The Oakland Roots travel to Birmingham, Alabama to take on Eastern Conference-leaders Birmingham Legion at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time at Protective Stadium. Roots fans can catch the match on ESPN+ and KTVU Plus, including at any of the official Pub Partners. The official watch party is at Line 51, but real ones will be in Stockton to catch the Soul match, previewed in less detail here (I am not a real one–I never claimed to be a real one).
Are Birmingham Good?
Overall yes, but they are in a rough patch. Birmingham are 5-1-3, on the season, but that represents some cooling off from their blistering hot 3-1-0 start. Birmingham’s wins are over teams with a combined record of 5-11-15 (two wins over Hartford, who admittedly Oakland struggled with). Let’s look at some highlights.
Announcer refers to it as “the OC” within eight seconds of kickoff [despite having cousins from there, for the first 28 years of my life essentially everything I knew about the OC was from Arrested Development and since moving to California my opinions based on that show have not changed at all].
Orange County went ahead on a combination of luck and bad defensive play from Birmingham. Agudelo’s equalizer is pretty sweet, though, sitting down two County defenders before rifling the ball past the keeper from close range. Legion got the winner on a tap-in from their talisman Enzo Martinez when everyone, possibly including Martinez, surely thought that the County defender had successfully smothered the ball.
I initially found the highlights for this game hosted on the Hartford website and those highlights don’t include the Birmingham goals which is so funny. Just pretend the bad parts didn’t happen. There’s a lot of action in this game, but I think a neutral would look at this game and say that Birmingham’s defensive lapses look like real weaknesses and their goals came from perfect execution they might not be able to consistently replicate. They are third in the league in total goals scored, and that doesn’t happen by accident, but based on this it looks like Enzo Martinez is converting 100% of his marginal chances, and if you can minimize the big chances, eventually he’ll stop converting the marginal ones.
Miami’s offense has been putrid, as we saw when they came to Oakland. Somehow, they pulled out three goals against Legion. The first comes on a rocket from Christian Sorto to the far corner on a free kick just outside the 18-yard-box. Miami’s stadium is so empty you can hear the echo from kicks on the ball. Miami’s second is a hilarious own goal on a corner kick. Unlike in the Hartford game, I have nothing bad to say about Enzo Martinez’s goal in this one–he earns it. It was for naught, as Miami got their third in the 72nd on a low shot across the keeper from outside the box. I think a team would be wise to test Spangenberg from distance.
|March 11||at San Antonio FC||L||1||3|
|March 19||at RGV Toros||D||1||1|
|March 25||vs Memphis 901||???||???||???|
|April 1||vs New Mexico United||W||1||0|
|April 8||at Indy Eleven||W||3||0|
|April 15||vs Hartford||L||1||2|
|April 23||at Loudoun||L||0||2|
|April 29||vs Miami FC||D||0||0|
|May 6||at Birmingham Legion|||||||
|May 13||vs Orb County|||||||
|May 20||at Sacramento|||||||
|May 27||vs San Diego Loyal|||||||
|June 2||at Colorado Springs Switchbacks|||||||
|June 10||at Phoenix Rising|||||||
|June 17||vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds|||||||
|June 24||vs Phoenix Rising|||||||
|June 28||vs RGV Toros|||||||
|July 8||at Tampa Bay Rowdies|||||||
|July 15||at Monterey Bay Union F.C. of Seaside|||||||
|July 22||at El Paso Locomotiv|||||||
|July 26||vs Las Vegas Lights|||||||
|July 29||vs Detroit City|||||||
|August 4||at Charleston Battery|||||||
|August 19||vs Colorado Springs Switchbacks|||||||
|August 23||at New Mexico United|||||||
|August 26||at Louisville City|||||||
|September 2||vs Sacramento|||||||
|September 9||at Las Vegas Lights|||||||
|September 16||vs FC Tulsa|||||||
|September 23||vs Monterey Bay Union F.C. of Seaside|||||||
|September 30||vs San Antonio FC|||||||
|October 4||at Orb County|||||||
|October 7||at Loyal|||||||
|October 14||vs El Paso Locomotiv|||||||
Don’t bother. Roots field six defenders and two defensive midfielders and conjure two shots on target. The defense shuts down Miami’s attack, but I have no proof their attack ever got off the plane. Five thirty eight says the Roots had 1.6 xG which is a lie.
