Well, Sacramento sure looked deserving of its stature atop the USL Championship in its 3-1 victory over Oakland Roots at Heart Health Park. The result brings Oakland’s record back to .500 at 4-2-4 and are now in seventh, snapping a three-match unbeaten run. Roots are tied for points with New Mexico but have played one more match than United.
Sac certainly looked the part on Saturday night, scoring in the 11th minute by Keko Gontan on a beautiful left-footed curling shot and piled on two more goals within the first 10 minutes of the first half from Russell Cicerone at 51′ and Juan Herrera just four minutes later.
“When they [Sacramento] get a goal, they’re comfortable. We saw how organized they were defensively. It took us a while to break them down but we created some good chances at the end of the first half… We came out with little adjustments here and there, but I thought they were organized and tough to break down. I thought their goals could’ve potentially been prevented and we’ll continue to work on that,” said coach Noah Delgado.
It wasn’t all Sacramento, Roots were able to reel off eight shots with six on target and had two big chances to score with a high 66 percent of possession. However, Republic’s ability to quickly transition from defense to offense was too much to overcome.
Sac’s goal in the 12th minute started after Russell Cicerone started a counter attack after blocking a pass attempt by Rito. Storming down the left side, Cicerone flicked the ball past Tarek Morad’s failed tackle and down into Roots’ attacking area. He sent a pass across the box toward Herrera, but Danny Barbir was there to flick it out of the penalty box toward Kevin Wright.
But Wright looked like he was trying to kick the ball out of bounds and didn’t make square contact, allowing Jack Gurr to regain possession. Gurr sent a pass to Keko (who looked a foot-and-a-half offside) with Wright tracking back to defend, but the Spaniard took a couple of touches inside for his left-footed curler to the far post.
“Goals change games. It’s a different game when you’re down a goal. In the first half, we had a couple of good looks towards the end and you hope those go in to make it 1-1 at the half. But it’s just important that we don’t give up early goals to a good team on the road,” said Delgado.
Delgado was referencing a pair of looks by Edgardo Rito in the first half. His first chance came in the 20th when Bryan Tamacas fed him on a run into the box toward the right post, but Republic goal keeper Danny Vitiello effectively came off of his line to close him out.
Rito had another clear look in the 38th minute when Danny Barbir sent a perfect cross into the area towards the right post, once again. Rito took one touch and followed through with a right-footed shot into the side netting after targeting the near post.
Oakland came out in the second half with a pair of corners in the 48th and 49th minutes, but couldn’t convert either.
Sac scored in the 51st following a throw in towards midfield, where Cicerone won a duel against Napo Matsoso and turned the ball upfield. Dribbling all the way to the top of Oakland’s penalty area, Cicerone sent a right-footed shot into net. Just four minutes later, Republic began putting the game out of distance when Herrera scored off of a perfect pass straight through Oakland’s entire defense by Sac center back Conor Donovan–putting the Republican striker 1-on-1 with Paul Blanchette.
Oakland’s goal in the 62nd came shortly after a corner, where the ball skipped out wide to Neveal Hackshaw, sending a pass to Lindo Mfeka before he sent it centrally to Memo Diaz–who entered for Roots at halftime. Diaz, as we’ve become accustomed to, sent an inch-perfect cross over the defense to Barbir at the left post, who scored on his first-touch.
It marked Barbir’s first goal in a Roots’ uniform and fifth of his USL Championship career.
Oakland continued to press on for a goal with Sacramento sitting a bit deeper. They targeted Barbir on a corner in the 71st and Darek Formella had a shot on target in the 74th. One of Roots’ best looks of the game came in the 82nd when Johnny Rodriguez had a header cleared off of the line by Vitiello after a receiving a cross by Tamacas. Roots argued for a goal, but I felt it was the right call from my angle.
Now with the league leaders out of the way, Roots look ahead to a very difficult stretch of matches over the next two months with nine of 10 matches against teams currently in playoff contention. The next five include hosting San Diego (May 27), at Colorado (June 3) and Phoenix (June 10), hosting Pittsburgh (June 17) and hosting Phoenix (June 24).
“We know we are going to play some good teams, but we are a good team as well. Keeping everyone healthy and fresh is important, and then pick out our teams that best suit the opponent. We’ll look at some things tonight and find things we can improve on,” said Delgado. “We want to continue our movements offensively and work on getting service into the box. Defensively, we want to work on our mid-block and our back line rotating, getting it shifting and moving.”
- A great game from Danny Barbir.
We won’t typically be naming Man of the Match recipients in losses, but if we did, it was undoubtedly Barbir. Not just for his goal, but for contributing the perfect pass to Rito in the 38th and preventing multiple scoring opportunities, including a critical sliding stop in the 43rd to prevent a shot.
