Another Roots road game, one one that, sadly, I think fewer of us will make it to. The match is at 6:30 p.m. Pacific, and will be available on KTVU Plus and ESPN+. It’s going to be a hundred-and-two god damned degrees in El Paso tomorrow, so y’know, we wish our boys all the best out there. Roots are coming off their first win in what feels like forever, and El Paso are trying to break their worst streak of form of the season.
“What if Cake tried to write an Emerson, Lake & Palmer song?” A question only these five anime1 fans from El Paso were brave enough to ask.
Around the Western Conference
Last Friday, San Diego put Switchbacks to the sword in Colorado Springs, padding their run differential by five. Orange County beat Loudoun, staying tight on the back of the playoff cusp contenders. El Paso and RGV drew, and Sacramento drew to Memphis. SAFC, New Mexico, Vegas, and Phoenix somehow all had the week off.
El Paso’s Form
I alluded to this in last week’s preview, but El Paso’s incredibly consistent streakiness extended this past week. El Paso started the season with three straight losses, to Sacramento (who are good), Switchbacks (who are okay), and Detroit (who are bad). Then like a switch flipping, El Paso went undefeated from March 25 to June 17, only dropping four total points out of a possible thirty-three. Then things got weird again, with Locomotive drawing Tampa 1-1 at home (reasonable result), losing 0-1 to New Mexico at home (eyebrow-raising result), and drawing 0-0 away to Monterey Bay (eyebrows off face, floating above head like cartoon result). El Paso have played two since then, and neither has been what they’d hoped.
SAFC are not running away with the Western Conference (or even leading it) like they did last year, although this 2-1 win in El Paso was the third of three wins in a row. El Paso went ahead in the 29th on an Eric Calvillo penalty. The highlights suggest it was a good but not great scoring opportunity for El Paso and just a boneheaded error by the SAFC defender. SAFC equalized on the USL goal of the week.
What’s nuts is that just four minutes later San Antonio went ahead on THE SAME SHOT from the same player. The good news is that this is hilarious. The bad news is that it doesn’t really tell us there’s a big exploitable weakness in El Paso’s defense.
A few days later, El Paso hosted RGV, who at the time were just ahead of the Roots on the table. RGV did appear to find a weakness in the El Paso defense, with Wilmer Cabrera2 ghosting in behind the back of the defense and weirdly cuing a shot past Benny Diaz. It took El Paso to the 88th minute to score, and they did it on a low, looped header off of a set piece–one of those where you can watch it all you want and never really quite understand the physics.
So El Paso are faltering, but mostly its an offensive struggle.
|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||D||2||2|
|June 17||vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds||D||0||0|
|June 24||vs Phoenix Rising||D||1||1|
|June 28||vs RGV Toros||L||0||2|
|July 8||at Tampa Bay Rowdies||L||0||3|
|July 12||vs. Memphis 901 (rescheduled)||D||1||1|
|July 15||at Monterey Bay Union F.C. of Seaside||W||3||1|
|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||El Paso Locomotiv|
I’ve been telling you not to watch Roots highlights for weeks. Watch these highlights:
I predicted a win in this match, but I was nonetheless pretty worried about the immediate return to the Joseph Nane Centerback Experience. I was also unsure when I saw Cedeño and Mfeka flanking Rodriguez. But I was wrong! Monterey Bay’s defense is struggling generally, but they did not know what to do with two highly technical midfielder/forwards flanking a pacey, strong striker. The first goal came off of Memo/Mfeka interchange on the left, teeing up Memo for the (exquisite) lane-splitting pass to Cedeño who had lost his man. Cedeño would have had a lot of work to do to control the ball and turn for the shot, even with the keeper well out of his goal, but luckily he did not have to make those things happen–Siaha wiped him out for the penalty, which Johnny buried coolly.
Credit to Monterey on the equalizer. They dragged Barbir waaaay out of position to the left corner, and then completed some tidy centralizing passes until finding Dixon with room for a run-up to his shot in the middle. Paul never really had a chance.
