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Game Notes & Player Ratings: Oakland Roots bounce back with 4-1 win over Birmingham Legion

Credit: Oakland Roots SC

It was a terrific bounce back game for Oakland Roots, getting back in the win column with a mighty 4-1 win over Birmingham Legion at UAB’s Protective Stadium–coming just one goal away from setting the club’s single-game scoring record.

Oakland re-deployed Darek Formella into the 9-role and Edgardo Rito at right wing. The big surprise was midfielder Danny Gomez making his USL Championship debut as a starter. John Morrissey highlighted Gomez’s contributions on Saturday night.

Oakland went into halftime holding a 1-nil lead following a penalty kick by Darek Formella at 45+3 thanks to a handball called on Birmingham captain Phanuel Kavita for his second yellow and subsequent red card. Neither side was creating overtly challenging scoring opportunities in the first 45 minutes with Legion having five shots with one on target at the time, while Roots walked into the half with six shot attempts and three of them on target–which already marked an improvement over the previous four matches, where Oakland committed under two shots on target against Hartford, Loudoun, Sacramento, and Miami.

But Birmingham wasn’t done, scoring on a header goal by Enzo Martinez after receiving a pass from a set piece by Tyler Pasher three minutes out of halftime. Legion pressed forward for another goal to draw a corner four minutes later, but it was the last meaningful action from the Alabama side.

In the 63rd minute, Oakland was awarded its second penalty of the game, this time when Bryan Tamacas was pulled down in the box after dribbling into the area but instinctively went to the ground after feeling Gabriel Alves tugging on his jersey.

Formella stepped to the spot, once again, but this time only put the ball a foot to the right of Legion GK Matt Van Oekel, enabling the keeper to make a slight dive to prevent the ball from going in. However, Formella shot rebounded back into play and perfectly to Lindo Mfeka charging in for the tap-in. The goal marked Oakland’s first score from open play since their 3-0 win over Indy Eleven on April 8.

Roots struck again in the 71st minute on a swift counter attack. In the buildup, Birmingham’s Prosper Kassim played an errant pass too far out in front of Anderson Asiedu, allowing Trayvone Reid to toe the ball toward Tarek Morad–who played it back to Reid.

At this point, Legion’s defense seemed exasperated with Reid easily dribbling into the attacking zone without any resistance. Trayvone took the ball from midfield to about 10 yards above the penalty area, laying a pass off to Rito on the right unmarked. The Venezuelan’s shot was stopped by Ven Oekel, but the ball similarly rebounded right back into play with Reid just a couple of yards in front of goal for another tap-in goal.

It marked Reid’s first goal in an Oakland Roots’ uniform.

Johnny Rodriguez and Anuar Pelaez entered in the 85th minute and both made a difference in their limited time. Rodriguez scored Oakland’s fourth goal in the 88th minute on a rocket from about 10-yards above the penalty area. His attempt was a line-drive into Ben Reveno’s leg, altering its angle to net.

In second-half stoppage time, Pelaez closed the game with a near scoring opportunity on a solid counter attack, holding off a defender to reel off a shot to the left post, but it was slightly wide and went out after taking a slight knock off of the woodwork.

Oakland improve their record to 3-2-3 with 11 points in seventh place, two points behind Monterey Bay with one game in hand. Roots return to Hayward’s Pioneer Stadium on May 13 against Orange County, which is struggling down in 11th of 12 Western Conference teams. Next Saturday marks a historic double-header for the organization with Soul playing at 5:00 p.m. against Olympic Club with Roots’ match scheduled for 8:00 p.m.

Game Notes

Credit: Oakland Roots SC

Roots finally break the scoring drought and finally committed more more than two shots on target. Oakland finished the day with 14 shots, nine on target, hit the woodwork once, and had six big chances with three missed–it was a sight sorely missed by the supporters.

Roots were undoubtedly a benefactor of Kavita’s red card going into halftime, but being a man-up doesn’t always assure success. Birmingham tied the match in the early minutes of the second-half, but couldn’t do much in the remaining time.

Oakland, meanwhile, effectively used their legs to stretch the defense on numerous occasions. Trayvone Reid’s goal was the epitome of taking advantage of tired legs given how easily he ran towards Legion’s penalty area. Johnny’s shot with acres of space also showed how Legion just couldn’t keep up late in the game.

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The first 45 minutes of the match looked like Oakland’s struggles from the last month were continuing into Saturday. Nothing was looking overtly challenging for Roots, but the defense continued its strong form by limiting Birmingham’s chances throughout the night. Legion only had one shot on target through the first 45 minutes and finished with just two attempts on target.

