Roots fans it’s game day! Your Oakland Roots take on Phoenix Rising at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 10 at Phoenix Rising Soccer Stadium in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Parking Lot. Roots sit fifth in the table coming off of twelve points in five matches, four points above Juan Guerra’s Phoenix Rising. The match will be available on ESPN+, KTVU Plus, and TeleXitos.
Obviously, the big news for the Roots is the departure of 2022 Player of the Season Edgardo Rito, who the Roots dealt to Hartford Athletic for cash and Jeciel Cedeño. Jon wrote a great exclusive about this with some words from the front office that you can find here. It sucks to see Rito go. I don’t think he was going to match his 2022 production in Delgado’s system, so even though he showed some flashes of brilliance, I think that you’d rather have Rito’s productivity elsewhere on the pitch. I am not sure if Cedeño is really intended to be a regular contributor for the Roots, although potentially Delgado sees something in him that Tab Ramos did not. That means the value of this move has to be the cash, but the cash is a black box. We are unlikely to ever know if it was a meaningful amount, but we can infer it was a meaningful amount if the Roots make a splashy signing to shore up the team elsewhere. So the jury is out. Either way, I’m glad I got to watch Rito play for the Roots. He was awesome and I hope he does well, especially out east where he’s unlikely to hurt us.
(Gin Blossoms are from Tempe–this is not commentary on Guerra, unlike almost everything else in this post).
These teams are pretty even over the years, with the Roots having two wins, one draw, and three losses in their six meetings. In 2021, in the old Pacific Division, they met four times, when Phoenix were the class of the Western Conference (and arguably the whole League for the regular season). Roots’ season started late, trying desperately to wait until the field could get ready at Laney (spoiler alert they needed more time), so the Roots kicked their season off on May 8 with a trip to Phoenix and got smashed 3-0. What’s worse, sixteen minutes in the Roots lost captain Wal Fall who came back for sixteen minutes in the month of June, and another 54 minutes in July before starting regularly in August (at which point the Roots improved dramatically). Roots fell to Phoenix 0-1 at Laney in August, their fourth loss in a row to drop their record to 1-3-7. Just two weeks later the Roots beat Phoenix 3-1 at Las Positas, with goals from Wal Fall, Jose Hernandez, and Ariel Mbumba. The teams met one more time in October, the Roots again falling 1-0 to Phoenix. In the playoffs Phoenix were eliminated by RGV Toros on penalties in the first round in a results most experts called “really fucking funny.”
Last season Phoenix struggled, leading to a mid-season firing of longtime head coach Rick “Why Didn’t I Wear My” Schantz and the signing of Juan Guerra from conference rival Oakland Roots, who lead Phoenix to a 4-1-6 record and a tenth place finish behind Las Vegas Lights, the Brick Tamland of USL. Roots and Rising first saw each other in July, ending in a 0-0 draw at Laney. By the time they met again in September Guerra had switched teams and Roots needed results to get into the playoffs. Roots were ahead of Rising in the table, but Rising had more wins, the Roots were just benefitting from Guerra’s trademark draws (TWELVE!). This was, you may recall, the Lindo Mfeka game.
Mfeka is such an incredible player on his day. On the replay of the first, the color commentator says “the desert parts and the sea opens wide for Mfeka” which is literally the exact opposite of what happens in that story. Anyway, absolute scenes in Phoenix.
Here’s the full photoshop from the preview image:
Rising being 4-4-4 is seriously almost as perfectly Juan Guerra as being 0-12-0. The man is like the living embodiment of the Larry David gif.
Phoenix were pretty reliably picking up points, and had a pretty good run beating Loudoun, Hartford, and Orange County in a four-game run marred only by a completely reasonable 0-2 loss away to Tampa (goal from Charlie Dennis, the king). Things got worse for Phoenix, though.
On May 26, Phoenix hosted Brick Tamland and fell 1-0.
In what I was sure would be the highlight of the goal, Preston Tabortetaka skins Alejandro Fuenmayor alive and then squares the ball perfectly into the path of Andrew Carleton (running like he was late to something really important he would later deny knowing anything about) who somehow sends the ball about thirty rows deep into the crowd. You’ll be pleased to know that in the 76th Carleton whiffs on another shot, although this one would have been pretty spectacular if he’d gotten it. Just a couple minutes later, Cubo Torres won the game for Lights, climbing Fuenmayor’s back and nodding in a beautifully placed long cross from the attacking right.
Phoenix traveled to Pittsburgh the following weekend and fell 1-0 again, a somewhat more defensible result. Riverhounds took the lead on a header off of a corner in the 22nd minute with Arturo Ordonez climbing Fuenmayor’s back to get to the ball. I gotta say, of the three ex-Roots personnel on Rising, Fuenmayor is the one I find least amusing to be struggling (I don’t hate Jose or anything, but if I had to choose it’s funnier for him).
Well, would you look at that.
|March 11||at San Antonio FC||L||1||3|
|March 19||at RGV Toros||D||1||1|
|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||W||4||1|
|May 13||vs Orb County||W||3||0|
|May 20||at Sacramento||L||1||3|
|May 27||vs San Diego Loyal||W||2||0|
|June 2||at Colorado Springs Switchbacks||W||1||0|
|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 12||vs. Memphis 901 (rescheduled)|
|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|||||||
That’s twelve points in five matches, or if you’ve been listening to RootsPod, that makes six points in three matches where we had been calling for five points in four, so there’s one to spare and a chance to get nine in four (yes, it’s too many numbers in one sentence. I know, but I don’t know how to fix it).
