The captain, Emrah Klimenta, is back for 2022 to help pursue a playoff spot. His re-signing on January 7 was a welcome sight for the team’s Most Valuable Player last season after joining the organization four games into last season.
Last season marked Klimenta’s third time playing for a franchise in its first year of operations. He played from 2014-2017 with Sacramento and was with San Diego Loyal in 2020 for its first year prior to signing with Roots. Just a year removed from Oakland’s first year in the USL Championship, Klimenta points out the obvious differences from last season.
“We have a facility, we have locker rooms, showers, all of that. First year challenges are to be expected that there’s going to be some kinks and things that don’t go our way on and off the field. Last year was my third time being on a first-year organization. I came into it knowing these things and understanding there’s going to be challenges. I think other guys were kind of surprised by it, but for me, it was almost to be expected. This year, we have this beautiful facility, guys are showing up early in the morning for work. We’re supposed to show up 45 minutes before training and guys are arriving an hour-and-15 prior because their eager to be here. The camaraderie is there, we’re feeling like a team; when you’re around each other all the time and you build these relationships off of the field, it correlates to being on the field,” said Klimenta.
Talking to Emrah and other players around the Oakland Roots’ training facility, there is a clear electricity permeating throughout the locker room. Adding a talented coaching staff, a bolstered lineup, and acquiring a former NFL training facility will do that you.
“We’ve gotten a lot of people integrated into the good core that we had coming from last year. The guys have been class; good players, good people, I’m excited for this year,” he said.
It has been a busy offseason for new coach Juan Guerra, technical director Jordan Ferrell, and director of player personnel Nana Attakora. Klimenta is expected to start alongside newcomer Alejandro Fuenmayor, but we’ll certainly see Danny Barbir and veteran Tarek Morad get minutes this year.
As the veteran center back puts, everyone is welcoming to the competition.
“I think Juan, Jordan, and Nana, worked it out perfectly to have depth at every position around the squad. It means everybody is competing; nobody came here, myself included, thinking ‘this spot is mine.’ You have to be humble no matter where you go or how big of a player you are. They’ve done a great job at bringing in guys at every position, our defense is just as strong and we’ve added a lot of great players. Barbir is 6’4″, he’s a presence. Alejandro played in the MLS, he’s a good player. Tarek and I are back, and we’ve got great outside backs as well. Our squad looks strong, man, I’m truly excited for it. We’ve added a lot of depth in the attacking positions, Charlie [Dennis] is a very good player and a tall presence too,” said Klimenta.
Before Chuy Enriquez’s extension on January 29, five of Guerra’s first eight signings were defensive-minded players, six if we’re including Juan Carlos Azocar–who occasionally lined up at fullback with RGV. Klimenta reminds us that “defense wins championship.”
“Everybody says it, ‘defense wins championships,’ I’m a true believer in it. When you have a good core of goalies, defenders, and attackers, it gives you confidence as a defender that we’re gonna score, we’re gonna get the advantage and be able to defend it. Vice versa with the attackers, if they know they have a good core of defenders behind them, the burden on their shoulders is lifted a bit. We added some good pieces, defensive wins championships, I’m a firm believer in that,” said Klimenta.
Coming to Oakland, there is is no mistaking the club’s model for social-good and high character. There’s no ‘say-one, do another’ (like other Western Conference opponents, ahem, San Diego), and players must have a firm understanding of the organization’s identity before signing on. Klimenta, as a captain, re-affirms those standards.
“Everybody before they came here were told specifically what this club stands for and what the core values are. I think a lot of players wouldn’t be here if they didn’t believe in those values as well. the character that we have off the field is great; we have funny guys, we have serious guys, we have guys in between. Everybody who comes here knows what Oakland stands for, especially with last season. It was such an up and down season, it truly shows the grit of our team and the Bay Area in general,” said Klimenta.
Last season, Emrah was the Roots’ most active player, leading the club with 2,359 minutes played and 26 starts. His career has taken him all over; beginning in 2009 with Slovakia’s MŠK Žilina and Germany’s FC Ingolstadt 04 before joining Cal Poly University the following year. He signed with the Bay Area Ambassadors of the NPSL in 2011 and later joined the Sacramento Republic in 2014 after trying out for the team, helping them win the USLC Cup the same year. He finished his time in Sac as their all-time leader in minutes, starts, and appearances
He’s entering the ninth year of his professional career, now in his second season for his hometown team.
“Man, my journey to make it to be a professional has been up and down from Day 1; injury ridden, and I’ve overcome those. It’s made me better and made me mentally stronger. Year 9, I’ve always had the mentality on nothing is given, it is earned. I always tell the young players, the quicker you realize that you have to work your ass off, the better off you will be. I’ve grinded my whole career, I’ve been doubted a lot. I came into the squad last year, I was open minded and I wanted to play for my hometown team. At the time, we have a couple of center backs ahead of me but I just kept working.
“I think everyone recognized my experience and how I talk to everyone. I’m a vocal leader and I like to be heard, direct, and help out in any way I can. It’s earned, not given, I’ve had that mentality from a young age.”