Charlie Dennis got the Roots the initial lead with a sizzling goal in minute 36.
Screenshot via YouTube.
An oft-used aphorism in Texas hold-’em poker is that all you need is a chip and a chair.
There is, after all, truth to that. You can go all-in on a crappy hand with nothing more in reserve than a single red five-dollar chip, bluff your opponent, double your meager stack, and go from there. Wash, rinse, repeat. Maybe you won't win the tournament. But nobody can question your moxie, your id, and your desire.
The Oakland Roots entered the USL playoff quarterfinals as the seventh seed, drawing a match against the No. 2 seed San Diego Loyal in front of their rabid supporters in the fabulous City Named for Didacus of Alcalá. Unsurprisingly, the pitch at Torero Stadium looked like the surface of the moon, pockmarked all to hell, the result of a recent football game that saw the University of San Diego thump Presbyterian College 28-3.
The city’s soccer team did not show the same level of resolve.
And only if a segment of their fans showed some degree of restraint.
During the second half, a bottle flew from the stands, a guided missile earmarked for Paul Blanchette’s skull. Thankfully, it landed nowhere near the Oakland goalie; however, given Paul the Wall’s adroit handling of his designated territory, he surely would’ve parried that rancorous projectile away as well. But that’s not even the main story.
Yes, there were the three goals that the Roots shoved home (which could’ve been four, but Azocar’s bid was wiped out by an offsides call). In the realm of high amusement, though, it’s tough to surpass the Loyal’s pathological addiction to being disciplined, the graceless miscreants that they are. Can you think of a game in which one of the teams was red-carded damned-near to contraction? Last night, San Diego had not one, not two, but three – THREE – of their esteemed gentlemen pick up reds.
All three of the red cards were wielded in the latter stages of the back 45. First, in seventy-sixth minute, Loyal forward Thomas Amang was admonished with two rapid-fire yellows and the ensuing red stemming, all from a love poke at a Roots player’s eyeball. Three minutes later, Amang’s teammate Alejandro Guido, a local kid who attended Mater Dei in Chula Vista, decided to join the fun and earn a trip to the locker room himself. Later, as the eighty-seventh minute melted into the eighty-eighth, centerback Grant Stoneman received a crimson booking of his own along with the requisite quick ejection to the showers. Stoneman had picked up a yellow just four minutes earlier. Clearly, Grant had other places to be.
With the Loyal reduced to just eight players as the ninetieth minute approached, and the Roots leading 2-0, an Oakland victory was imminent. But in case the point wasn’t made, the Roots tacked on in the first minute of stoppage time. Midfielder Matias Fissore, who had entered the fray in the sixty-eighth minute, casually received a through ball from Óttar Magnús Karlsson and in one motion sent an easy delivery past SD goalie Koke Vegas, who had ventured outside of the box and left the net empty. The extra time tacked on to the end of the second half would prove no help for San Diego and would be little more than a minor annoyance for the Roots and their supporters who just wanted the damn match to end so they could start dreaming about and preparing for the upcoming tilt with San Antonio FC.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t give volume to the Roots’ first two goals. In the thirty-sixth minute, midfielder Charlie Dennis fired a frozen rope from the edge of the penalty area, past Vegas’s desperate dive, disrupting the back of the net to give the Roots a 1-0 lead. It was Oakland’s first shot on goal for the match.
Given the disparity of the two teams’ respective rankings, drawing first-half blood on the road as the much lower seed was huge for the Roots. For one, it allowed them to play looser and with more confidence. Two, it imbued some doubt into the cranial matter of the Loyal, who eight days earlier had been dismantled by the Sacramento Republic 4-0 in their final regular-season game. Before that, SD had endured a pair of draws against Orange County and New Mexico. The Loyal hadn’t won a game since their September 24 triumph over the mediocre Las Vegas Lights. SD’s recent run of form was less a “run” and more a slog through quicksand.
And, suddenly, they were staring at an early deficit to the underdog Oakland Roots.
In the fifty-second minute, diminutive midfielder Lindo Mfeka recorded an easy walk-in goal by confiscating a careless and errant ball by Loyal defender Kyle Adams. The shocking 2-0 lead would prove to be plenty. Fissore’s stoppage-time tally, the first goal of his pro career, was an inspiring capper.
Oakland will now face the top-seeded San Antonio FC on a quick turnaround: they will travel to Texas on Wednesday and play on Friday.
As the Oakland Roots, in just their second season in the USL after two in NISA, continue to phase from their nascent stages into being an established club, every USL playoff victory will feel like the biggest win in team history. In last season’s quarterfinals, the Roots ventured to El Paso and hung a big scarlet letter L on a Locomotive team that had not dropped a home game since the Compromise of 1850 was signed. On Friday they'll face a tough task in tussling with SAFC on a short week and traveling two time zones.
Will the Roots have a second dollop of Lone Star serendipity in store for us?