The long wait is over. After announcing the club’s creation on May 24 of last year, Oakland Soul takes the field at Stockton Cargo to make history for the Bay Area’s women’s sports landscape as it looks to provide a new opportunity for local athletes.
“I think the word I use the most has been, ‘fun.’ The over-23s group is fun, the college players who are coming in is fun, and the youth players we have are special and talented. It has been really great brining them together because they are all great, they are high level players and they can think at the next level. They know what the Roots and Soul are all about; Saturday is going to be fun,” said coach Jessica Clinton.
Today’s match starts the first of an accelerated 12 game season in the USL W League, which is considered pre-professional on the U.S. Soccer Pyramid. Soul still has plans to jump into the USL Super League, its planned full-fledged pro-league, after the USL launches its new division and the stadium at Malibu Lot is operating.
Although the W League is still considered the amateur level, you wouldn’t be able to tell that when considering the experience what Oakland is bringing together.
“We are on the brink of something amazing. We have players in our system who when NWSL is sending players to the World Cup, we have some players in our system who could be called into NWSL camps and play with those teams,” said Clinton.
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–including reaching the A-10 Final in 2015. Following her time at Fordham, Clinton returned to her alma mater to become Boston University’s associate head coach for the 2022 season.
Clinton was just getting started on the recruiting trail the last we spoke to her. So far, Oakland has posted 18 players to its roster page. Clinton mentioned the full number is closer to 35-40 players under contract, but some athletes will only get occasional time due to outside obligations.
“We’re between 35-40 players now signed. You’ve only seen about 25 percent of the players announced, a group of them will get out of college within the next few weeks, youth players will join us from their own situations, and the over-23 players are working through over-23 things like jobs and bringing their bodies back to playing condition. We’ll take the best 18 that’s available each week, but there’s a training component where the expectation is high,” said Clinton.
This year’s captains are former California Golden Bear and Thailand National Team striker Miranda Nild, former Stanford forward Sam Tran, and former San Jose State midfielder/forward Aliyah Jones. Another veteran, Teresa Noyola, will be a leader of the bunch. The cast around them is a big mix of local talent with much of the roster still in college or just recently graduated.
Below is a rundown of Soul’s inaugural roster.
Nild, 26, marked a headline signing for Soul. The Castro Valley native played for the University of California from 2015-2018, making 73 appearances and scored 13 goals during her time in Blue and Gold. She began playing for the Thailand National Team in 2017, making 20 appearances and scored 15 goals during her time with Chaba Kaew, helping them reach the 2019 Fifa World Cup.
“It’s amazing what the Soul has going on, I’m so happy to just be a part of it. We’re obviously really excited about this weekend, the nerves are high but the energy is higher. We are all just super excited to just get out and ball with the homies,” said Nild with a laugh.
She signed with the NWSL’s OL Reign in 2020 but was loaned to Kristianstad in Sweden’s first division for 2021, making 15 appearances and three goals. She most recently spent 2022 with Selfoss in Iceland. Her experience at the professional and international levels will an undoubted benefactor for the younger players on the roster.
“I was playing in Europe where a lot of those girls have organizations like this where they can play and still have a fulltime job or pursue other things… I just want to spread my knowledge as much as I can. I’ve experienced things in this sport and I’d like to share that knowledge to where they can maybe avoid some things I went through. We’re all here to gain knowledge and spread the love of the game,” said Nild.
Tran, 24, perhaps had the most decorated collegiate career than all players on Soul’s roster while at Stanford from 2016-2019. She’s a two-time NCAA Champion in 2017 and 2019, helped the Cardinal win the Pac-12 Championship all four years, and had three College Cup appearances from 2017-2019.
She describes that the rigors of the college game “takes a toll” on physical and mental health. After stepping away from the game to focus on her career, Tran felt the itch to get back on the field. She describes feeling “re-energized” now with Soul.
“At the most basic level, I’m buzzing. I’m really hopeful and looking forward to our first game and building our relationship with the staff and community… College soccer is hard, but I loved my experience. Naturally, it takes a toll. I thought, maybe, college soccer would be the end of my organized sport career,” said Tran.
