EL PASO, Texas – Oakland Roots SC went into its first game in the 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires, with the longest odds to advance of any road team in the Eastern or Western Conference Quarterfinals.
As the final whistle blew, the visitors had put themselves alongside some of the biggest giantkillers in the history of the Championship Playoffs.
A second-half goal by Jeremy Bokila and a four-save shutout by goalkeeper Paul Blanchette saw Roots SC take a 1-0 victory against Mountain Division title winner El Paso Locomotive FC on Friday night, bringing to an end a 25-game home undefeated streak for the hosts that dated to July 24, 2020 in the process.
Oakland advances to visit either Orange County SC or Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC on the road in the Western Conference Semifinals next weekend.
Buoyed by the support of a packed and noisy crowd of 7,201 fans, El Paso began the game energetically in the opening, but it was Oakland that carved out the first good look in the fifth minute as Quincy Amarikwa found space between the midfield and defensive lines to operate as he moved centrally from the right before finding Johnny Rodriguez in the left side of the penalty area for a first-time shot that was just tipped over by Locomotive FC goalkeeper Logan Ketterer.
The flow of the game remained overall with the hosts, though, although with it came relatively little end product in the opening half-hour. Oakland’s defense and midfield remained well organized when Locomotive FC had the ball, and when there were half-chances available things just didn’t quite connect El Paso would have envisioned. A driven free kick by Mechack Jerome from more than 30 yards out was the first real test for Blanchette in the 27th minute as the game remained deadlocked at the break.
The second half opened in a similar fashion, only this time El Paso almost connected. A cross from Macauley King from the right found Josue Aaron Gomez, who pulled his volley at the back post but saw the ball carom kindly to Nick Ross at the top of the penalty area for a shot that went just wide of the left post.
Again, though, it was Roots SC that had the bigger chance to grab a lead when 10 minutes into the second half Memo Diaz delivered a curling cross from the right that was flicked on target by Emrah Klimanta to force a diving save from Ketterer. Oakland’s Kai Greene was first to react to the loose ball, but he sent his finish from the top-left edge of the six-yard area over the crossbar.
It appeared for a moment it was a chance Oakland would rue missing as El Paso began to again take control. A pair of chances came to Gomez just past the hour-mark, with the second off a turnover in possession in Oakland’s half clipping the top of the crossbar just above the top-right corner of the net. Roots SC’s Blanchette was then called on to spare his own defender’s blushes as he reacted sharply to a attempted clearance that redirected toward goal off a cross by Sebastian Velasquez from the left, while in the 71st minute Diego Luna’s low shot from the left side of the penalty area was parried wide of the far post by the goalkeeper.
The game turned in the direction of Oakland with 14 minutes to go, however, as off a long punt upfield by Blanchette, Amarikwa flicked on into the path of Bokila, who got between the defender and the goalkeeper to squeeze home a finish from 12 yards in front of a stunned crowd. With six minutes to go, the visitors almost doubled their lead when Matias Fissore was given a one-on-one chance against Ketterer but was denied.
As hard as El Paso pushed to find an answer, the chances refused to fall. A near-post cross from the left by Velasquez was smothered as Luis Solignac tried to find a finish before being cleared behind for a corner, while Leandro Carrijo sent a header just over the top-right corner of the net off a free kick with a minute to go. That would be all for the hosts, however, as their year-plus home undefeated streak – and hopes of the club’s first silverware – evaporated in one of the biggest opening round upsets in Championship Playoffs history.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
Paul Blanchette, Oakland Roots SC – Blanchette was solid throughout in net, making four saves to record a shutout while also recording two high claims and sweeping behind his back line effectively to keep Locomotive FC off the scoreboard.
OAK – Jeremy Bokila (Quincy Amarikwa) 76’