Oakland Roots have more than recovered after a bizarre midseason coaching change

Quick Hit
  • Even after manager Juan Guerra left for Phoenix Rising earlier this season, the Oakland Roots are going strong

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A midseason coaching change is never easy, especially when a rival swoops in during a playoff race to poach your manager. 

The Oakland Roots found themselves in that very position in August when Juan Guerra bolted for Phoenix Rising part way through his first year on the job in California. Assistant Noah Delgado, a former Puerto Rico international and part-time assistant for the Salvadoran national team, was elevated to the head job on an interim basis. He took over a team sitting in ninth place, four points off of the playoffs.

Fast forward a month and a half to the present and the Roots are up to sixth place in the West and control their postseason destiny. Delgado’s tactical tweaks have improved Guerra’s system and earned 14 points out of a possible 21 since the managerial fiasco. In their expansion campaign in 2021, Oakland recovered from eight losses and a single win in their first 12 games to make the playoffs – and it looks like they may have found that magic again.

A magical recipe

Oakland’s tactical system is based around an aggressive 3-4-3 shape with a hold-up striker and attack-first wingbacks. 

The center backs are encouraged to possess with patience, to drive the ball into the attacking half, and to only look long as a last resort. In the final third, Oakland’s two wide forwards tuck inside to allow the wingbacks to overlap. Edgardo Rito, a right wingback with five goals and seven assists, and Juan Azocar, a left wingback with eight goals, are the beating heart of the Roots. They stretch defenses, make powerful runs against opponents that pinch against the narrow forwards, and drive Oakland’s counter-pressing.

The last four games are indicative of what’s changed in the East Bay.

That stretch, including three wins, began with a storybook match against Guerra’s Phoenix Rising team. Oakland won 2-0 with two finishes from Lindo Mfeka. An oft-injured returnee from the expansion campaign, the South African is thriving under Delgado. Against Phoenix, Mfeka started on the right in the front line of the 3-4-3. Rather than playing as a narrow winger, Delgado had Mfeka play much wider with Rito making underlapping runs in the attack. The change completely confused a Phoenix team that ostensibly knew Oakland’s Guerra-created system and sparked Oakland’s run.

Key player

Charlie Dennis’ shift into the central midfield has also been key. Dennis joined the club from FC Tucson in USL League One this offseason, and Guerra mostly used him in a supporting forward role. Still, the 6’2” Englishman impressed with passing vision and a strong work rate and earned spot appearances in a deeper position. Dennis’ progressive tendencies and effort in the press reflect a team that have only allowed two goals in their last four outings.

With two games to play, the Roots still have El Paso and Rio Grande Valley breathing down their necks in the Western Conference table; each of those rivals has a game in hand. Still, Oakland has two winnable games coming up against Hartford and Pittsburgh. This team has coalesced around an identity and come to play for Noah Delgado. They certainly have the momentum to stay above the line and qualify for the playoffs, even after a bizarre midseason coaching change.

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