Phoenix Rising 1-0 Oakland Roots
As they did against Sacramento Republic, Oakland again attacked through the half-spaces. We saw early in that game that Oakland’s preference appeared to be to keep the ball central, before Sac adjusted and forced Oakland wide. That preference reappeared in this match, as Oakland regularly advanced the ball through the channels in the first half.
Oakland also made intelligent use of the wide areas, though, as Soya Takahashi and Akeem Ward both got forward regularly. In fact, it was a Takahashi run down Oakland’s left flank that led to Roots’ best chance of the first 45. That sequence also benefitted from Lindo Mfeka’s savvy movement. Whenever Mfeka dropped into the midfield, Rising’s Aodhan Quinn was given the responsibility for marking him. You can see in the replay that Mfeka has dragged Quinn all the way into the box, which is what creates the space Hernandez needs to set this chance up.
Although Oakland went toe-to-toe with Phoenix for the first 25 minutes, they found themselves down a goal both because they couldn’t finish their own chances (in addition to the above, Kai Greene was maybe an inch away from heading a corner home) and because Phoenix got a free header near post off a free kick of their own. (I’m not positive who is to blame: It *looks* from the set up like Max Ornstil is responsible for Mattocks, the goal scorer, and maybe he reacted slowly, but it also looks like Ward and Klimenta broke Roots’ high line early, and are the reason Mattocks was onside for his header. And that Phoenix even got the free kick was the result of a two-minute stretch of uncharacteristically sloppy passing. But we probably wouldn’t even be playing the game if representatives of England’s most prestigious colleges didn’t get together in the mid-1800s to settle on the rules of the game. So, honestly, who is to say?) The final 20 minutes of the first half, though, featured essentially one-way traffic. Phoenix pressed high, putting Roots under a lot of stress. Roots saw some of the ball, but were pretty much always in scramble mode and therefore unable to manufacture chances.
The second 45 was wide open. I think it really says something about this squad that they can play an up-and-down, no-brakes type game against one of the best sides in the USL, although the game remained a one-goal contest largely through the Herculean efforts of Paul Blanchette, who made several incredible saves (and also Phoenix’s determination not to put many of their best chances on target). The game was really stretched for nearly the entire second half, and there was space all over the pitch for both sides to exploit. Jeremy Bokila came on in the 70th minute, and I think in hindsight having him on the pitch for more than 20 minutes would have helped. Lindo Mfeka has been remarkably effective as a center forward, but Jeremy Bokila gives you a few more options in the box. To put it another way, Mfeka is excellent at helping a build-up; Bokila is excellent at finishing one. For instance, this header Bokila got off shortly after coming on is probably not something you get from Mfeka:
Roots moved to a back 3 in the 77th minute, and thereafter forced Phoenix’s keeper to make two really excellent saves, first off a Soya Takahashi effort from just outside the box, and second off a Wal Fall header in second half stoppage time. I think the Roots bench could sense that Phoenix was vulnerable, and switched things up in an effort to get more bodies forward without being too vulnerable on the counter, and it nearly worked.
That was a gutsy performance, and it's too bad Oakland could not secure at least one point. But, as I said, a point here probably was never really part of the plan. I think Oakland will need something like 10 points from their last 4 to make the playoffs, unless Los Dos or Orange County suddenly collapse (and Oakland can facilitate the latter!). But the biggest takeaway from this match, for me, is that this is a totally reasonable return for Oakland. They went toe to toe with the best the West has to offer, on their home turf. They can beat anyone if they finish their chances. They will simply need to do that.
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