In its first season in the USL Championship, Oakland Roots SC upset the midseason odds brought on by a slow start and not only reached the USL Championship Playoffs at their first try, but then advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals by recording one of the most notable upsets in the league’s postseason history against El Paso Locomotive FC. Now, with new Head Coach Juan Guerra at the helm as Jordan Ferrell returns to his role as the club’s Technical Director, Roots SC will try to build on that success in Year 2.
On the face of it, the biggest challenge Roots SC will face is whether the numbers that produced the club’s ascent in the Pacific Division a season ago can be improved upon. Oakland was arguably the side that benefited most from the division alignment, with its Expected Points mark sitting below the teams it beat out for fourth place in the Pacific Division – the LA Galaxy II, Tacoma Defiance and Sacramento Republic FC – and its actual points total was less than both New Mexico United and Austin Bold FC’s in the Mountain Division. A main reason for that was the side’s overall lack of attacking punch – Roots SC ranked last in the league with only 303 shots while tying for the fewest chances created with 217.
After seeing Jeremy Bokila lead the team with six goals a season ago, Oakland has tried to boost its attack with Dariusz Formella arriving from Sacramento Republic FC, and Icelandic international Ottar Karlsson joining the side on loan from Serie A’s Venezia F.C. Add in the return of defensive veterans Emrah Klimenta, Tarek Morad and Akeem Ward and goalkeeper Paul Blanchette, and there’s a foundation to build on. The question will be if Oakland can continue to outperform its rivals where it matters most.
Dariusz Formella – Polish forward makes journey across NorCal to joins Roots SC from Sacramento
Charlie Dennis – 2021 USL League One All-League selection will bring playmaking ability in final third
Alejandro Fuenmayor – Venezuelan defender joins side after most recently competing for Houston Dynamo FC
Óttar Magnús Karlsson – Icelandic international joins Oakland on loan from Serie A’s Venezia FC
Wal Fall – German midfielder helped guide side to postseason before entering free agency
Kai Greene – Veteran center back was transferred to Championship newcomer Monterey Bay F.C.
Jeremy Bokila – Forward notched six goals to tie for team high
Saalih Muhammed – NorCal native announced retirement following end of season
There was an element of a homecoming for Emrah Klimenta’s signing with Oakland Roots SC, with the city having been the Montenegrin’s original home when his family emigrated to the United States when he was a child. The impact the USL Championship veteran had on the side was notable, too, as Klimenta’s presence on the back line helped Roots SC first get over the playoff line in the final weeks of the season and then earn a pair of postseason shutouts before falling in a penalty shootout to eventual title winner Orange County SC in the Western Conference Semifinals. The 31-year-old has now made 161 regular-season appearances in the Championship in his career, providing a key level of experience at the back for Roots SC as it moves into its second season in the league.
One of the more intriguing moves of the offseason saw Dariusz Formella make the move from Sacramento Republic FC to Oakland Roots SC, with the Polish forward adding a new storyline to the emerging rivalry between the two NorCal clubs. Formella recorded 17 goals in 51 regular season appearances for Republic FC, a solid enough return, but he will likely be hoping to up his strike rate from just under a goal every 200 minutes at his new club. If Oakland is to return to the postseason for a second season in the Western Conference, it will likely need Formella to shine in the attacking third.
Juan Guerra (1st Season)
After announcing his retirement at the end of the 2018 season, former Venezuela international Juan Guerra has quickly progressed in the coaching ranks to take the reins of Roots SC as his first Head Coaching position. The 35-year-old will be looking to take his experiences as an assistant coach at Indy Eleven and Phoenix Rising FC and help guide Oakland to continued success after its postseason berth a season ago in its first year in the Championship.
303 Oakland Roots SC took only 303 shots in the 2021 regular season, the fewest of any side in the Championship, and tied for the fewest chances created with 217. While the side’s defense was solid much of the campaign, finding more incisiveness in the attacking third would give Roots SC a pathway to becoming a consistent playoff participant.