On Thursday, March 9, Oakland Soul announced its first head coach in organization history in Jessica Clinton ahead of their inaugural season in the USL W League.
The blog sat down with Clinton for an exclusive interview.
“There’s a lot of reasons why I came to Oakland Soul. I was a fan of Roots, I had their gear back when they started, so from a branding perspective and became a fan of their purpose-driven community. When I saw the Soul position was opening, it was a no-brainer to move into the professional world… I have a smile on my face every day because of the opportunity and the excitement about what we’ll look like on game day,” said Clinton.
Joining Oakland Soul for its inaugural season in the USL W League, Clinton is making her professional coaching debut with sights on building the club toward the Super League’s inception.
“It’s building a team. It’s something not many people have an opportunity to do starting from scratch from a team perspective. But from an organization perspective, the foundation is there, so we won’t have to worry about all the other little details and we can focus on building the team. How creative and fun that will be is the most exciting part,” said Clinton.
Clinton’s wife is a native of Clayton in nearby Contra Costa County, providing them an opportunity to move West for the Soul job. Clinton originally applied in December before landing the role in February.
“My wife is from Clayton, so it was an opportunity to move back West faster than anticipated. After meeting and speaking to a lot of people during the interview process, it just became clear this was the place I wanted to be,” she said.
After being hired, she made the complete cross-country trek from Massachusetts to the Town.
“It was fast. The decision was made and we already had a place [in the Bay Area]. It was really just getting from Boston to the Bay Area, I left last Sunday and made the drive. I came across the country and I stopped at a Brewery in Illinois. Thank god for that bartender because he told me to drive down to Oklahoma City and I missed a snow storm.”
Clinton comes to Oakland after spending a month short of eight years as Fordham’s head coach before resigning from the position in November 2021. She led the University to four appearances in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019. Fordham reached the A-10 Final in 2015, achieving the school’s second-highest win total in program history at 13-2-7.
Following her time at Fordham, Clinton returned to her alma mater to become Boston University’s associate head coach for the 2022 season. She began her coaching career with the Terriers in 2008-2012 as an assistant before being promoted to associate head coach in 2013. Boston University won six consecutive conference titles during her time there, including helping develop Kylie Strom, who plays for Orlando Pride.
With 15 years of experience in the college game, recruiting and evaluating talent in the high school, college, and post-college range will certainly be a big part of the job.
“At the collegiate level, you have players for four years and then they cycle out. You’re either looking to bring players in based off of formation or team-culture, it’s a very cyclical thing where you’re losing so many and bringing in so many. At the professional level, you’re building around players for a certain amount of time and the goal is not to lose them,” said Clinton.
Stepping into the Bay Area and California puts Clinton in a hot bed for women’s soccer at the club level, putting Soul in a tremendous position to tap a robust talent pool.
“You see a lot of National Team players come out of this region more-so than any other part of the country, which is really exciting. You have the best players not from a college situation, but from the high school and club level. The over 23’s, or the ‘retired’ group, is another hot bed. I would say the best in the country are in or around this area,” said Clinton.
As a previous college coach, Clinton thinks athlete’s ability to play year-round in California is a big factor in the development of talent around the state.
“I’d say the ability to year-round is a part of it. The mentality around the game is a little bit different, being stuck inside due to snow changes what you’re doing as a kid on the East,” explained Clinton.
Now, Clinton’s next line of duty is to build Soul’s roster for 2023 alongside technical director Jordan Ferrell and VP of Soccer Eric Yamamoto.
“We just got off the phone in doing that. It’s coming together in that we’re looking for the best college players who represent Oakland and the best youth players and determining what that model looks like with players going off to college. Even that over 23 group who are a little bit ‘retired-ish’ but offer a strong culture in their soccer knowledge and understand what the big picture is. It’s coming together,” said Clinton.
Ferrell touched on the makeup for Soul on media day as well, forecasting a “two-year” transition into the Super League.
“We’ve been working on building the roster and getting those pieces. With Soul, our clear intention is to be professional. The Super League that’s imminent is the perfect opportunity for us to do that. The makeup of the W League roster will show that intention. We don’t want a bunch of 30-year-olds to win the W League, but we’d rather have a bunch of 17- or 18-year-olds to try and win the league. In two-years time when we transition into the professional ranks, we will have young talent who we have already built a relationship with,” said Ferrell.
Clinton expects a “fun-attacking style” with “gritty defending” that will represent Oakland on the field.
“A fun-attacking style. Tough, gritty defending. I’m learning about what Oakland brings from a personality standpoint and the goal is to represent the city with that. We also want to have a really fun and creative style for the players. The number one goal is to create entertaining soccer while winning,” described Clinton.
She graduated from Boston University in 2004 as one of the school’s all-time best goalkeepers, holding school records for 98 saves in a season and 312 saves in her collegiate career. She was named America East Goalkeeper of the Year in 2003 and earned first-team All-Conference honors in 2001 and 2003. She was a member of three Atlantic East championship teams in 2000, 2001, and 2003.
Prior to Oakland, Clinton also was Director of Soccer for South Shore Select Soccer, a youth development academy in Massachusetts. She also spent time with New York Soccer Club, NEFC Metro North, and St John’s University.