He’s proving why he’s the most active field-player on Roots’ roster this season. He’s appeared in all 10 matches by starting and has never come off of the field, accumulating 900 minutes thus far.
- Offense still coming together, but it is looking improved.
It took a while for the wheels to get in motion for Oakland Roots, but they progressively looked better throughout the match. Going against the league leaders is obviously tough and they will make you look bad at times, but the attack’s combination is continuously gelling together. It’s the fourth straight match with the attack’s combination of Formella, Rito, and Mfeka–meaning signs of fluidity are showing.
Delgado provided his thoughts on the subject: “I think there was some good movements, Rito got in behind a few times, Lindo played underneath and he was solid. We had a couple of shutouts in a row, the Birmingham game was a set-piece and we haven’t given up many goals like that… The message is lets get back to work and get back on track. We’ll face Sacramento down the road and potentially again in playoffs, they are a good team who has been together for a while. We just need to get back to work.”
- Memo is my first-choice left back.
I can see why Delgado likes Kevin Wright; he was an international signing and possesses a lot of speed. Delgado admits he likes to plan for matchups, so that must’ve been the focus this week with Wright, but I think he’s still finding his feet in coach Noah’s system. The halftime sub of Memo Diaz for Wright may be a testament to that. Sacramento’s goal in the 12th minute was a result of a botched clearance by Wright. He didn’t seem to make an impact as a passer either–which is an area Memo shines.
Diaz’s pass to Barbir was perfect; he’s hands-down the most reliable and consistent passer on the team. His assist means he’s had two goal contributions so far this season, which ties him with his 2022 result and already surpasses 2021. He’s just three games away from matching his minutes total from last year as well.
- Danny Gomez supplanting as the third-choice midfielder.
Joseph Nane is back, but started Saturday’s match on the bench in favor of Danny Gomez. One high-ranking personnel executive had high praise of Gomez following Saturday’s match, viewing him as the third-option behind Napo Matsoso and Irakoze Donasiyano.
With his third consecutive start, it’s clear Gomez is taking the reins and earning minutes. Although he may not supplant Napo or Koze (when healthy), his contributions in 2023 could shape up for a 2024 season with him as a starter.
At only 23-years-old, Gomez looks like the future of Roots’ midfield.
- Danny Barbir, 7.3
In 90 minutes, Barbir scored once with his only shot attempt, completing 81 of 93 passes, 1/1 cross, 3/7 long balls, 12 passes into the final third, created one chance, dribbled past one defender, won 2/2 tackles,3/7 ground duels, 2/2 aerial duels, blocked one shot, one clearance, one interception, three recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 116 total touches.
2. Memo Diaz, 7.3
In 45 minutes, Diaz recorded one assist, completing nine of 16 passes, 1/5 long balls, four passes into the final third, created one chance, dribbled past one defender, won 2/2 tackles, 4/6 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, two recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 24 total touches.
3. Lindo Mfeka, 7.0
In 85 minutes, Mfeka recorded one shot attempt and completed 33 of 38 passes, five passes into the final third, took five corners, had 2/2 successful dribbles, dribbled past two defenders, won 4/6 ground duels, one clearance by header, four recoveries, drew one foul, and finished with 54 total touches.
4. Danny Gomez, 6.9
In 71 minutes, Gomez completed 42 of 46 passes, 1/4 crosses, 1/3 long balls, six passes into the final third, created two chances, took two corners, won 1/2 tackles, 2/2 ground duels, 1/1 aerial duel, one interception, two recoveries, and finished with 54 total touches.
5. Darek Formella, 6.8
In 90 minutes, Formella had one shot on target and completed 30 of 41 passes, 1/4 long balls, nine passes into the final third, 1/1 successful dribble, two clearances by header, three recoveries, won 5/6 ground duels, drew three fouls, and finished with 53 total touches.
6. Napo Matsoso, 6.6
In 62 minutes, Matsoso completed 39 of 43 passes, four passes into the final third, created one chance, dribbled past one defender, won 1/1 tackle, 3/5 ground duels, four recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 48 total touches.
7. Bryan Tamacas, 6.5
In 90 minutes, Tamacas completed 38 of 52 passes, 1/1 cross, eight passes into the final third, created two chances, dribbled past one defender, won 3/3 tackles, 5/10 ground duels, 2/6 aerial duels, four recoveries, drew two fouls, and finished with 73 total touches.
8. Neveal Hackshaw, 6.5
9. Joseph Nane, 6.5
10. Johnny Rodriguez, 6.5