The one noteworthy thing is that Delgado mentioned after the match something about a change in formation late. I assume that means when he put Pelaez on for Klimenta, meaning he has left a back four with Tamacas in a RB role rather than a RCB role. This still leaves Rito as a right-sided forward, which I think is a mistake, but it’s at least less parking-of-the-bus.
Players to Watch
Enzo Martinez #9 – 32-year-old Uruguayan midfielder Martinez is in a purple patch, with four goals, all coming in Birmingham’s last three games. Martinez’s giant beard makes him look a lot bigger than his actual 5’7″ frame. He was named “ESPN Rise High School Boys’ Soccer Player of the Decade,” which sure sounds like a hell of an award (182 goals in four seasons?). He played for UNC and despite being drafted by Real Salt Lake, ended up bouncing around Carolina teams (with a single season for Colorado in 2018) before landing with Legion last season. Martinez scored 15 last season and assisted 8, which earned him a spot on the 2022 USL All-League first team.
Neco Brett #11 – Brett only netted 7 for New Mexico last season, but has returned to his 2020-21 scoring form so far for Birmingham with three goals in four starts. Brett came up with Harbor View in Jamaica (the club Oakland signed Reid from), and after college outside Pittsburgh, Brett was drafted by Portland Timbers but never really got a chance with the first team. Brett played for the Riverhounds in 2018-19. Two of Brett’s three goals came in Birmingham’s win in Tampa, one a cushioned header from wide open right around the penalty marker, and the other racing onto the end of a Enzo Martinez cross.
Alex Crognale #21 – Fotmob has Crognale as Birmingham’s second-highest rated player, but he has two goals which I think they’re likely overvaluing. Nonetheless, the 6’5″ centerback is in his fourth season with Birmingham Legion. In his early 20’s he had three season with Columbus Crew (while in MLS), accumulating meaningful minutes in two of those seasons. Crognale is a native of Columbus, and came up through the Crew’s youth program prior to college at Maryland.
Lineup and Score Predictions
Delgado cannot be thrilled with what he got out of the offense in the Miami game. On that basis alone, I think he will add an attacker back into the mix. A lineup very much like this was successful earlier in the season, and I think he will return to it even though this match is on the road. Birmingham’s offense is good, but they can be out-scored and I think the Roots should and will go for it, taking a chance to get Pelaez going.
I think my preferred lineup would be this shape, but I’d put Murray and Kohler in for Morad and Matsoso, echoing an opinion Aaron has voiced recently. Give the kids a chance–you signed them so they could play.
I think the Roots offense gets back to some kind of firing, potentially Johnny back on the bench will contribute, but I’m not sure I trust the whole engine to work right against a team as strong as Birmingham. I said 1-1 on the pod, but I am leaning 2-2 now, although that feels too optimistic.
I’m in full agreeance with Peter’s starting 11 mentioned above. The question is whether Johnny Rodriguez starts when fully healthy, but I think Delgado wants to see if they can re-find some of that magic with Rodriguez spelling the Colombian striker late in the match. I also would like to see Drew Murray step into the starting back line, but Hackshaw-Morad-Tamacas were my expected trio before the season started and I feel comfortable with them locking things down.
I’m sticking with my RootsPod prediction of a 2-1 Roots victory. Above all, I want to see execution and more than two shots on target.
*Extremely Rufus and Chaka Khan voice* Show me something good.
Idk, friends, I’m not sure this team has what it takes to make the 3-4-3 work. We saw last year that the team in that formation took off when Delgado removed the defensive midfielder from the middle of the park and just let Charlie and Jose cook. As you would expect, then, Jose was off to Phoenix very early in the offseason, and Chuck was later sold to TBR. They were replaced with about every type of defensive midfielder available at the USL level. The results? Initially good, lately uninspiring.
What I’m predicting here is about the most defensive 4-3-3 you can imagine, but it also should adapt well to the guys who would naturally come off the bench here–Nane, Rito, Pelaez, and JRod. Whatever it is, something needs to be switched up. The 4-4-2 seems like the best way to both have a back 4 and get Tamacas and Rito on the field at the same time, but we don’t really have the CFs to make that work. This at least gets our small and fast guys into the half spaces, which could maybe cause some issues?
2-1 Oakland, he said, without a lot of confidence.