Roots conceded a number of opportunities early, but they bent without breaking, and things were still level when Hackshaw found Barbir in the twelfth minute. Barbir carried the ball forward, found Memo further up on the extreme left flank. Memo played back to Formella tucked inside left behind him. Formella passed to a wide open Matsoso centrally. Rodriguez gestured wildly for Matsoso to play him in about thirty yards from goal, still central. Matsoso found him, Rodriguez took a touch, turned, and unleashed a wicked shot bouncing left across the goal. Rodriguez might not be quite thirty yards out but he’s close. The shot is so surprising that the keeper can be forgiven for not seeing it until late and failing to stop it. Colorado Springs had another couple chances in the first half, but in the second half it was one-way traffic and the Roots really could have made it 3 or 4-0. Paul and the defense keeping the clean sheet really saved Formella, Rodriguez, and Mfeka from having to face up to their missed opportunities in the second half. Still, the team played well and the 4-0-1 record in the last five is not a fluke. The Roots are playing well.
Players to Watch
Jose Hernandez #8 – Twenty-seven-year-old central midfielder Jose Hernandez was born in Mexico, but grew up in Phoenix including playing for the Real Salt Lake youth setup in Phoenix, interrupted by a brief stint at UCLA (where he played with Jackson Yueill, Brian Iloski, and one of my coworkers). Hernandez got a handful of games with Real Salt Lake, but mostly played for Real Monarchs, then was sent to Galaxy II, then OKC Energy before landing at a newly formed USL team in Oakland, where he was a regular contributor over two seasons. Hernandez missed some time early in this season, but has been a regular starter since about the beginning of May. He does not have a single card yet this season, confirming that Rising are slipping cash to officials. He has one goal and one assist, both in the same match against Loudoun in April. Hernandez is a reliable central midfielder with some good ball-recovery abilities and solid distribution.
Manuel Arteaga # 9 – Venezuelan forward Arteaga leads Rising in both goals and assists, with five and three, respectively. Arteaga has bounced back and forth between South American teams, where he has played, and European teams, where he has largely ridden the pines. He did, however, have an eleven-game loan stint with a Bolivian team called, I guess, “Club the Strongest.”
I have been a die-hard The Strongest fan since first drafting this post last Thursday. In 2021 and 2022 Arteaga played for Indy Eleven (this is the season after Guerra left for Phoenix, but with the number of Venezuelan players Guerra brings in, you wonder if Guerra had scouted him before leaving). Arteaga has three caps for La Vinotinto, but none since 2015. Fotmob says that Arteaga is right-footed, but I count three of his five goals, including the more impressive shooting, to be left-footed.
Danny Trejo #17 – Twenty-five year old forward Danny Trejo attended Cal State Northridge, so in all fairness should be a Roots player. He also played three seasons there with Johnny Rodriguez. Trejo was selected 14th overall in the 2021 SuperDraft by LAFC, but never really managed to make it with LAFC, playing primarily for Las Vegas Lights, where the Roots saw him many times in 2021 and 2022. His option was declined following the 2022 season and he signed with Rising in January. Trejo is fast, savvy, and technically sound, and has netted four times with an assist to boot this season. In recent matches, Trejo has paired with Arteaga in a front two.
Lineup and Score Predictions
I don’t think Cedeño slots in right off the bat. I think if Morad is fully fit he may come in for Klimenta, although I have thought Klimenta has had some good moments in Morad’s absence. With Gomez out I think that Nane starts, in the hope that the Roots can win the game before Nane’s knees give out, or figuring that’s a place to make a change based on game state in the 55th-60th minute. Up top I liked the “three central strikers” idea, but I think Mfeka comes back in with Pelaez on the bench. That all said, I’m optimistic. I think the Roots are in good form and that will continue for another road match against a conference rival. 2-0 Roots.
I’m going with a similar group to what started the win over Colorado Springs, my one change is Joseph Nane in for Danny Gomez. Overall, I liked how the attack operated in their last appearance. With three players with experience at Center Forward, they have an ability to rotate and keep defenses off balance.
I’m sticking with my 3-1 Roots’ win prediction on the pod. This is an opportunity for Roots to stand on their strong run of form and capitalize on a Phoenix group in mediocre form.
The exchange of Rito for Cedeno solves one problem (too many RBs/RWBs) but arguably creates a different problem on the roster (too many wingers/attacking mids). I say “arguably” because if he’s going to play on the front line, its just nice to have real depth instead of manufacturing it by playing a guy out of position. But with Donasiyano and now possibly Gomez out, the team appears now loaded down with attacking mids, defensive mids, and center backs, but light on central/box-to-box mids and strikers. So that’s the inspiration for this suggested fever dream of a formation, which would probably play in a 4-4-2 out of possession. Another couple of performances like COS and maybe I’ll come around to the 3-4-3 with this team, but I’m not there yet. Anyway, 2-0 Roots. I think it’ll be a slog but Phoenix has been looking a little toothless in attack, Johnny is on fire right now, and in games like this it feels like Emrah is always good for a goal.