Oakland Roots SC doesn’t have an extensive track record of any kind, let alone in Albuquerque.
The second-year USL Championship franchise will make its second visit to Isotopes Park on Wednesday to take on New Mexico United. Last year’s encounter ended in a 1-1 draw.
Memorable or not, that August match proved to be important for both clubs.
Roots SC came in with a 2-8-4 record, but turned things around after their draw in New Mexico. Oakland secured a playoff berth, earned an upset win at El Paso and ended its freshman season on an upbeat note.
For United, last season’s draw was part of a frustrating 0-2-5 winless streak that proved costly at the end of the season. NMU fell one point short of a playoff berth.
Fast forward to 2022 and there are some similarities to consider. United are off to a 2-0-1 start, their best in four seasons, while Oakland are 0-3-0 with three one-goal losses.
New Mexico freshman coach Zach Prince isn’t one to dwell on last season, but he isn’t about to look past Roots SC either.
“Oakland is super organized and has a really good coach (first-year mentor Juan Guerra),” Prince said. “There’s a lot of talent on this team, and their record doesn’t really reflect how they’ve played. We know we have a challenge ahead of us. »
Roots SC were stung by a 90th-minute goal in their last outing, a 3-2 home loss to expansion Monterey Bay. United can understand the feeling of giving up a late goal after Orange County scored in second-half stoppage time to salvage a 1-1 draw at Albuquerque on Saturday.
“It didn’t sit well with us at all,” Prince said. “We’ve taken time since then to reflect on what happened, not just on goal, but before. We have to do everything we can to avoid putting ourselves back in that position.”
Prince believes the mood was the main culprit for United, who seemed to back down somewhat after Harry Swartz’ 78th-minute decisive goal.
“We got a little too conservative too soon,” Prince said. “I felt like we were playing defense and trying to protect the lead when we should have been pushing for another goal.”
Daniel Bruce, who assisted on Swartz’s goal, offered a similar assessment.
“In my mind, when you finally score a goal to go 1-0, that’s when you have to do it again,” Bruce said after Saturday’s game. “We have to focus on the five minutes after scoring, change how it looks.”
TOP OF THE PACK: New Mexico leads the USL Championship in home attendance after two games, averaging 10,962 fans per game. The Sacramento Republic is second with 10,138, followed by the Birmingham Legion with 9,277.
Wednesday’s game could impact attendance numbers as weekday crowds have generally been smaller league-wide. United will not return to Isotopes Park until April 23, when they will host San Antonio FC. NMU will entertain Las Vegas Legends FC in a US Open Cup match on Tuesday at UNM Soccer Complex at 7:30 p.m.
KEEP IT CLEAN: United and Oakland Roots FC haven’t often been serenaded by whistles from officials this season. New Mexico ranks second in fouls conceded (28) among USLC clubs, while Oakland (32) is third.
Hartford Athletic have conceded the fewest fouls (23), while Tulsa (65) and Orange County (62) have the most. Orange County was whistled for 19 in Saturday’s game at Albuquerque, while NMU was called for six.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Oakland (0-3-0): Roots SC are counting on an international flair to improve their offense this season. Ottar Magnus Karlsson (Iceland) scored two of his club’s three goals, while Juan Azócar (Venezuela) has five shots, the best of his team, and Dariusz Formella (Poland) has one goal and three shots. Oakland struggled to apply a lot of pressure last season, ranking last in the USL Championship in shots and chances created. The improvement has been marginal so far as Roots SC rank 23rd with 25 shots (7 on target) in three games. Defense has been more of a problem in 2022 as the club have surrendered six goals without registering a save. Goalkeepers Taylor Bailey and Benny Diaz conceded three goals each, facing only six combined shots on target.
New Mexico (2-0-1): New additions have had an obvious impact in terms of United’s strike, but a pair of familiar faces have also been heavily involved. Defender Harry Swartz has a pair of goals – both from headers – with four chances created in three matches. Swartz hasn’t scored and has had nine chances created in 2021, despite being limited to 12 games through injury in his first season with NMU. Midfielder and fan favorite Daniel Bruce was also sharp, registering two assists and three created chances in three appearances. Midfielder Justin Portillo continues to excel in his first season with the club. Portillo has two assists and leads the USLC with 15 chances created. Goalie Alex Tambakis ranks ninth with eight saves.
REMARKABLE: United have struggled with a number of relatively minor injuries as regulars Austin Yearwood, Josh Suggs and Kalen Ryden have missed the club’s last two matches. All three are improving, coach Zach Prince said, and Yearwood returned to training this week. Forward Neco Brett limped off the pitch late in Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Orange County and was suffering from muscle cramps, Prince said. … New Mexico will have an extended break from USLC play after Wednesday’s game. His next league contest is April 16 in Phoenix. NMU will host Las Vegas Legends FC in a US Open Cup second round match on Tuesday at the UNM Soccer Complex at 7:30 p.m.