Oakland Roots battled to a 0-0 draw against Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Saturday night, taking a point against the USL Championship’s No. 1 ranked team in the Eastern Conference. It marked Oakland’s second consecutive draw but stretches their unbeaten run to four games.
“I’m proud of the boys, we had a little adversity and different things like that. It was just a grind, I thought we had some good moments but still feel we could’ve created a bit more. But give a lot of credit to Pittsburgh, they’re solid defensively and very organized. They’re a well-coached team,” said coach Noah Delgado.
Roots were without Bryan Tamacas and Neveal Hackshaw as they spend time with their national teams for the Gold Cup. As a result, Memo Diaz and Kevin Wright started at outside back. Another change to the lineup was Anuar Pelaez starting in the 9-role and Jeciel Cedeno making his Oakland debut in the midfield.
“Like I’ve told some of the boys, there’s going to be games where we make rotations because of the physical aspect and also the tactical and preparing for the opponent aspects. Pelaez gives us a lot of hold-up play and penetration, he almost had some moments in the first half where he was getting in behind with his pace. So, sometimes it’s a matchup thing and I thought Pelaez came in and did well. Cedeno as well,” said Delgado.
When asked about the squad rotation without Tamacas and Hackshaw, Delgado mentioned Joseph Nane’s unconventional appearance at center back was a move out of necessity after Morad suffered a minor injury in the week of practice.
“It means there’s a lot more decisions to make. Tarek also picked up a knock in training [on Friday] and that was another decision we had to make. But I’m proud to see us deal with two players on international duty and a couple knocks here and there, to come in against a strong team and get another shutout was one of our goals.
But Nane had a strong game in his central center back role, showing his versatility.
“We knew he could play there in the pre-season. He’s versatile, we knew he could play in the back and in the midfield. I’m proud of him for stepping in and doing some work there. I thought he was solid against two really good forwards, it’s a handful,” said Delgado.
It was a battle of two halves, where Oakland looked like the more dominant side in the first half while Pittsburgh controlled the action in the latter 45 minutes. Overall, both sides played strong defense to limit open looks on net with Roots finishing with three shots on target to Riverhounds’ one.
“The first half, we had a little bit more possession. They pushed us a bit back in the second half and we tried to counter. We gave away some balls and they just kept possession. I think we were close on a couple of counters where if we connected, we could’ve been dangerous. We had different types of ideas in the second half, we thought we could find some space between the center backs. But, overall, I thought it was a tough grind-out game,” said Delgado.
In the first half, Oakland controlled much of the action with 53 percent of possession and six shots with one on target but finished with eight shots and added two more attempts on target.
The only shot on target of the first 45 minutes came from Pelaez on a nice attempt from distance toward the left post, but Riverhounds GK Luis Zamudio was there to make the save.
In the second half, the chances became more seldom with Pittsburgh pressing high for possession. Danny Barbir had a shot sail in the 55th and Pelaez had a looping header easily saved in the 60th. Second-half sub, Trayvone Reid, also had a shot on target in the 72nd after it took a deflection on its way to goal.
Pittsburgh was credited with a big-chance missed, which may have been in the 87th minute after Tola Showunmi attemped a back-heel shot on goal in point-blank distance. Paul Blanchette was there for the save, making the quick-decision look easy.
Oakland finished the night in sixth place after Monterey Bay upset Sacramento 1-0. With 22 points, Roots hold one game in hand on fourth-place Monterey and fifth-place San Diego–both with 23 points. They are set to welcome former coach Juan Guerra and Phoenix next Saturday at Pioneer Stadium.
“We’re just focusing on the next game. We’ll rest tomorrow, we’ll do some recap of the game on Monday, and then build for Phoenix,” said Delgado.
- Certainly felt like a point gained rather than two points lost.
With back-to-back draws, the tie against Pittsburgh felt much more like a point gained rather than the feeling of two-points lost against Phoenix. The current best team in the Eastern Conference didn’t impose the pressure you’d expect from a top-ranked side with Oakland challenging them through both halves.
It was truly a stalemate at times, which is encouraging knowing Pittsburgh could become a title contender out of the East. If Roots continue contending for a home playoff draw, taking points against the best teams will be needed.
- Roots are quietly the second-best defense in the Western Conference.
It’s somewhat surprising to look at the table and see Roots have established the second-best defense so far in the Western Conference with 14 goals allowed, behind just Sacramento with nine goals allowed.
Defense has been a clear focal point under Delgado compared to how Roots operated under Guerra. Under Delgado, Oakland has finished with 11 clean sheets through 27 matches from the point he took over in 2022. Under Guerra, Roots had just five clean sheets in his 26 matches at the helm. With Phoenix, Guerra has also led 26 matches with only three clean sheets.
- Jeciel Cedeno, our RootsBlog Man of the Match.
We named Jeciel Cedeno our RootsBlog Man of the Match for making an impact in his first start in an Oakland uniform. He was a creative and controlling presence in the midfield, often turning the ball up field and showing fleet footwork when in possession. Cedeno could be the creative option Roots need to replace Irakoze Donasiyano–who is still hampered by a lingering injury.
Delgado offered his thoughts on the newcomer:
“He can play in the midfield, he can play on the wing as well. Technically, he’s very very high level. He’s a young kid, he has a good engine. He’s getting in, making tackles, covering ground. So just want to get him more comfortable, understanding more players characteristics and things like that. He had a couple of chances to slip players in where he was really dynamic and I think he’ll continue to improve.”
