Sacramento Republic vs. Oakland Roots – Match Preview (May 20, 2023)

Roots travel to Sacramento this weekend for already the second I-H80 derby (I-Hatey? It’s a work in progress. Aaron says this is “meh” and Jon didn’t acknowledge my question) of the season. The match will be at 7:00 p.m. at Heart Health Park, and I encourage you to go if you’ve never experienced the Function on the road. If you, like me, cannot make it, the match will be on KTVU Plus, ESPN+, and Telexitos

(friends, it’s going to be Cake until Sacramento produces another band or someone writes a song about Sacramento that does the city justice)

The Rivalry

In seven league meetings, Roots are 1-5-1 against Republic. The leading scorer in matches between these teams is Ottar Magnus Karlsson, although Dariusz Formella is on his tail with two (both for the wrong team).

In 2021 when these teams met four times, the teams finished 3-3 in June, 0-0 in July, 0-0 in August, and 2-1 to the Roots in October. The 3-3 in May came on goals from Formella (Sac), Chuy, Ariel Mbumba, Cameron Iwasa, Jeremy Bokila, and Jordan McCrary. When Roots finally got the better of Sacramento, Amarikwa and Formella traded first half goals, and Emrah won it for Oakland in the second half.

In 2022 Sacramento evened things up with the Roots, with a 1-1 draw in May, another 3-3 draw in July, and a 1-0 Sac win in their ridiculous second home match against the Roots in a single season (Noah’s second team at the helm).

This year, obviously, the Roots have played Sacramento, losing 1-0 on the road in the U.S. Open Cup, which I don’t totally disregard, but it’s not neatly packaged for me in the head-to-head page on FBRef, so it’s easier to pretend it’s its own thing.

Sacramento’s Form

Before I give you hope, the overarching point is that Sacramento are the class of the league with 2.1 points per game, having conceded only 4 goals in 10 matches, or 0.4 per 90. In 2022 the best Goals Against was San Antonio, conceding 0.74 per 90 as they waltzed to the title, and in 2021 the best was Tampa Bay, conceding 0.69 per 90 on their way to the title game. It’s a small sample size and early in the season, but that kind of form over ten games is pretty meaningful. Relatedly, Sacramento’s 21 points leads the league. They have a huge goal threat in Cicerone, but with 7 of their 17 goals, he is not their only threat.

The good news is that their form has dipped. Through their first seven games, they dropped points only to Charleston, who are first in the East, and to San Antonio, who are tied for second in the West. Then on April 29, they drew 1-1 away to Tulsa, who are 1-6-3. The xG folks at 538 says that Sac should have won the game, with 3.4 xG to Tulsa’s 1.1. Last week, Sacramento hosted Indy Eleven and won 3-1, which 538 says is about right.

God the opener is absolutely pathetic from Indy Eleven. Cicerone’s finish is good given the range, but Indy gifts him the opportunity. Since it was the second minute, I feel like there was never really a chance to see how these teams matched up (but nothing about each team’s season would lead you to believe it would turn out differently). Cicerone doubled the lead in the 8th minute on his third of three immediately successive point-blank shots coming off of a long cross from the right side. I wonder how much of the xG was accounted for with the two shots that didn’t work. Anyway, the match was essentially over in the first ten minutes. The Sacramento commentators bemoaned “another set piece goal” when Indy grabbed one back, so it’s possible that that’s where their weakness is. Cicerone completed the hattrick in the 86th with Indy Eleven getting rope-a-doped by a clearly offisde Archimede who stopped his attempt on the ball, but Cicerone ran from deep onto the ball, past the defenders who were calling for the offside, and finished emphatically over the Indy keeper.

Midweek, Sacramento traveled down to the the old O.C. to face basement-dwellers OCSC. In the fifth minute Milan Iloski scored and Devon Kerr said “no one has shot the ball more than him this year and now he’s hit paydirt.” I’m unsure what he means, since Iloski already had three goals on the season. There’s also a bounce-house behind the goal and I just could not love this league any more than I already do.

OC really should’ve scored another, but otherwise essentially nothing else happened until Arnold Lopez brought down Milan Iloski in garbage time to pick up a totally-meaningless-for-this-game but extremely-meaningful-for-the-Roots second yellow card. A. Lopez is fifth for Republic in minutes this season among outfield players. Speaking of absences, Sacramento’s dip in form (and concession of a goal per game) has coincided with Rodrigo Lopez’s injury to and subsequent surgery on his rectus tendon. R. Lopez had captained Republic all season and contributed three assists through seven games.

Roots’ Form

March 11at San Antonio FCL13
March 19at RGV TorosD11
March 25vs Memphis 901?????????
April 1vs New Mexico UnitedW10
April 8at Indy ElevenW30
April 15vs HartfordL12
April 23at LoudounL02
April 29vs Miami FCD00
May 6at Birmingham LegionW41
May 13vs Orb CountyW30
May 20at Sacramento
May 27vs San Diego Loyal
June 2at Colorado Springs Switchbacks
June 10at Phoenix Rising
June 17vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds
June 24vs Phoenix Rising
June 28vs RGV Toros
July 8at Tampa Bay Rowdies
July 15at Monterey Bay Union F.C. of Seaside
July 22at El Paso Locomotiv
July 26vs Las Vegas Lights
July 29vs Detroit City
August 4at Charleston Battery
August 19vs Colorado Springs Switchbacks
August 23at New Mexico United
August 26at Louisville City
September 2vs Sacramento
September 9at Las Vegas Lights
September 16vs FC Tulsa
September 23vs Monterey Bay Union F.C. of Seaside
September 30vs San Antonio FC
October 4at Orb County
October 7at Loyal
October 14vs El Paso Locomotiv

We talked on this week’s RootsPod about how the Birmingham game was the right response to going a man up and getting gifted a penalty, but might not say much about the Roots, and how 3-0 over Orange County was necessary but not sufficient for a Western Conference playoff berth. All of that remains true, but Sacramento’s midweek loss to Orange County does give the Roots’ whalloping of them a little bit more shine.

