 2/2 successful dribbles, dribbled past one defender, won 1/1 tackles, 3/6 ground duels, 1/4 aerial duels, one clearance, seven recoveries, and finished with 56 total touches.
2. Edgardo Rito, 7.6
In 90 minutes, Rito recorded one shot and completed 20 of 28 passes, 2/6 crosses, two passes into the final third, created three chances, had 3/4 successful dribbles, won 4/8 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, one interception, three recoveries, and finished with 51 total touches.
3. Tarek Morad, 7.6
In 90 minutes, Morad recorded one shot attempt that was blocked, completing 66 of 69 passes, 2/5 long balls, two passes into the final third, won 1/1 ground duel, 1/2 aerial duels, two clearances with one by header, one interception, 11 recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 75 total touches.
4. Johnny Rodriguez, 7.6
In 28 minutes, Rodriguez scored once with two shots on target and one blocked, completing five of six passes, 2/2 long balls, created three chances, one interception, one recovery, won 1/4 aerial duels, and finished with 15 total touches.
5. Emrah Klimenta, 7.4
In 90 minutes, Klimenta completed 53 of 63 passes, 4/9 long balls, five passes into the final third, had 1/1 successful dribble, won 1/1 tackle, 3/4 ground duels, two clearances with one by header, one interception, four recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 72 total touches.
6. Irakoze Donasiyano, 7.3
In 90 minutes, Donasiyano recorded two shots with one blocked, completing 37 of 44 passes, 3/3 long balls, five passes into the final third, won 2/2 tackles, 4/7 ground duels, 2/2 aerial duels, 11 recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 57 total touches.
7. Paul Blanchette, 7.2
In 90 minutes, Blanchette recorded four saves with one save from a shot inside the box, completing 22 of 39 passes, 4/20 long balls, 11 throws, one high claim, 11 recoveries, and finished with 55 total touches.
8. Danny Barbir, 7.1
In 90 minutes, Barbir completed 43 of 61 passes, 12 passes into the final third, 2/3 aerial duels, one clearance by header, four recoveries, and finished with 75 total touches.
9. Napo Matsoso, 7.1
In 86 minutes, Matsoso completed 31 of 39 passes, 2/3 long balls, five passes into the final third, dribbled past two defenders, won 2/2 tackles, 7/10 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, one interception, three recoveries, drew five fouls, and finished with 51 total touches.
10. Lindo Mfeka, 6.8
In 89 minutes, Mfeka recorded two shots with one on target and missed two big chances, completing 32 of 41 passes, 2/2 crosses, 2/6 long balls, eight passes into the final third, created one chance, took three corners, won 1/4 ground duels, one clearance, six recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 51 total touches.