It was an unfortunate 2-1 loss for Oakland Roots at Louisville City on Saturday, conceding the game-winner at 90+8′ by Oscar Jimenez to even though the refs gave seven minutes of stoppage time. Oakland ended the night in fourth place of the USL Championship’s Western Conference with 40 points, currently tied for points with with San Diego but ahead on head-to-head results.
Roots were without Bryan Tamacas, who was on paternity leave, while Joseph Nane was still ruled out with a lower body injury he suffered against Colorado Springs.
It felt like Oakland was playing from behind in all 90-minutes of Saturday’s loss, even when holding a 1-nil lead at the end of the first half thanks to Johnny Rodriguez’s goal. Louisville outshot Roots 25-9, recording 10 shots on target and four big scoring chances.
Oakland, meanwhile, had four shots on target and converted its one big scoring chance. Aside from a shot on target by Johnny to open the second-half, there wasn’t much to write home about. Regardless of Louisville scoring the game-winner at 90+8, an extra minute after seven minutes were initially given, it felt like Oscar Jiménez score was coming after Louisville’s dominant game.
Noah Delgado’s pursuit of setting team-history is still just one win away. Delgado tied technical director and former coach Jordan Ferrell for the organization’s all-time lead in wins with 17 when defeating New Mexico 2-1–reaching the mark in six less matches than Ferrell.
Here are our talking points coming out of Saturday’s match.
Eight matches left in playoff race
We’ve now hit the home stretch with just eight matches left in the season, so how do Roots shape up? Here’s a list of the final eight:
|September 2||Sacramento Republic||13-9-4, 48 points|
|September 9||at Las Vegas||2-8-15, 14 points|
|September 16||FC Tulsa||7-8-12, 29 points|
|September 23||Monterey Bay||8-7-11, 31 points|
|September 30||San Antonio||13-9-4, 48 points|
|October 4||at Orange County||13-4-9. 43 points|
|October 7||at San Diego||11-7-7, 40 points|
|October 14||El Paso||10-5-10, 35 points|
Looking at the list, you can circle Las Vegas, FC Tulsa, Monterey, and El Paso as must-wins over teams that have struggled throughout the season–that would be 12 points to put Oakland at 52, which would be good enough for fifth-place in 2022. To get the home-playoff draw, Roots will have to get the job done against the top teams in the conference like Sac, San Antonio, Orange County, and San Diego.
Wins over Orange County and San Diego are the obvious musts for Roots in their pursuit of a top-four finish. Orange County is surging on a seven-match winning streak and is looking like they’ve re-found its 2021 form after firing Richard Chaplow eight games into the season at 1-3-4 at the time. Taking those two matches, in addition to the four mentioned above, would put Oakland at 58 points–which would be sufficient for third-place in the 2022 final standings.
Let’s assume Sacramento and San Antonio continue as the top-two teams in the West. Orange County has a slightly easier run-in with Las Vegas up next (Sep. 2), followed by El Paso (Sep. 9), Colorado Springs (Sep. 15), San Antonio (Sep. 23), Phoenix (Sep. 30), Oakland (Oct. 4), San Antonio again (Oct. 7), and Monterey (Oct. 14). Expected wins over Vegas and Monterey put OCSC at 49 points, while they will also be favored against El Paso, Colorado Springs, and Phoenix. Roots will need OC to drop points in more than one of those four games.
Over to San Diego, which currently holds one game in hand on both Oakland and Orange County. Their remaining nine matches is against Birmingham (Sep. 3), Charleston (Sep. 9), Louisville (Sep. 16), Monterey (Sep. 20), Las Vegas (Sep. 24), Monterey again (Sep. 30), El Paso (Oct. 4), Oakland (Oct. 7), and Vegas again (Oct. 14).
SD benefits from four matches remaining versus Monterey and Vegas–giving them 12 points if all goes as expected, putting them at 52 points. El Paso is another favorable matchup, which would put them at 55 points with a win. That leaves Eastern Conference foes Birmingham, Charleston, Louisville as three tough tests, while Roots for the Torero Stadium finale is shaping up to be their biggest match of the season. Oakland will need to spoil the party and have SD drop points versus those three East teams.
The midfield selections has kept us on our toes over the last month. It’s currently unclear how to label players like Neveal Hackshaw, Tarek Morad, and Joseph Nane. Are they center backs? Are they midfielders? They are all a mix of both positions, evidently.
Morad made his third straight appearance at central midfielder after never playing a single minute at the position during his time in Oakland. When healthy, Nane lining up at center back has allowed Noah Delgado to rotate Hackshaw into the midfield–where he plays for Trinidad and Tobago. Without Nane, Hackshaw is back to the CB role.