- Wolfgang Prentice back and getting minutes.
Wolfgang Prentice returned from his loan spell at Forward Madison and instantly made a contribution at left back. He entered for Kevin Wright in the second half and showed a lot of energy. He’ll provide Oakland’s depth option at both outside back positions over the next month until Tamacas returns.
Delgado talked about Wolfy’s return:
“He scored a goal in his last game with Forward Madison, so that was good. The main goal was just getting him minutes and getting him fresh. We knew we had a lot of depth in the outside back position, the left is his most comfortable side but he can play on the right side. With international duty, him getting minutes and going to another environment with another coach and coming in here, that’s very valuable experience for him.”
- Rivalry week!
Ah, yes, Mr. Guerra takes his first trip to the Bay Area since spurning Oakland for the uglier and hotter pastures of Phoenix, Arizona. The Function is already getting hyped for what could be an intense atmosphere versus the former Roots’ coach.
And it’ll be a critical match for both sides. A win could push Oakland back into the top-four, while Phoenix is fighting to stay in the top-eight–currently in eighth with 18 points. Rising also plays its largest rival, New Mexico, during the week on Wednesday and will have a short week.
- Jeciel Cedeno, 7.6
In 90 minutes, Cedeno had 1 shot, completed 31/41 passes (76%), created 1 chance, had 3 successful dribbles out of 5 (60%), made 5 passes into the final third, won 3/3 tackles (100%), made 1 clearance, had 1 interception, made 6 recoveries, was dribbled past 3 times, won 10/15 ground duels (67%), won 0/1 aerial duels, was fouled 4 times, and had 62 touches.
2. Emrah Klimenta, 7.6
In 90 minutes, Emrah completed 58 out of 68 passes (85% accuracy), made 7 passes into the final third, completed 6 out of 13 accurate long balls (46%). Defensively, he won 1 tackle out of 1 (100%), made 3 clearances including 1 headed clearance, had 2 interceptions, and made 11 recoveries. In duels, Emrah won 2 out of 2 ground duels (100%) and 1 out of 1 aerial duel (100%). He was fouled once and finished with 79 total touches.
3. Napo Matsoso, 7.5
In 90 minutes, Napo completed 39/44 passes (89%), created 1 chance, made 4 passes into the final third, had 0 accurate long balls out of 2 attempts, won 2/3 tackles (67%), made 2 clearances (1 headed clearance), had 3 interceptions, made 3 recoveries, won 7/10 ground duels (70%), won 3/3 aerial duels, was fouled 4 times and had 62 touches.
4. Paul Blanchette, 7.3
In 90 minutes, Blanchette made 1 save, completed 29 out of 45 accurate passes (64%) and 7 out of 22 accurate long balls (32%). He made 3 throws, 1 high claim, 9 recoveries and 52 touches.
5. Danny Barbir, 7.2
In 90 minutes, Barbir took 2 shots (0% accuracy), completed 50/67 passes (75%), made 2 blocks, 2 clearances, 4 interceptions, had 6 recoveries, won 2/3 ground duels (67%), 1/3 aerial duels (33%), was fouled twice, and had 90 touches.
6. Joseph Nane, 7.2
In 90 minutes, Nane completed 41 out of 49 accurate passes (84%), made 4 passes into the final third, had 1 accurate long ball out of 6 attempts (17%), made 2 clearances, 2 interceptions, and had 5 recoveries. In duels, he won all 4 ground duels (100%) and 1 out of 2 aerial duels (50%). He was fouled twice and had 58 touches.
7. Memo Diaz, 7.1
In 90 minutes, Memo had 1 shot, completed 26 out of 40 accurate passes (65%), created 2 chances, made 5 passes into the final third, and had 1 accurate cross out of 3 attempts (33%). He completed 2 out of 6 accurate long balls (33%) and took 2 corners. Defensively, he made 1 interception and had 6 recoveries. In duels, Memo won 2 out of 3 ground duels (67%) and 2 out of 2 aerial duels (100%). He was fouled once and had 56 touches.
8. Darek Formella, 6.5
In 90 minutes, Formella had 1 shot, completed 31 out of 39 accurate passes (79%),created 1 chance, completed 2 out of 5 successful dribbles (40%), made 3 passes into the final third. Defensively, he won 1 tackle out of 1 attempt (100%), had 2 recoveries, won 3 out of 8 ground duels (38%) and made 55 touches.
9. Kevin Wright, 6.4
In 80 minutes, Wright completed 9 out of 14 accurate passes (64%), 1 out of 3 successful dribbles (33%), made 2 passes into the final third. Defensively, he won 1 tackle out of 1 attempt (100%) and had 1 clearance and 1 headed clearance. He also had 4 recoveries. In duels, Wright won 3 out of 7 ground duels (43%). He was fouled once and finished with 23 touches.
10. Trayvone Reid, 6.4
In 19 minutes, Trayvone had 1 shot on target, completed 5 out of 7 accurate passes (71%), successfully completing 1 out of 1 dribble (100%). Defensively, he won 1 tackle out of 1 attempt (100%), had 4 recoveries. In duels, Trayvone won 2 out of 5 ground duels (40%). He finished with 11 touches.