It could not have been a less relaxing Labor Day weekend for Oakland Roots. The 1-0 loss to Sacramento Republic, along with wins by Orange County and Phoenix Rising, leave Oakland with a heavy workload ahead of their final seven matches.
Roots leave the weekend in sixth-place with San Diego Loyal defeating Birmingham on Sunday.
Sacramento were awarded the penalty kick that scored the only goal of the game just under two minutes after kickoff. Keko Gontán went down at the edge of the penalty area after contact from Oakland’s Napo Matoso. The Roots’ midfielder showed up slightly late to a heavy Gontán touch, and the veteran Spanish winger flew towards his corner flag.
While Oakland controlled most of the remainder of the game, creating better and more frequent chances than their visitors, they were unable to change the scoreline. Roots out-possessed Sacramento, with much of that possession coming in their offensive half, and the home side recorded double the shots on target, over double the total shots, and an 11-2 corner kick advantage.
When asked about the penalty decision that ultimately decided the outcome post-match, head coach Noah Delgado said, “one minute into the game, going away from goal, I don’t…” before trailing off with an exasperated look.
Delgado also acknowledged the inverse similarities between this match and the previous week on the road against Louisville City.
In Kentucky, Roots took advantage of some of their own less-than-assertive officiating to take a late first half lead. As a result of the home side conceding an aggrieved goal, Oakland spent the second forty-five minutes in a defensive shell, trying to do little other than keep LouCity off the scoresheet.
Louisville wore Oakland, unable to pose an offensive threat, into the ground with sustained possession and opportunities. The result was three home points for City, and a frustrating trip home for the Roots.
Playing the reverse roll Saturday night, Oakland found themselves unable to finish their chances. The Roots attack looked to lack a needed additionally dynamic gear, relying on crosses and long passes to find their opportunities.
The center forwards, Johnny Rodriguez and Anuar Paláez combined for just one shot on target in the 90 minutes—a weak Rodriguez volley in the 60th minute. Oakland has been relying on non-traditional attacking players to contribute offensively, and Sacramento did an excellent job of making those players, not the forward line, the only available weapons.
The travel, including to the altitude of Albuquerque, and dense fixture schedule seem to have had an affect of the Roots, and Delgado mentioned the squad looked “tired” on their trip to Louisville.
Despite this, the game against Louisville did not see a substitution until the 69th minute. In the Sacramento game, Oakland did not make a switch until the 73rd minute, and the club only made three total personnel changes.
The lack of impact players the head coach trusts to deploy has been a problem all season; and while the 2023 Oakland Roots have never been a deep team, with consistently minimal week-to-week squad rotation, the final stretch has been magnifying the issue. Next week, Oakland will be without both Neveal Hackshaw and Bryan Tamacas in Las Vegas due to international call-ups.
A matchup with the Western Conference cellar dwellers is the best case scenario for a shorthanded Roots team, but a bench with limited impactful players will be even thinner, with the points even more important. With just over a handful of games remaining, this may be the last opportunity for players on the fringes of Delgado’s rotation to become trusted contributors to a team in need of effective depth.