Oakland Roots’ 2-2 tie against Monterey Bay on Saturday marked the end of a four-game losing skid, but still far away from their form during the summer. Was it a point gained for Roots, or two points lost?
The result keeps them in seventh-place and equal points with Monterey at 41, holding a game in hand on MBFC.
“I thought we had tons of the ball and had most of the possession. It’s hard to break a team down like that, Monterey played well defensively. Now its time to get back, recover, and get ready for San Antonio,” said Delgado.
Monterey did its best work on the counter attack, scoring both goals on passes over the top in the third and 64th minutes. Oakland’s goals both came from defenders with Danny Barbir’s finishing a great pass from Bryan Tamacas in the 44th minute followed by a wonder-goal by Neveal Hackshaw on a falling-backwards bicycle attempt off of the side of his foot in the 90th.
“I’ll take them any way we can get them,” said Delgado with a laugh.
Here’s everything coach Noah Delgado had to say in this week’s talking points.
Mistakes continue to plague Oakland
It’s simple; you make mistakes, you get punished. That’s been the case for Oakland over its last couple of losses, where the back line gets caught on passes over the top. This time, Monterey’s opening goal in the third minute came when Neveal Hackshaw and Danny Barbir both pressed Sean Okoli, who flicked the ball off of his head to Sam Gleadle running through the back.
The replay shows how Barbir and Hackshaw put their focus on Okoli to open up space for Gleadle. Roots’ support argued that Gleadle was offside, but as we’ve become aware of, USL referees aren’t adept at judging the fast-paced moments.
Regardless, it’s a similar defensive lapse to the goal conceded to Tulsa the previous week, where the back line failed to spot Phillip Goodrum charging through the back line. Monterey could’ve struck again in the 21st minute when Okoli sent a shot wide instead of feeding Alex Dixon unmarked running towards Oakland’s goal.
Similar on Monterey’s second goal in the 64th, a long ball to Okoli was allowed to bounce off of the ground, catching Hackshaw stumbling to allow Okoli to gain possession. Although Emrah Klimenta also rotated over, the striker was able to get his shot off and trickle it into net. Without those costly mistakes to Monterey and Tulsa, things could’ve gone very differently in both cases.
Delgado gave his thoughts on the defensive errors.
“We gave away some goals tonight that we definitely could’ve defended much better. We knew we needed to get back a bit after a hard week. Just a tough one, just little errors. There were some moments early in the game, and we’ve been preaching to have quick starts, so it was disappointing in that matter, but the character to comeback and get a late draw was important,” said Delgado.
Danny Barbir – RootsBlog Man of the Match
Now to drawing positives; Danny Barbir has been a joy to watch this season. He’s consistently been among Roots’ best outfield players and has officially notched career highs in nearly every category. His goal was his second of the year, tying a career high, while he’s also reached personal bests in assists (three), starts/appearances (30), minutes (2,697), shots (18), shots on target (6), and interceptions (45).
He’s a “do-it-all” type of player for Delgado as a center back who makes long runs down the left side and moves centrally when Oakland is on the attack. His equalizing goal in the 44th minute came on a perfect low-cross from Bryan Tamacas to Barbir right in front of the net, putting in his shot on his second touch.
“He’s solid. Just solid performances all season. He got forward into the attack and great composure to finish that goal. He’s getting confidence and he’s growing into himself as a player. He’s also demanding of players, he’s a true professional everyday in training, we’re very happy with him,” said Delgado.
Anuar Pelaez in the 9-role, can we see more of it?
Anuar Pelaez featured in the 9-role for Roots on Saturday, pushing Johnny Rodriguez to the right side and Trayvone Reid to the left with Lindo Mfeka serving a one-game red card suspension. Pelaez played the entire game, eventually finishing the game alongside Johnny on the left, Jeciel Cedeño on the right, and Luis Saldaña as a second-striker.
If you’re a reader of the blog, you’re well aware of my calling for a Pelaez-Rodriguez combination. With Delgado preferring to drop players into the 10-role on the attack, its a system alteration that could benefit from Anuar and Johnny’s long-shot ability.
“I thought Pelaez’s physical attributes, hard work rate, and work to close things down was solid tonight. He put some pressure on their back line,” said Delgado.
When asked if we could see more of Pelaez going forward, Delgado responded it mostly depends on who they are playing, but he could be a part of the San Antonio plans.
“Yeah [we could see Pelaez again], we have to see what the opponent brings. Obviously, San Antonio is another very physical opponent next week and I think his physicality will be key,” said Delgado.
Finding an answer in the midfield
Oakland Roots currently have not scored a goal from its natural midfield players. Aside from Hackshaw’s goal on Saturday night and Tarek Morad scoring from the CB spot back in May against Orange County, no one who has appeared at the position has sent one into net. There’s been assist contributions from Napo Matsoso (three) and Danny Gomez (one), but four goal contributions from midfield players has been a glaring issue this season.
“We just have to get them going and get people minutes. Koze [Donasiyano] is still getting back in form and I thought they were solid tonight defensively. We’ll get some players back and see which combination fits,” said Delgado.
With Joseph Nane out, Roots haven’t been able to supply Hackshaw in the midfield rotation–which may have been Oakland’s biggest game-changer this season. Danny Gomez has also been on the mend and someone Delgado showed some preference in before his injury. In the end, Delgado wants to see Hackshaw and Nane back at it.
“I think we’re getting pretty close. Hopefully we’ll see Jojo next week and Danny will start training next week. We’re looking better in that aspect… I’m eager to see where we’re all at, you know what I mean? I want to see how they fit; it’s been a while for Jojo, so we have to be careful with him. Pushing Hackshaw forward gives us another body presence and Jojo’s experience is key,” said Delgado.
When looking at the roster, the midfield spot could be identified as the largest area for improvement going into 2024.
In theory, Roots could have its attack already addressed for next season with Johnny Rodriguez, Lindo Mfeka, and Jeciel Cedeño already locked in. They have Baboucarr Njie for 2024 as a possible left back, while Memo Diaz could rotate to right back if Bryan Tamacas doesn’t return (it’s unclear if Tamacas is on a multi-year deal, my impression is he’s not). Maybe Hackshaw moves back into the midfield for 2024 or they focus on Gomez as a fulltime starter, meaning Roots could put significant investment in just one midfield job instead of two.
The final stretch ahead
Welp, Oakland Roots took just one point of its matches against Monterey, Tulsa, and Las Vegas, backing them into a corner down in seventh place with one of the toughest portions of the schedule to close out the season. Roots host second-place San Antonio, followed by away trips to Orange County and San Diego before finishing with El Paso at Pioneer Stadium on October 14.
“We really just need to focus on the details and getting them right in the big moments. We need to be really secure, understand everyone’s role, and having the message as clear as possible. And then, execute,” said Delgado on the message going forward. “We need to be very clear on what we’re looking for and clear on how our gameplan is. We need to find out what roles are going to be important for us, because when you get to certain games there could be some players who give more against a certain opponent defensively or in transition. So its going game-by-game and putting them under a microscope and examining each little detail.”