The go-ahead for the Roots was all Johnny being Johnny–Cedeño got to a ball under significant pressure near midfield and cannily poked it into space where Johnny could race the Union defense to it. He was always going to win that race, getting himself all the way into the box, but not clear of the defenders. He got a little lucky on the shot, with a deflection that wrong-footed Siaha, but I’m not sure his shot would have been saveable by Siaha anyway. The angle makes it a mystery, but luckily we aren’t left wondering what if.
Much to Aaron’s chagrin, the Roots again took their foot off the gas, and things were back and forth for awhile, although I don’t recall things seeming to be in Union’s favor so much as things were even.
The final goal was the mirror image of the first. Without a pressing need to score, the Roots calmly held possession at the attacking right corner of the 18-yard box. Cedeño faked, facilitating a Tamacas to the near post, which dragged Tamacas’s marker with him and out of traffic. Cedeño passed through the open space to Daniel Gomez right at the D who controlled with his first touch, and with his second looped a ball up and over the defense to the left, where Memo could get a full head of steam and lace it past Siaha for the insurance goal.
The idea is: technical wide forward plays off of his technical and pacey wingback, waits for an opportune moment, and then plays in the counterpart on the opposite side, optimally putting the keeper under immediate pressure. It worked in this one.
El Paso Players to Watch
Luis Solignac #9 – I feature Lucho Solignac here every time, but he has reliably been an elite USL player. I like Solignac because he played for the Chicago Fire during the brief time I was trying to be a fan of that team. He was ultimately released in 2018, and signed with SAFC in 2020. In 2021 he moved to El Paso and has scored 34 goals and 13 assists over those two-and-a-half season. El Paso’s form has tracked Lucho’s this season: he was blanked through the opening three matches, then scored eight goals in eleven matches, the period when El Paso took 29 of 33 available points. However, in five matches since then he has not scored, with El Paso picking up only three points. Solignac is a central striker, stands just over 6 feet tall (yeah sure, buddy, same), and is right-footed.
Denys Kostyshyn #10 – Kostyshyn is from Kiev and a product of the Dynamo Kyiv youth system. He transferred at 17 to Dnipro to go fully pro, and played for a couple other Ukrainian teams before moving to El Paso in December of 2022. He plays on the right side of the El Paso attack, and has four goals and two assists so far this season.
Petar Petrovic #27 – Petrovic has just two sub appearances and one start since returning from a two-month absence with a leg injury. Prior to that injury, Petrovic was starting regularly and had three goals and an assist in seven games. Petar Petrovic is a Swedish footballer of Serb descent. I mention this because I’m worried you might have been thinking I was talking about the Petar Petrovic who was the Serb magnate in Banat, administrator of the Kingdom of Hungary and governor of Temes County between 1486 and 1557, or alternatively Petar I Petrovic or Petar II Petrovic, successive Prince-Bishops of Montenegro in the 18th and 19th centuries. I’m sure you knew this was not the Petar Petrovic who is a Serbian swimmer. This Petar Petrovic plays on the left side of the Locomotive midfield.
Lineup and Score Predictions
I think Jon is exactly right on his prediction. I was ready to predict Morad, but Klimenta had a great game, particularly in the air, against Monterey and he may stay in the lineup. Especially because Morad’s pure athleticism is less necessary when not covering for Nane.
I could see Noah playing Formella over Lindo, but I doubt it and would not choose it myself. I do like Aaron’s suggestion of keeping both and dropping Gomez, but I don’t think Noah will rock the boat that much coming off the best performance in months.
I think the Roots will look good in this game, but I don’t think El Paso are either as good as their good streak or as bad as their current dip. 1-1 and the Roots thank them for the point before some easier upcoming matches.
I’m going with a return of Lindo to left wing, Cedeño at right wing, Gomez in the midfield, and Emrah as the right side center back with Neveal Hackshaw back. I like the wrinkle that Lindo and Jeciel provide in their forward roles, so why not see if you can find consistency after a very strong offensive performance against Monterey? I’m sticking with my 2-1 Roots prediction on the pod.
“What if we didn’t just play the most defensive lineup we can think of” is a question I’d like the Roots to ask themselves sometime. Maybe not this game, but I’m just spitballing here. This suggestion isn’t even that attacking, but it moves some players up the pitch to take advantage of their offensive attributes. It’s whatever, though, I guess. You can’t lose if you don’t surrender goals. Idk if you can win enough thinking like that though. 1-0 Roots.