“Once I got into the real world, I was coaching a little bit. I was coaching little girls when I realized I’m ‘fun’ to teach girls during the inaugural season of their soccer career. Reflecting on that, I knew how much fun I was having doing this, and that’s when I started joining the pick-up game communities. That’s when I started feeling that love and fire return. It was weird at first because this complicated relationship felt good again. Once I was in a better space, I started itching for more competition,” she added.
Sam works in the education field at Life Academy in Oakland, giving her a unique perspective as someone building her career in The Town.
“I feel a deep connection to Oakland, granted it’s only been one school year. I’m a one-on-one teacher, so I float in-and-out of classes. Luckily I have some amazing co-workers who are born-and-raised in Oakland, they are great story tellers about their lives and the community. Working with the youth is so fun; being back in High School is hilarious but its also refreshing. I feel really lucky to be a part of the community and continue learning from the community,” said Tran.
Jones is the only Oakland-born player currently announced by Soul. She was a four-year letter at San Jose State as a midfielder and forward, finishing her time with the Spartans with 56 appearances from 2014-2017. Following college, Aliyah began her career as SJSU’s Director of Operations and also works at Path2Pro sports agency.
“I feel really blessed to be a part of this organization and just experience such a historic moment in Oakland and women’s soccer… I think it’s important to be here at the start because we’ve come a long way in women’s soccer and be an example for the youth,” said Jones.
When coming out of college in 2018, Jones points out that professional opportunities in the sport were few and far between. Now in 2023, Soul is looking to fill a large void in, perhaps, the most popular women’s sport in the country.
“When I graduated college, there wasn’t as many opportunities to play professional soccer as there is now. It’s so cool that girls have an opportunity to play somewhere,” said Jones.
Jones is taking her role as a leader very seriously here in the early days of Soul.
“I want to be a role model and hold myself accountable. My integrity is very important to me, so I just want to do what I do and make sure I’m preparing the right way and setting an example for my teammates,” said Jones.
Noyola, 33, provides the most international experience on the roster with the Mexico National Team, earning 40 caps and three goals during their time at La Tri. During their college career at Stanford from 2008-2011, Noyola earned the Hermann Trophy for being the best athlete in the country in their sport.
Noyola’s professional career took the veteran all over the world. They played for ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands from 2012-2013 before appearing with OL Reign and FC Kansas City in 2013. From there, Teresa joined the NWSL’s Houston Dash in 2014. They also spent 2018 with Valur in Iceland.
Diaz, 21, is a former forward and winger at St. Mary’s College and concluded her time in Moraga with 49 appearances and 23 starts for he Gaels, recording eight goals and six assists.
Most notably, Nayeli has 28 total appearances through the Mexico National Team system. She made 15 appearances with Mexico’s U15 team, five caps with the U19 program, six with the U20 group, and twice with Mexico’s first team.
Wy, 18, just finished her freshman year at California and came to Berkeley ranked as No. 18 overall prospect in the Class of 2022, was a four-star recruit, and rated at the No. 4 goalkeeper in the United States by Top Drawer Soccer.
Teagan is a consistent member of the United States Youth National Team system and was the starting goalkeeper at the 2018 CONCACAF Championship, where the U.S. defeated Mexico, El Salvador and Portugal.
Due to her obligations to the USYNT this spring and summer, Wy was not officially announced by Oakland Soul. She’s expected to play in today’s game against Stockton but won’t reappear until the final games.
Hayashi, 18, hails from Hyogo, Japan and was recruited to continue her soccer career at Santa Clara University. She was part of the 2022 U20 FIFA Women’s World Cup and helped lead Japan to a second-place finish to Spain–where they lost 3-1.
Hayashi was also on the U16 team that won the AFC U16 Women’s Championship in Thailand and played with the U13 and U14 Japan National select. In 2018 and 2019, she won with the U15 team and from 2020-22 she won with the U18 squad.
Brinkman, 23, scored a banger in Soul’s Media Day scrimmage that left onlookers applauding. She concluded her senior season in 2022 at Cal State Fullerton, earning second-team All-Big West honors in her final year at the school. Brinkman transferred from St. Mary’s College as a junior and became a routine starter at Fullerton.
During her two-year college career at Fullerton, Brinkman appeared in 40 games and made 23 starts, recording six shots, two assists, and 25 shots on target including 17 as a senior.