The drama continues for Oakland Roots in its 1-nil loss to FC Tulsa on Saturday at CSUEB, resulting in Roots suffering its fourth consecutive defeat and have now dipped to seventh-place in the USL Western Conference and tied for points with eighth-place Monterey Bay going into a critical rematch between the two teams this coming weekend.
The blog’s Jack Morris highlighted some differences in his recap, highlighting how injuries and inconsistent refereeing impacted the match.
Here’s everything coach Noah Delgado had to say in our talking points coming out of Saturday’s match.
Finding form ahead of Saturday vs. Monterey, the most important game of 2023
Oakland Roots have backed itself into a corner. After being up to third place a few weeks ago following its 2-1 win over New Mexico, Oakland has dropped all the way to seventh and are just one point away from dropping completely out of playoff contention. Now equal points with eighth-place Monterey, Saturday’s rematch between the two teams creates an ultra-important six-point game.
“It’s tough,” said Delgado. “We’ve had some tough results with the other three [losses]. Louisville a late goal away, Sac Republic was also tough and this one as well. I thought tonight was a rough one, we were playing down a man the majority of the game and giving up that early goal made things difficult. I thought the first half performance was just okay but I thought the boys came out in the second half and still pushed.”
Consistency has been an issue on both sides of the ball for Roots in recent times. They recorded just three shots on target against Tulsa, two against Las Vegas, and four versus Louisville. They had six shots on target and 20 attempts in their 1-0 loss to Sacramento, but clinical finishing has clearly not been present. As well on the defensive side, Oakland at one point was the second-best Western teams defensively, but have now gone six matches without a clean sheet.
“I think both sides [offense and defense] have struggled. We haven’t had a clean sheet in six games, both sides of the ball are important to us. We had the lead against Louisville and Vegas—it’s multiple things. We had players out on international duty, some injured players, it’s that time of the season where we have to focus on perform,” said Delgado.
Now with just five matches left in the season, Oakland is entering arguably its most important game of the year against Monterey. It represents a six-point match versus the team directly below them in the standings.
Although Oakland couldn’t find the finishing touch in recent matches, Delgado has been encouraged by some of what he’s seen during the current stretch–pointing to the 20 shot output against Sacramento and an improved second-half performance while down a man versus Tulsa.
“But I believe in this squad and the players that we have, we’ve had a lot of success. Some of these losses may have been our better games, I wouldn’t say today was our best game but I thought the fight while down a man to create some chances and not give up much was a good response and we’ll build off of that,” said Delgado.
Oakland midfield woes has undoubtedly been a factor in its four-match losing streak with Joseph Nane (lower body), Tarek Morad (concussion), and Danny Gomez (lower body) all nursing injuries. Delgado is hopeful all three players can return to training this week.
“I hope Tarek starts training next week. We’ll see, he’s going through the protocol for a concussion, but hopefully he’ll be back next week… Danny Gomez, throw that in the mix, he played there and had a great run. Jojo played there, I thought Tarek had some great games in the midfield. Getting Koze back is a boost for us and getting him minutes to play. Now its details and finding the right combination against the opponent,” said Delgado.
“Hopefully we get them all in training next week. With Tarek, it depends on the concussion protocol. Jojo looks pretty good. Gomez is running, so we’ll see if he can give it a try.”
The injuries at the position has forced Delgado to shuffle things around during a time when Oakland wants to determine the best lineup to lead them into the playoffs. As a result, consistency has been an issue. Coach Noah also pointed out losing Bryan Tamacas and Neveal Hackshaw to Nations League duties led to issues with consistency.
“It’s also international duty, losing those guys for a game and then coming back in and out—not having those experienced players in Vegas [hurt us],” said Delgado.
It feels like Nane and Morad’s injuries have been the largest thorns in Delgado’s side. Jojo lining up at center back allowed Hackshaw to rotate into the midfield, giving Oakland a big boot and body when moving into the attack. Since Nane’s injury against Colorado Springs on August 19, we haven’t seen Hackshaw in the midfield. Delgado opted to use Morad as a midfielder to provide more defensive stability, but he’s now out as well.
What are possible changes?
It feels like something’s got to give at some point. Does Delgado keep plugging away with a familiar lineup, or do we start to see some changes? He mentioned finding the “right mix” in order to get out of this losing streak, so perhaps adjustments are on the way.
“Keep building, hard work, and focus on details. Right now, it’s a game of little details and keeping our composure when stuff goes bad. It’s finding the right mix, the right intensity, the right details, and we move forward,” said Delgado.
What is that right mix for Oakland? As mentioned above, Roots looked noticeably better with Hackshaw playing his midfield role, allowing Delgado to plug in any of his midfield options alongside him. So, how does Delgado get him back there?
The only option to rotate Hackshaw to the midfield without Morad would be switching to a four-man back line with Danny Barbir and Emrah Klimenta as his two center back options. Also given Lindo Mfeka will miss the next match due to his red card, another change is inherent.
With Oakland’s attack struggling, in addition to Mfeka being out for Monterey, it may be time to switch things up. Delgado has deployed a 4-4-2 during matches, maybe its time to begin starting Anuar Pelaez and Rodriguez at the same time. Below is a couple of lineups that I feel puts Roots’ best players on the field.
Given Delgado likes to push Barbir down the left side and invert Memo Diaz, I’m unsure how likely this option is. Regardless, I really like this potential setup; it allows Cedeño and Johnny to interchange centrally at the 10-role with Pelaez and Trayvone Reid pushing the back line to generate pockets of space for Rodriguez shots from distance. Pelaez has shown a propensity to find shooting space from range as well, which was evident when he nearly scored a stunning goal against Louisville.
The home issues
Oakland Roots’ issues at home have been impossible to go unnoticed. They are currently 4-5-5 with 13 goals scored and 12 conceded, ranking No. 10 of 12 in the Western Conference on local soil. Why can’t Roots find quality at home? They have boisterous support with one of the best home atmospheres in the league, but things clearly aren’t going their way.
Maybe the condition of Pioneer Stadium’s field has something to do with it, where the ball rolls noticeably faster than the lush green fields of Roots’ training facility. Delgado wouldn’t say the CSUEB field was an issue, but his eyes sure did the talking as he looked toward the field and smirked. But with Oakland locked down to play in Hayward through 2024, he’s aware the field cannot be an excuse with hosting Monterey on the docket.
“There’s certain factors out there, but we’re both playing in the same place, there’s no one way that’s better for the other. We’re trying to find a solution,” said Delgado.