Roots family it’s game day and it’s a big one! The Roots host Western Conference leader Sacramento Republic on Saturday, September 2 at 7:00 p.m. at Pioneer Stadium on the campus of CSU East Bay in Hayward, California. Roots are coming in off an up-and-down patch, but Sacramento enters on its only back-to-back losses of the season. The Roots are also celebrating Pride Night, which means:
My editor says he doesn’t know what music to put on the instagram story if I don’t include music in the preview post. Normally, I try to feature music local to the Roots’ opponents, which inevitably means Cake for Sacramento. But I worry that that has only put positive energy into the universe for Republic, a thing I am unwilling to risk this morning as I try to get this in before my deadline. I think a more fitting choice today is an artist from half-way between Oakland and Sacramento who looked at each city and made a choice which he would throw his lot in with.
This is the Roots’ truest rivalry. The I-h80 (it’s going to stick, I’m certain). The Roots have possibly played Sacramento more than any other team, although with those playoff matches, it might be Orange County or San Diego Loyal. Somehow, the Roots have never had a truly season-dispositive match against Sacramento. In 2021, the Roots beat Sacramento 2-1 on a Wednesday at Laney on this gloarious goal.
That goal seemed like it had sent the Roots on to the playoffs, but the Roots then lost back-to-back 0-1 games to Phoenix and Orange County, and would have to bail themselves out with wins over Loyal and Sporting KC II while Galaxy II frittered their season away. The goal was, however, a nail in Sacramento’s coffin, as they then lost to Loyal, and finished their season on four straight draws to miss the playoffs.
Earlier this season, the Roots got roughed up in Sacramento.
Early on, Roots lost possession in a dangerous area when Barbir got eaten by the turf monster. Roots had a chance to get on their feet, but could not win back possession, and Keko’s remarkable shot got Republic on the board. Roots held it even for the next forty minutes, but Russell Cicerone doubled Sac’s lead with a thumping goal to cap off a buccaneering run, powered by the Roots’ defenses’ endless jockeying-without-tackling. Just four minutes later Sac all but ended the game when Juan Herrera victimized the Roots’ offside trap. I think Barbir was also playing him on, but Memo was playing him on by four or five yards (meaning potentially it was Hackshaw’s mistake for trying to play him off instead of just hacking him down). Hackshaw was never catching him, and he finished calmly past Blanchette. Barbir scored a few minutes later but it was nothing but consolation. Roots fell 3-1.
Around the Western Conference
On Saturday, El Paso picked up what feels like their first points in forever with a 2-0 win over Hartford. I don’t know what he’s getting paid, but on a performance level you have to wonder if Rito is happy about demanding a move these days. Loyal beat RGV in Edinburg, with Moshobane getting his brace in the 77th minute, just after RGV had equalized on a Christian Pinzon penalty. San Antonio drew 0-0 at home to Pittsburgh, allowing them to sneak into a tie with Sacramento, who lost 0-2 at home to Orange County. New Mexico followed their mid-week 2-1 loss to the Roots with a Saturday 2-1 win over Tulsa. Monterey beat Switchbacks 2-1, in a good result of the Roots, although one leaving you wondering how the Roots lost to those bums. Guerra’s Rising was down 2-1 to Lights in the 80th minute, but just as we were all getting our hopes up, they scored twice in quick succession for the win.
On Wednesday, RGV drew 0-0 in Edinburg to San Antonio, New Mexico drew 3-3 with Vegas, and Phoenix won 2-1 over Sacramento. These are great results for the Roots if the Roots can kick on and challenge for first, but dubious results if the Roots keep dropping points and need to fend off the playoff bubble teams.
I propose that you look at Sac’s season in two halves. In the first half they were 8-3-1 with +18 goal differential and six clean sheets. In the second half, they are 5-5-4 with a +3 goal differential and three clean sheets. Admittedly, in that second half they have home wins over San Antonio (3-1) and Phoenix Rising (4-0), and there is no disputing that those are quality wins. However, they also have a 1-1 draw to RGV, a 1-1 home draw to Memphis, an 0-3 loss to New Mexico, and an 0-1 loss to Monterey Bay, and that’s without getting into their dubious form over the last five games.
