Game Notes & Player Ratings: Oakland Roots take 2-2 draw with Phoenix Rising

Oakland Roots walk out of Phoenix with a point after drawing 2-2 with Rising, unfortunately conceding the tying goal in the 89th minute of action. The match brings Oakland’s record to 6-3-4 and still in fifth-place with 21 points, behind San Diego Loyal by one point but Roots hold one game in hand.

It marked the first official meeting between head coach Noah Delgado and Oakland’s former coach Juan Guerra–who spurned the club with nine games left in the 2022 season, only for Roots to beat Rising in the race for the postseason. The match featured Phoenix showing Guerra’s typical over-possessive style with his team holding 58 percent of the possession, while Oakland showed they can hit them on the break.

Oakland’s lineup featured Johnny Rodriguez starting up top in the 9-role with Lindo Mfeka returning to the right side and Darek Formella on the left. The trio continued Delgado’s versatile look of rotating all three players with Formella, at times, appearing on all three sides of the attack.

We named Formella our RootsBlog Man of the Match for his contributions on the night.

Roots did most of their work in transition through the first 45 minutes, leading to Formella’s opener in the ninth minute of action. In the buildup, the ball worked all the way back to Paul Blanchette, who booted a pass up to Formella as he dropped deeper on the left side. Darek headed a pass to Lindo Mfeka–perfectly footing a pass to Joseph Nane. After taking a couple of dribbles, Nane found Johnny in the center of the pitch–eventually kicking it back to Nane, who nudged it by to Formella at the left post.

Oakland had two more great chances in the following eight minutes, but couldn’t finish on either. In the 14th minute, Neveal Hackshaw sent a long ball up to Memo Diaz on a simple play from deep in Roots’ defensive area. The ball took a big hop over the defender, nestling perfectly for Diaz making the run. However, Henry Uzochokwu made a perfect sliding tackle from behind to stop the play.

Three minutes later, Formella had another shot at the left post on nearly the same play as the goal, but goal keeper Rocco Novo was there to make the stop. Oakland had another great opportunity in the 30th minute on more great work in transition that led to Formella–this time with Mfeka feeding Napo Matsoso at the top of the area, flicking a one-touch pass to Formella as the defender rotated off of him.

Formella took his attempt off of the volley, sending a rocket straight to Novo. It was Roots’ last clear chance in the first half, although they had a free kick from a good area in stoppage time that was blocked by Phoenix’s wall.

Oakland ended the first half with three shots, all of which were on target. They finished with six shots, but their goal in the 66th minute was Roots’ only shot on target in the latter 45 minutes.

Johnny had a look for a potential counter attack, where Diaz found the striker sprinting past the defense after stealing possession in Roots’ penalty area. But Rodriguez went to the ground after taking a hit from Alejandro Fuenmayor and no call was made. Johnny also had a shot trail wide in the 54th minute.

But Phoenix struck in the 59th minute on some individual excellence by Danny Trejo. He was their marquee signing of the offseason and he certainly shined in this moment, dribbling his way between Neveal Hackshaw, Danny Barbir, Napo Matsoso, and Emrah Klimenta before the ball rolled to Fede Varela to toe it through.

Oakland’s goal in the 66th minute was a bit against the run of play with Phoenix controlling the first 20 minutes of the second half. Roots’ go-ahead started with Formella dribbling down to the end line, but lost possession on a duel against Kevon Lambert–who sent a pass to Panagiotis Armenakas. The recently acquired midfielder then made a terrible pass centrally, allowing Matsoso to step in front of the ball. Napo then found Mfeka making his run into the box, patiently putting away his shot to the left of the keeper.

From there, Roots couldn’t really find clear looks. Phoenix drew a corner in the 88th minute that led to their goal. The lob into the box cleared Oakland’s first group of defenders to find Baboucarr Njie free in the box, he grazed his header attempt but it fell perfectly to Manuel Arteaga for the tap-in goal. It was an unfortunate close to the match.

Oakland had one more look with a free kick about 10 yards above the area in stoppage time, but Tray Reid’s shot went high of the top-right bin.

Roots now look ahead to three consecutive home games, including Guerra and Phoenix coming to town on June 24 to wrap up the season series. Oakland also hosts first-place Eastern Conference foe Pittsburgh next Saturday and Rio Grande Valley on June 28.

Game Notes

Credit: Oakland Roots SC
  • Delgado vs. Guerra, Round 1

It marked the first official meeting between head coach Noah Delgado and Oakland’s former coach Juan Guerra–who spurned the club with nine games left in the 2022 season. The match featured Phoenix showing Guerra’s typical over-possessive style with his team holding 58 percent of the possession, while Delgado’s bunch showed some blue-print-esque work on counter attacks and in transition.

It was a typical Guerra type of stat sheet you saw in Oakland, finishing with a lot of shots (15) but only four on target. Similar to his time with Roots, he’s proven to be the type of coach who wants to not divert from his style of play.

Phoenix wants the ball, but their tendencies leave them vulnerable in transition. That’s where I feel Delgado is the better game-planner. Noah has shown he can provide a balanced group; Roots have had progressive moments through 13 matches both in with possessive style and while sitting deeper to spur counter attacks. It’s a system with a lot of movement, position rotation, and requires some defensive stability.

In the end, I think Oakland has more to pull from film-study of Saturday’s match than Phoenix does.

  • The rotation of the attacking trio.