Roots’ defense feels a little bend-don’t-break at times when they are sitting deep, but you can’t argue with results after allowing two goals in three games.

An intriguing decision was the start Danny Gomez in the midfield spot opposite of Napo Matsoso instead of Irakoze Donasiyano, while Joseph Nane stayed at home. Nane wasn’t listed in this week’s injury report, so perhaps coach Noah Delgado sees something in Gomez.

As mentioned by Morrissey, Gomez was solid. He moved well into space and open up pockets for other players around him. I’m not sure if Gomez is the type of players who will break games open for Oakland and dominate other teams, but he didn’t make any mistakes or show any lapses at any point.

In the end, I’ll gladly take consistency and intelligence over a seldom magical play.

Going into Saturday, there’s no way you could’ve convinced me Oakland would come one-goal away from setting the franchise’s single-game scoring record. Going into May 13, Oakland has a supreme opportunity to start a winning streak against Orange County.

Orange County has gone through a lot since winning the 2021 USL Championship title. They finished dead-last in the Western Conference last season and are currently down in 11th place, causing them to part ways with former manager Richard Chaplow. OCSC holds a 1-3-5 record and hold a -6 goal differential after conceding 15 thus far and is going through outside issues after a player allegedly used a homophobic slur against San Diego Loyal on Saturday.

It’ll be critical for Oakland to claim three points versus Orange County given there’s a tough stretch of matches to close May. Roots will travel to first-place Sacramento on May 20 and host second-place San Diego on May 27 before making road trips to start June against Colorado Springs (June 2) and Phoenix Rising (June 10).

Player Ratings

  1. Lindo Mfeka, 8.2

In 85 minutes, Mfeka scored once with his only shot attempt, completing 38 of 45 passes, 1/5 crosses, 1/2 long balls, six passes into the final third, created three chances, took five corners, dribbled past one defender, won 1/3 ground duels, one interception, four recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 55 total touches.

2. Napo Matsoso, 7.8

In 90 minutes, Matsoso recorded one assist and completed 50 of 54 passes, two passes into the final third, created one chance, dribbled past one defender, won 1/3 tackles, 3/5 ground duels, seven recoveries, and finished with 59 total touches.

3. Bryan Tamacas, 7.6

In 74 minutes, Tamacas drew a penalty kick and completed 37 of 49 passes, seven passes into the final third, had 1/1 successful dribble, dribbled past one defender, won 3/6 ground duels, 1/2 aerial duels, one clearance by header, one interception, eight recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 67 total touches.

4. Trayvone Reid, 7.6

In 25 minutes, Reid scored once with his only shot attempt, completing eight of 10 passes, one pass into the final third, created one chance, had 1/1 successful dribble, won 1/1 tackle, 3/3 ground duels, drew one foul, and finished with 20 total touches.

5. Darek Formella, 7.4

In 85 minutes, Formella scored once from the penalty spot with four shots, three on target, and one blocked, completing 28 of 31 passes, 3/3 long balls, five passes into the final third, had 1/2 successful dribbles, missed one big chance, won 2/7 ground duels, one clearance, four recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 43 total touches.

6. Neveal Hackshaw, 7.4

In 90 minutes, Hackshaw recorded two shots and completed 63 of 76 passes, 3/10 long balls, five passes into the final third, won 1/2 tackles, 2/4 ground duels, 2/2 aerial duels, blocked three shots, three clearances with two by header, two interceptions, eight recoveries, and finished with 91 total touches.

7. Tarek Morad, 7.1

In 90 minutes, Morad completed 68 of 78 passes, 1/6 long balls, nine passes into the final third, dribbled past three defenders, won 1/3 tackles, 5/8 ground duels, 2/3 aerial duels, blocked one shot, one clearance by header, four recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 86 total touches.

8. Danny Barbir, 7.0

In 90 minutes, Barbir completed 57 of 70 passes, 3/9 long balls, 13 passes into the final third, created one chance, dribbled past one defender, won 1/1 tackle, 1/5 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, one clearance, six recoveries, and finished with 91 total touches.

9. Edgardo Rito, 7.0

In 90 minutes, Rito recorded four shot attempts with three on target and one blocked, completing 14 of 21 passes, two passes into the final third, missed one big chance, won 2/2 tackles, 3/6 ground duels, drew one foul, and finished with 37 total touches.

10. Danny Gomez, 6.7

In 65 minutes, Gomez completed 37 of 39 passes, 3/3 long balls, two passes into the final third, had 1/1 successful dribbles, dribbled past one defender, won 1/2 ground duels, blocked one shot, one clearance, four recoveries, and finished with 46 total touches.

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