Oakland’s traditional midfielders are Napo Matsoso, Danny Gomez, and Irakoze Donasiyano. We’ve seen Napo line up at right wing to spell Jeciel Cedeño, but he was also signed to become Roots’ veteran leader in the midfield. Matsoso lined up in the CM role on Saturday with Hackshaw in the back. If Nane is able to return in the near future, it’ll be interesting to see if Hackshaw steps back into Napo’s role. While Matsoso has more speed and agility, Hackshaw has shown a better propensity to line up a shot from distance.
As mentioned following the win over New Mexico, Gomez is emerging as a top-selection under Delgado. He entered for 21 minutes against Louisville, and although he didn’t make the largest impact, he blocked one shot and completed one pass into the final third. His sub appearance came after back-to-back starts on the short-week of rest, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him on the bench. Gomez offers a bit more offensively than Napo, but a bit less defensively, though still a dependable option. It’s fair to expect more of him in the final eight games.
Donasiyano has also returned after his long recovery from an injury. How can he impact games over the final stretch? He’s by far the best ball-handler of all Oakland’s midfield options.
Koze entered Saturday’s match for 21 minutes, but committed a blunder pass backwards to Hackshaw which was off the mark and enabled Louisville to tie the match in the 71st. It was an unfortunate mistake from Koze, who needs to make the most of his minutes after falling behind on the depth chart. But he seems to still be shaking the rust off after his lengthy absence, I don’t think the one mistake will be judged harshly by Delgado.
Baboucarr Njie also has experience as a midfielder, while he’s been mentioned as a depth option at wingback. It’s difficult to determine where he slots into the depth chart until fully recovered from his injury. Perhaps we can expect more from Njie in 2024, assuming he’s viewed as a two-year project, because it seems hard-pressed to see him overstepping anyone for a starting role at this point. Even if he becomes 100 percent, he’ll need time to get incorporated.
RootsBlog MOTM – Paul Blanchette
Without Paul Blanchette, it could’ve been a much more lopsided score. He recorded eight saves, including two saves by diving.
Blanchette stopped a one-on-one opportunity from Elijah Wynder in the fifth minute, followed by a critical double-save in the 16th, where he prevented successive shots by Ray Serrano and Manny Perez. He made a diving stop on Wilson Harris in the 37th. He was also a factor in Louisville’s wiped goal at 45+2′, where his leap to get his hands on a cross resulted in a foul on Blanchette after a long deliberation. Without Paul’s great positioning, it could’ve been a goal for LOU.
Paul also tipped a header from Maarten Pouwels at 90+1′ onto the post after making an athletic leap to make the stop. It’s unclear if the stat trackers credited Blanchette for this save, but we are.
Memo Diaz & Johnny Rodriguez continue breakout campaigns
Memo Diaz and Johnny Rodriguez’s connection at 45+6′ continued their breakout seasons. Diaz recorded his fourth assist on the year to lead the team, while Johnny is now a double-digit goal scorer with 10 on the season.
The play started with Danny Barbir sending a long ball to Memo on the right outside of the penalty area. After taking a touch, Diaz sent a perfectly placed cross to Johnny in between two defenders for the header-goal.
Diaz’s assist marked his seventh goal contribution this season, which is currently second on the team behind Johnny’s 11. Darek Formella’s eight contributions is still, technically, second behind Rodriguez. His cross for the assist came with the pinpoint precision from Diaz that we’ve become accustomed to.
For Rodriguez, he’s quietly the longest tenured Oakland Roots player behind Taylor Bailey and has had to fight for his role as a starter. In 2021, Johnny sat behind Jeremy Bokila and Quincy Amarikwa. Last year, Rodriguez had to bide his time under Ottar Magnus Karlsson. Even coming into this season, Johnny had to prove he’s the No. 1 option ahead of Anuar Pelaez, an international signings with sights on the starting job.
Now 25-years-old, Rodriguez has finally solidified himself as a must-start. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see other USL Championship teams come knocking for his services next year, but given his longevity at the club, it’d be more alarming to see Johnny elsewhere in 2024.
Oakland still finding consistency
Now 26 matches into the season, it still feels like we’ve yet to see the best from Oakland Roots. That can be perceived as both a negative or positive depending on the perspective.
With a handful of matches left to get things right, it’s critical for teams to peak at the right time going into playoffs. Having a seven-match winning streak like Orange County would be wonderful for supporters of any team, but that’s all thrown out the window with one playoff loss.
But for Oakland Roots, it’s been their stated goal to achieve a home-playoff game. A winning streak like OC’s would put Roots well in their way to securing its goal and even challenging for the Western Conference crown. With eight games left, it still looks like Oakland is looking to play its most complete game since dealing Edgardo Rito to Hartford.
The potential is undoubtedly there for Roots. If they can begin hitting their stride in September and carry momentum it into October, we could have a very fun Fall season ahead of us.