As mentioned above, Delgado has shown versatility with Roots’ attacking trio. In Saturday’s match, there were times Formella moved from left wing to the opposite side of the field. Mfeka would move centrally into the 10-role at times, while Johnny found himself in all three portions of the field.

This wrinkle in Delgado’s system is becoming a focal point of the front line and, hopefully, is something opposing teams will continue finding difficulty in preparing for. There’s no Ottar Magnus Karlsson on this year’s team, so the clear avenue for productivity in 2023 is to utilize the versatility of Johnny, Formella, Anuar Pelaez, and Lindo–who can play the 9-role as well.

  • A great game from Napo and Nane

Although we named Formella our Man of the Match, we also considered Napo Matsoso and Joseph Nane for their strong performance in the midfield. The two were major factors in both of the goals with Nane footing the pass to Formella and Napo finding Lindo for the second.

The two were also highly productive on defense. Napo finished with two interceptions and six recoveries, while Nane had six recoveries.

  • Jeceil Cedeno’s debut

Jeceil Cedeno looked good in his 12 minutes of action. He lined up in the midfield and had some good moments pushing the ball in transition and locating passes. He had some miscommunication with Anuar Pelaez on a feed late in the match, but you can expect those moments to happen on a debut.

I’m excited to see what Cedeno can do. He can fill a much-needed spot in the midfield by being a creative mind following the injuries of Irakoze Donasiyano and Danny Gomez.

FotMob Top-10 Player Ratings

  1. Darek Formella, 8.0

In 90 minutes, Formella scored one goal, had two shots (100% accuracy), completed 80% of his passes (32/40), had two successful dribbles, completed three passes into the final third, one accurate long ball. He won one tackle, made three interceptions, had four recoveries, won six ground duels (50%), was fouled twice, and finished with 64 touches.

2. Lindo Mfeka, 7.8

In 72 minutes, Lindo scored one goal, had one shot (100% accuracy), completed 72% of his passes (18/25), had one successful dribble, five passes into the final third, two accurate long balls, won 67% of his ground duels (2/3), made one interception, had two recoveries, was fouled once, and finished with 32 touches.

3. Napo Matsoso, 7.8

In 89 minutes, Napo had one assist, completed 93% of his passes (39/42), created two chances, completed five passes into the final third, one successful dribble, won 67% of tackles (2/3), made two interceptions, six recoveries, won 33% of ground duels (4/12), and had 54 touches.

4. Joseph Nane, 7.6

In 72 minutes, Nane had one assist, completed 90% of his passes (27/30), created one chance. He had 50% successful dribbles (1/2), 4 passes into the final third, 100% accurate long balls (3/3). Defensively, he won 100% of tackles (1/1), 1 clearance, 1 interception, 6 recoveries. In duels, he won 38% of ground duels (3/8). He was fouled once and had 41 touches.

5. Neveal Hacksaw, 7.2

In 90 minutes, Hackshaw completed 79% pass accuracy (31/39), 9 passes into the final third, 54% accurate long balls (7/13). Defensively, he won 75% of tackles (3/4), made 1 block, 5 clearances, including 3 headed clearances, and 2 interceptions. He had 5 recoveries and was dribbled past once. In duels, he won 71% of ground duels (5/7) and 100% of aerial duels (3/3). He finished with 57 touches.

6. Memo Diaz, 7.0

In 90 minutes, Memo had 1 shot, 82% pass accuracy (14/17), 1 chance created, and 1 blocked shot. He had a success rate of 67% in dribbles (2/3) and made 3 passes into the final third. His accurate long balls accounted for 75% (3/4) of his attempts. Defensively, he won 50% of tackles (1/2), made 4 clearances (2 headed), and had 1 recovery. He was dribbled past once. In duels, he won 50% of ground duels (5/10) and 50% of aerial duels (1/2). He drew 1 foul and finished with 40 touches.

7. Bryan Tamacas, 6.8

In 90 minutes, Tamacas completed 77% of his passes (20/26) with 1 pass into the final third and a 67% success rate (2/3) in accurate long balls. Defensively, he won 100% of tackles (2/2), made 2 interceptions, and had 4 recoveries. He was dribbled past twice and won 43% of ground duels (3/7) and 50% of aerial duels (1/2). He drew 1 foul and finished with 43 touches.

8. Johnny Rodriguez, 6.8

In 90 minutes, Johnny completed 65% pass accuracy (13/20), had 1 shot, 1 successful dribble, 5 passes into the final third, 1 dispossessed, 3 clearances (2 headed), 3 recoveries, 1 time dribbled past, 54% ground duels won (7/13), 75% aerial duels won (3/4), and 6 fouls drawn. He finished with 39 touches.

9. Emrah Klimenta, 6.8

In 78 minutes, Emrah had 91% pass accuracy (30/33), 5 passes into the final third, 60% accuracy in long balls (3/5), 1 tackle won, 2 clearances, 5 recoveries, 50% ground duels won (1/2), and 100% aerial duels won (1/1). He finished with 44 touches.

10. Danny Barbir, 6.6

In 90 minutes, Barbir had 81% pass accuracy (22/27), 6 passes into the final third, 20% accuracy in long balls (1/5), 33% tackles won (1/3), 5 clearances (1 headed), 2 interceptions, 1 time dribbled past, 75% ground duels won (3/4), 33% aerial duels won (1/3), and 43 touches.

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