Oakland Roots swap early goals in 1-1 tie with Detroit; Paul The Wall, lineup management, set piece defending, more

Oakland Roots drew 1-1 with Detroit City on Saturday night at Pioneer Stadium after scoring their quickest goal in franchise history when Johnny Rodriguez sent in a shot from a couple of yards atop the area in the very first minute of action.

Repeat with me, RootsFam: Johnny. Only. Scores. Bangers.

However, Oakland’s joy was short-lived when Detroit’s Stephen Carroll scored four minutes later on a corner that bounced to him right in front of goal. From there, Roots’ offense was able to finish the night with 16 shots with five on target, but couldn’t generate any big scoring chances. For Detroit, they were thwarted on two of three big chances by Paul Blanchette, who perhaps had his best performance of the season with nine saves and seven by dives.

Here are our Oakland Roots talking points.

RootsBlog Man of the Match – Paul The Wall Blanchette

How amazing is this man? Paul Blanchette may have already been Roots’ most popular player amongst its supporters and Saturday night likely won him more fans. It’s amazing what Paul has accomplished after being signed during the 2021 season, stepping into the starting role that year in place of Zeus de la Paz, re-earning his starting job from Benny Diaz in 2022, and is currently the USL Championship’s No. 1 shot-stopper in 2023.

His saves were downright magical, including three different double-save moments to keep the point for Oakland.

In the first half, Paul had his first double-save in the 25th minute after making a dive to stop Richard Ballard’s shot from inside the area, which followed up with a rebound attempt by Rhys Williams, but Blanchette stopped the shot from going through his legs. Blanchette then made a dive to prevent another shot from Williams in the second minute of first-half stoppage time.

Blanchette’s first action in the second half didn’t come until the 68th minute when leaping to push away a header pass by Williams just a few feet in front of the goal. Although it wasn’t credit for a save, it was another critical stop by Paul The Wall.

In the 72nd, Paul had another double-save except for the first leap preventing an own goal. His quick wit shined when a ball came poorly off of Neveal Hackshaw’s foot just a couple of yards in front of the net and back towards goal, instinctively leaping to batt the ball away. But the ball fell perfectly to Darío Suárez–who took a couple of dribbles to the right for his shot. Paul, somehow, dove to make the stop. Below is a screenshot of just how open Suárez’s opportunity was.

Then Paul made his miraculous double-save in the 89th minute to preserve the draw. It started with Blanchette leaping to his left to push a shot from Maxi Rodriguez onto the post. The ball rebounded to Williams, who took a right-footed shot from the right side of the area, trying to go across the face of Paul–but Blanchette wasn’t fooled.

Lineup management and Lindo’s pregame injury

Saturday’s match had a lot of lineup choices that were reflective on Oakland’s heavy stretch of three games in a one week span, including Bryan Tamacas and Napo Matsoso getting a rest-days. Lindo Mfeka, meanwhile, suffered a pre-game injury that forced Trayvone Reid into the rotation.

With Matsoso out, Oakland substituted in 17-year-old Project 51O prospect Etsgar Cruz for Joseph Nane in the 76th minute. Ryan Her also entered the match for Reid in the 67th, giving Roots one of its least experienced squads of the 2023 season thus far with Cruz, Her, Reid, and Wolfgang Prentice getting time.

All the roster turnover from the previous game can certainly spell to an inconsistent offense. Oakland still generated 16 shots but only five were on target, including four of those attempts in the first half.

Noah Delgado commented on how the heavy slate of games impacted their roster, while he also touched on Lindo’s injury but did not elaborate on the extent of his issue.

“I think a little bit for our side was physical. You could see at the end of the game, players falling down. We had three games in eight days, it’s tough. I thought were okay, but the effort was outstanding… It was just a physical battle for us. Obviously, Lindo going out in warm ups was tough, having to change on the fly. Gives us one less player depth. We had a couple other guys that we had to rest today. But I’m just very happy with the boys’ desire. You know, I thought you started the game unbelievably disappointing, the set piece goal. But I just thought the boys put their heart on the line tonight and, you know, it looked like a tie early on and Paul had some amazing saves at the end.”

Set piece defending still an issue?

Set piece defending has come back to bite Oakland on several occasions so far this season. It was an area I focused on following the first match of the season against San Antonio, where Oakland allowed a Worldy goal by Lamar Batista and nearly allowed a goal to Justin Dhillon following a free kick. The issue has still been a thorn in Oakland’s side.

In Oakland’s 1-1 draw with RGV on March 19, the Toros’ goal by Jonathan Ricketts started with a pass from a corner falling conveniently to Frank Nodarse in the area, who sent a pass in between Danny Barbir and Darek Formella, who were caught ball-watching. 

Then in Oakland’s 2-2 tie with Phoenix on the road, Rising got its equalizer in the 88th minute following a corner, where a 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. 

This time, Detroit got its goal in very similar fashion to the RGV and Phoenix concessions. The pass from the corner cleared Oakland’s wall of defenders and took a bounce off of the turf until greeting Stephen Carroll for the easy score.

Defending corners and free kicks was also a negative sticking point from the 2022 team. Oakland must find ways to limit teams from being so productive from that area, or it will continue being difficult to eek out close games.

Table watching season upon us

With 16 games left in the season and a two-week break following August 4’s match at Charleston Battery, Oakland Roots are entering the table-watching season.

Roots closed the weekend still in 3rd place of the Western Conference, but currently sit just one point ahead of San Diego Loyal, which has played just 20 games to Oakland’s 22. Roots can retain the 3rd spot with a win at Charleston, but then the two week break offers teams an opportunity to play catch up.

Following Roots’ match at Charleston, games to watch until August 19 versus Colorado Springs include: (Aug. 5) El Paso vs. Miami FC, Monterey vs. Sacramento, San Diego vs. Orange County, Phoenix vs. San Antonio; (Aug. 9) Colorado Springs vs. Tulsa, San Diego vs. Loudoun; (Aug. 12) Monterey vs. Tampa Bay, San Antonio vs. New Mexico, San Diego vs. Memphis, Phoenix vs. El Paso; (Aug. 16) San Antonio vs. RGV, Orange County vs. Pittsburgh.

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