On August 5, Sac won 1-0 away to Monterey Bay, a worse result in that fixture than the Roots mustered. They then drew 1-1 away to Birmingham, significantly worse than the Roots 4-1 win away at Birmingham (which was admittedly heavily influenced by the first-half red card). Sac picked up a 3-1 win over Loudoun United in exurban Northern Virginia on August 19, which is a better result than the Roots got in that same fixture.
On August 26, Sacramento lost 0-2 at home to Orange County SC in their anniversary match in front of a reported 20,000 fans. That was Orange County’s seventh win in a row, and eleven in their last thirteen. The teams played at Hughes Stadium, which I guess is an alternate venue but has football lines drawn on it and I haaaaaate watching this. It’s worse than the baseball diamonds. The teams were even through the first 54 minutes, and from the highlights it looks like neither team had any great opportunities. Thomas Amang broke things open right at the 54-minute mark, capitalizing on quite the boner from Conor Donovan (Conavan). Orange County all but ended the game in the 84th, scoring the equallizer on an open-net shot when Danny Vitiello came out to try to stop and attack, and prevented the shot, but could not prevent the pass back to an unmarked Seth Casiple central, about twenty yards out. Casiple basically passed the ball in and the two goal lead was good enough for Orange County. Sac had 59% possession, but turned that into only 4 shots on target, which seem to have been relatively tame based on the highlights. Orange County had only three shots on target, but converted two of them.
In the midweek game, Sacramento traveled to Phoenix and again the teams played it even for the better part of an hour. In the 60th, Phoenix scored in a very similar way to Orange County’s second–Gabriel Torres was played neatly into the box, and drew Sac’s keeper Vitiello out to try to close the angle, only for Torres to square the ball to Manuel Arteaga, largely unmarked just past the penalty spot for the easy shot on a mostly open net. I think that both might not just be mistakes by Vitiello, but reactions to Vitiello to situations created by Sacramento’s reliance on attacking fullbacks/widebacks. Less than five minutes later, Phoenix doubled their lead, pouncing on a sloppy pass by the Sacramento centerbacks trying to hold possession in the center circle. Rising’s #10 Federico Varela won possession and, as he was being knocked over, willed the ball to Manuel Arteaga, who could turn and play the pass into a sprinting Danny Trejo. Vitiello got a hand to Trejo’s shot, but it still bounced firmly into the net. Sac got one back on a silly long-header off of a corner kick in the 84th. Shane Wiedt was at least ten yards out from goal, and just bounced the ball back across goal into the far corner. Unsaveable but a little fluky.
So Sacramento are mortal. But there’s no real doubting that they are still good.
|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||W||3||1|
|July 26||vs Las Vegas Lights||W||1||0|
|July 29||vs Detroit City||D||1||1|
|August 4||at Charleston Battery||W||1||0|
|August 19||vs Colorado Springs Switchbacks||L||2||3|
|August 23||at New Mexico United||W||2||1|
|August 26||at Louisville City||L||1||2|
|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|||||
That match against Louisville was frustrating. Like with Colorado Springs, it seems like the Roots got the teams that those teams were supposed to be this season, not the teams they have actually been. For a team that is in fourth, the Roots have somehow seen the best out of a lot of teams not having their best seasons, including there Loudoun, Hartford, Miami.
Anyway, Jon has a good write-up on the match, which you should check out, which also gets into the Roots’ road ahead. I don’t agree with it 100%, but different perspectives is why Aaron pays two of us instead of just one.1
Paul Blanchette getting a double-save fifteen minutes into the match is obviously way too early for that kind of heroics, and probably told us this game was going to end badly. But it looked like it was going to end great when Louisville got completely robbed of their first goal when Paul got jostled a little bit going up for a 50/50 ball in the box. Paul deserves a save on his stat sheet for getting the call on that. Just seconds later, Oakland went ahead through a simple but perfect Memo cross to Johnny Rodriguez, who had ghosted his way between the centerbacks for an open header six yards out. I think Louisville was probably just off their game from the disappointing refereeing decision, but you wonder why Roots can’t replicate that goal more.