What I like about Formella’s opener is the tenacity of the Roots’ attack, the forced-turnovers in the attacking third, and the way he just about knocks the goal off of its moorings. What I don’t like about Formella’s opener is that the passage of play goes:

  • Formella pass to Mfeka, who steps over to allow to roll to Rito, but pass is intercepted by Orange County.
  • Orange County attempts to pass the ball across to their right, where it is intercepted by Diaz, who passes the ball sharply into his defender.
  • OC passes backwards to maintain possession, where Mfeka intercepts and passes to Rito (on the left).
  • Rito’s low cross goes directly to feet of an OC player, who miscontrols, allowing Formella to smash it home.

The Roots had more turnovers on their opener than they had successful passes, they just repeatedly cleaned up or forced a new turnover. It’s like total football where everybody plays every position, but we’re counting OC players as playing for Oakland. The color commentator then says “who better to clean up the scraps… than the goalscorer himself Dariusz Formella.” Is this what a tautology is? Aaron will tell me it is not. (editor’s note: It is not.)

Morad got a second on a set piece where the defense just totally froze. He did well, as did Mfeka putting the ball in, but I’m not sure it’s enough to say that the Roots are ready to capitalize on a set piece weakness in Sacramento.

In some ways the third goal is my favorite, even if it’s a symptom of a tired and defeated Orange County. Johnny had every right to go down and accept the free kick and potentially yellow card, and instead he shrugs off his man and, under duress, slips the ball through to Rito’s feet for Rito’s third big chance of the game. You could see how much it meant to Rito, who celebrated for a long time with the fans.

The folks at 538 say the scoreline flattered the Roots, but I disagree.

Players to Watch

Russell Cicerone #11 – Cicerone is tied for second in the USL for goals behind only his former teammate Albert Dikwa who is still at Riverhounds. Cicerone netted for Pittsburgh last year in the 3-1 loss where the Roots nonetheless clinched a playoff berth. I said this last year and I’ll say it again, the man’s name spoonerizes to Cecil Rice-a-Roni.

Luis Felipe # 96 – When you google “Luis Felipe” you get a Cuban-American former leader of the Latin Kings, and when you google “Luis Felipe soccer” you get Luiz Felipe who is capped by Italy and currently plays for Betis after 100 appearances for Lazio (the fasciest top-level club in Europe). Sac’s Luis Felipe (third on the depth chart for that name) has played a lot of minutes this season, although is subbed off in about half of his appearances. He did not play midweek. It’s possible he’s hurt, but maybe more likely that Mark Briggs is cautious with him. With four goals, Felipe is second on Republic in scoring. He had a season with Ft. Lauderdale, a season at Reno, and then three seasons under contract for the Quakes, although for 2018 he spent half the season on loan back at Reno. He had an assist in a Quakes uniform and got over 1200 minutes which is better than many of the MLS cameos I come across when writing these match previews.

Jack Gurr #2 – 27-year-old Geordie Right Back Gurr looks like Bobby Hill all growed up. Gurr played in the Atlanta United B team for 20-21 but couldn’t quite crack the MLS level, so he moved to Aberdeen in Scotland where he couldn’t get game time. Not the biggest endorsement of the USL that he then walked in the Sacramento first team. Gurr has a knack for breaking free down the right and whipping in crosses with his right foot. He had a goal and three assists last season, and has already matched that productivity with two goals and two assists this season. His first was a cheeky tap-in after he ghosted unmarked into the middle of the box while the defense focused on the rest of Sacramento’s attack wide left. His second was a tap-in following in similar circumstances, with the play isolated to the corner and then a great cross in that the keeper could only spill out for Gurr to dribble in. True to form, his two assists were both breakaways down the right to feet of teammates in the box.

Lineup and Score Predictions


I think Noah will stick with what’s working, but if Donasiyano is back I think he displaces Gomez, who I think has looked fine. I called 2-0 to Sacramento before I saw them fail to produce anything against Orange County. So I want to walk it back and call for a 1-1 draw, but I feel like I am supposed to stand by my prediction. 2-0 Republic.


My one change from last week and Peter’s lineup above is Joseph Nane in for Irakoze Donasiyano. If Koze is healthy, I could certainly see him in the midfield instead. Other than that, I don’t see Delgado making overhauling changes. My score prediction, Roots eek out a narrow 1-nil victory by using solid defense in the final stretch.


In my heart of hearts, do I really think this is what Roots run out? No, I do not. But I’m manifesting here. As Bloom says, Noah will likely run out what’s been working. But here’s the thing…has it been working? If you heard us on the pod, you will know that I’m not convinced. HOWEVA, I have every faith that the Roots show up for this one. I think the recent shift (Tamacas to RWB, Rito to RW) should pay dividends particularly against Sac. And these guys just love playing Sacramento anyway. This will be fun. Roots get a measure of revenge for the Cup loss. 3-2 to the good guys.

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