You never want to go to Tampa needing points, but that’s the situation Oakland Roots found themselves in on the back of a 2-0 loss at home to Rio Grande Valley Toros and their playoff position in danger. Going into this matchday, the Roots were in 8th place in the Western Conference only one point ahead of both New Mexico United and Orange County SC and two points ahead of the aforementioned RGV. Oakland ended the night in 9th following New Mexico’s win.
To be honest, this is probably the least confident I’ve been in Oakland Roots during their USL Championship lifespan, including in the moments prior to their David and Goliath playoff encounter against last year’s eventual champions, San Antonio FC. This felt like a scheduled loss before Oakland even took the pitch.
On the bright side, Bryan Tamacas and Neveal Hackshaw returning to the club following El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago’s group stage exits in the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup will help get this squad close to full strength. Their absence provided an explanation for the drop off in performances and it’ll be interesting to see the process of getting them reintegrated.
Against the Rowdies, tt only took eight minutes for Cal Jennings–formerly of Las Vegas Lights–to get the first of his three goals. The play was eerily reminiscent of the defensive breakdowns Roots endured against RGV; Charlie Dennis setup Sebastian Dalgaard, and Dalgaard’s pass from Paul Blanchette’s left side was met with no resistance until it found its target in Jennings.
Oakland Roots got a few opportunities in quick succession following the concession. Darek Formella had a shot trail wide in the 16th after receiving a pass from Trayvone Reid in the area, but he couldn’t make good contact on his attempt. Lindo Mfeka offered the toughest test to Connor Sparrow in the 18th on a shot on target, while Reid skied a shot attempt moments later.
In the 35th minute, Jennings was denied by a top save by Blanchette to push the ball over the bar. Five minutes later, Jennings’s solo run pierced through the heart of the Roots defense and finished with power and precision to make it 2-0 before halftime. He almost made it 3-0 but Blanchette made the save.
For the final goal, Dalgaard completely burns Kevin Wright with a turn, sent a low cross past Danny Barbir, leading to Jennings completing his hat trick with a tap in right in front of net. We can look at this loss and chalk part of it up to Cal Jennings being on a tear, but what allowed him to have such a good game? One of the goals were certainly top class, but the other two were in part due to poor defending by Oakland.
Last season, the Roots had a tough finish to the season but did well enough earlier in the year to give them a buffer that allowed them to qualify for the playoffs. This time around, they have no buffer to work with whatsoever. The defense has little margin for error as well because the offense remains stagnant too. The Roots are not creating enough quality chances in comparison to a struggling team like RGV let alone a top tier team like the Rowdies.
To Noah Delgado’s credit, he utilized every quality option he had off the bench in this game. He shifted from a three center back formation to a two by bringing on Jeciel Cedeño for Joseph Nane. Although Nane has had some good moments while playing center back, it’s been overshadowed by mistakes and inefficiencies. The experiment appears assured to end once Neveal Hackshaw returns to the starting lineup, likely on Wednesday against Memphis 901.
And it doesn’t get any easier when Memphis 901 arrives in Hayward for the next game, as they will be doubly motivated to close the gap against their Eastern Conference rivals and bounce back after suffering 6-0 and 4-0 losses to Phoenix and San Antonio.
Once again, Oakland is the underdogs, and they’ll have to find that chip on their shoulders to step up their game as soon as possible. Otherwise, it could be a brutal stretch through the next three matches against Memphis, Monterey, and El Paso–all of which are in contention for a home playoff draw.
Oakland Roots (3-4-3 system)
GK 20 Paul Blanchette
CB 21 Emrah Klimenta
CB 4 Joseph Nane (46’ MF 22 Jediel Cedeño)
CB 14 Danny Barbir
RM 19 Wolfgang Prentice
CM 6 Tarek Morad
CM 7 Napo Matsoso (82’ MF 13 Neveal Hackshaw)
LM 3 Kevin Wright (62’ DF/MF 30 Bryan Tamacas)
RW 10 Lindo Mfeka (62’ FW 17 Johnny Rodriguez)
ST 9 Dariusz Formella
LW 11 Trayvone Reid (73’ FW 18 Anuar Pelaez)
GK 47 Taylor Bailey
MF 15 Daniel Gomez
Tampa Bay Rowdies (3-5-2 system)
GK 1 Connor Sparrow
CB 2 Connor Antley
CB 3 Forrest Lasso
CB 33 Aaron Guillen
RM 23 Sebastian Dalgaard (75’ MF 16 Jake LaCava)
CM 14 Charlie Dennis (87’ FW 77 Lucky Mkosana)
CM 22 Jordan Doherty
CM 7 Yann Ekra (74’ DF 19 Freddy Kleemann)
LM 8 Jake Eraman
ST 9 JJ Williams (87 FW 30 Ariel Martinez)
ST 26 Cal Jennings (75’ FW 22 Dayonn Harris)
GK 15 Philip Breno (only 6 players on the Tampa bench)