In the 48th, Johnny had the ball in close, but had no angle with the Louisville keeper at his near post. Johnny tried to go under him to no avail, and the ball popped out to Manny Perez who, under essentially no pressure, decided to bicycle kick the ball clear, and mis-kicked it directly into his own hand flung out into the air for balance. I understand why it’s stupid to call that a handball (I think it’s presumptively inadvertent or something like that, I barely understand the rules and/or general concept of the game2), but I think it should count as one when the bicycle kick is completely superfluous.
It’s not great that in one of his “settling in” performances after injury, the first conceded goal comes directly off an awful pass by Donasiyano. Its easy with hindsight to complain about trying to build out of the back there, especially against a team with Louisville’s attacking talent. The Roots still almost got bailed out when Brian Ownby controlled the ball by popping it up in slow motion right in front of Paul and then diving it into it head-first like a trained seal.
I was watching this game at my inlaws’ place in the foothills outside Auburn, and their internet finally gave up the ghost entirely around the time of Ownby’s goal, so I didn’t see Louisville’s winner. I’m not saying that Louisville didn’t earn it, I understand that they played pretty well, but pulling that first-touch shot that deep into stoppage time feels like there were forces at work beyond Roots’ ken. Louisville were the protagonists in that game, it would seem.
Players to Watch
Only featuring two players here. Rodrigo Lopez (#8) is working his way back from a four-month injury, and has 21 minutes off the bench over two matches since coming back. Luis Felipe (#96) likewise is working his way back into fitness, with his first start (after two sub appearances) coming this past Wednesday, following a seven-week injury. Hopefully neither is ready for another appearance this soon.
Russell Cicerone #11 – Cicerone, who came over from Pittsburgh in the off-season is second in USL on goals with 13. Like the team as a whole, though, Cicerone scored nine in Republic’s first thirteen games, and has only four since then (three in a row against Phoenix, Lights, and Monterey). Cicerone has played for both FC Cincinnati and St. Louis FC, so I can only assume was signed primarily as a talisman to get Sacramento that MLS bid.
Jack Gurr #2 – Gurr is a Geordie (Gurrdie) who came up with the Gateshead academy but left to go to college in suburban Atlanta at 19. Gurr played two season for NPSL team Georgia Revolution before getting picked up by Atlanta United, where he got one appearance for the big-kid team, but spent most of his time with ATL2. Gurr spent a season as a bench player for Aberdeen in the SPL, and signed for Sac in January of 2022. Gurr has wild pace on the right, and puts in vicious crosses. He played 164 minutes in the last seven days, so he might be gassed, though. He has five goals and four assists on the season.
Lineup and Score Predictions
I think my lineup prediction would be Delgado’s first choice right now, although it is dependent on Donasiyano being healthy and in good enough form to start. Neither Gomez nor Donasiyano is a defensive midfielder, so against a team as good as Sac, Delgado might be more conservative.
I said 1-1 on RootsPod with a goal from Mfeka. Hoping its better, fearing the worst.
Up the fucking Roots.
The conventional and what I feel is the likely choice will be Cedeño starting at right wing and Johnny Rodriguez up top. But my prediction is a lineup Sacramento Republic may not be prepared for and puts Oakland’s top-two scorers on the field at the same time. Anuar Pelaez has five goals in 783 minutes, giving him a 0.57 goals per 90 average–both are second behind Johnny. His speed could stretch the field and allow Johnny to find pockets of space for a long shot. Anuar can line up shots from distance as well and his attempt on target from range against Louisville suggests he’s finding his form. Plus, if you’re going to keep sticking Morad in the midfield, you may as well put your weapons out there.
RootsPod me said 1-0 Roots. RootsBlog me says 2-1 Roots–goals from Johnny and Lindo.
The hardest thing to do against Sacramento, if their season-long stats are anything to go by, is scoring goals. So my suggestions are (1) put both your strikers out there and play Cedeno in a more central role, and (2) make sure Klimenta and his glorious noggin are out there in the 63rd minute. Also, give me Donasiyano from the jump and *at least* one of the central defenders in the midfield. 2-1 Roots.