It was a disappointing 3-2 loss for Oakland Roots against Colorado Springs on Saturday, watching Roots fall one position in the Western Conference standings but still in contention for a home playoff bid in fourth place. Roots came back to tie the match twice in the first half but conceded the game-winner to Tyreek Magee in the 58th minute on some great interplay between the visiting side.
Although Roots’ two-week break came at a fortunate time with multiple players on the mend from injuries, the stretch was evidently not enough to get players like Johnny Rodriguez, Lindo Mfeka, or Napo Matsoso back into the starting rotation. The team also seemed to lack some fluidity and struggled to quickly adjust to the fast turf field at CSUEB’s Pioneer Stadium.
It’s a short week of rest for Oakland with a road test at New Mexico on Wednesday.
Here are our talking points coming out of Saturday’s loss.
A tale of two halves
Despite falling behind twice in the first half, things seemed to be trending in the right direction for Roots as they entered the halftime break. Oakland went into the half with seven shots and three on target, but despite taking 11 total shot attempts in the second half, only two shots in the latter stages found their way to the goal keeper.
By the end of the match, Oakland was pressing forward eager for a goal, but they couldn’t create consistent chances. They notched two big scoring chances in the first half, but couldn’t find the same effectiveness in the second half.
Aside from the offense not breaking through, the result marked the first time Oakland allowed more than one goal since the 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay on July 8. Roots came into the night as the second-best defensive time in the Western Conference with 24 goals allowed, now dipping to third behind San Antonio, which his 26. Coach Noah Delgado gave his thoughts after the match.
“I think we came out after a break just not as sharp as we normally are defensively. I think, overall, we were just catching our rhythm after a long stretch of time off. But we gave up some goals, obviously we can defend a bit better. But we’ll go back to it, watch some film and move onto the next one,” said Delgado.
Memo Diaz masterclass
Memo Diaz has been flat-out amazing this season. He earned FotMob’s highest rating of an 8.5 with his goal, while also finishing with two scoring chances created, 33 completed passes, and 10 passes into the final third. His third goal of the season and sixth goal contribution continues his career high in both categories–totally eclipsing his previous high of just two goal contributions set last year.
Diaz’s inclusion in Delgado’s system has proven just how versatile he is, appearing as Roots’ primary option at left back and their first-choice behind Bryan Tamacas on the right side. He can run on the flank with pace, evident by his breakaway goal on Saturday, can invert himself to play more centrally as a midfielder, and is the best passer on the team.
John Morrissey (USL Tactics) named him to his mid-season second-team All-League. Perhaps 2023 is when the league, finally, puts respect on Memo’s name.
Delgado offered his thoughts on Diaz: “He’s working hard, very fit and is having a career-year for himself. We know we could get space on the left side, he successfully made the run and had a great finish.”
Neveal Hackshaw & the midfield rotation
Neveal Hackshaw’s rotation into the midfield has certainly been a storyline from the last couple of games with Joseph Nane moving into the back line at a more frequent basis. Nane, however, suffered an injury that forced Hackshaw to the back line while Tarek Mared, another usual center-back, coming into a CDM role.
As Delgado explains, Hackshaw featuring in the midfield was something they pulled from his experience with the Trinidad & Tobago National Team–which also played him at midfield in the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup. Although Nane suffered an injury, Delgado views the pair as interchangeable options.
“Hack plays the 6-role, defensive mid with his national team, so he’s very comfortable in that position. We’re just looking at different options and different moves; I think JoJo is very solid as the center center-back. We’re comfortable with Hackshaw at center-back as well and both of them interchanging,” said Delgado.
With Napo Matsoso on the mend, Irakoze Donasiyano returning to action, and Danny Gomez surging as a Oakland’s youngest option at the position, the midfield rotation will be something to watch going forward.
The 51O pipeline
There is a clear philosophy difference to roster building for Oakland Roots compared to other teams around the USL Championship. Instead of loaning in castoffs from MLS roster or transferring in veteran options, Roots have opted to promote interior options from its development team, Project 51O.
The hallmark callup has been Danny Gomez. He now has 14 appearances, 11 starts, and one assist to his credit. Ryan Her was another offseason signing from 51O, so far with four appearances and 62 minutes in a reserve role.
With midfield-based players on the mend like Napo Matsoso, Irakoze Donasiyano, Joseph Nane, and Lindo Mfeka in the 10-role, Oakland opted to callup teenager Etsgar Cruz. He’s been frequently praised by staff members as a goal-scorer and playmaker for 51O.
This time with Johnny Rodriguez out, Oakland opted to bring up Luis Saldaña, a 19-year old striker. Saldaña made his USL Championship debut on Saturday, entering in the 88th minute for Anuar Pelaez. His inclusion by Delgado further shows the level of trust the coaching staff has in its prospects.
If the name of the game is increasing players’ values and building from within, the plan is being executed well. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s still a beneficial strategy during the final playoff push.
Updates on Johnny & Lindo
Roots missed Johnny Rodriguez and Lindo Mfeka on Saturday. Lindo, notably, provides a different skillset with his ability to tuck into the 10-role, while Rodriguez is in the middle of a breakout campaign. Delgado gave an update on both players:
“I assume [Johnny] will be back next week… [Lindo] just has a little knock, he should be back next week as well.”