Oakland Soul got the job done on Saturday, winning its inaugural match 3-2 over Stockton Cargo at San Joaquin Delta College with a goal by midfielder Nayeli Diaz in the eighth minute and goals by striker Cecilia “Ceci” Gee at 24′ and 43′. Things went just about smoothly as possible in the first 45 minutes of action, often leaving coach Jessica Clinton a bit relaxed on the sidelines.
“They were powerful today, it was nice to watch,” said Clinton. “There was a point where [assistant coach] David [Cordova] and I were chatting, and I thought, ‘I think we need to use our voice more,’ because we have to will them a little more. It wasn’t that they couldn’t do it, it’s just their conditioning is at a place where we just have to push them a little more.”
It was a big day for Gee at the striker position, making incisive runs and doing well to find her way around defenders. It was a Stanford-to-Stanford connection for Gee’s second goal when Samantha Tran made the feed to put her in great position for the score.
It was a great welcome-back for the duo. The two played together during their time at Stanford, and although they weren’t often used together in Palo Alto, there’s a clear link between the two and a gratitude of being teammates once again.
“I’m so honored and I feel so grateful to be playing alongside Sam. Sometimes when you finish college, there’s a really big moment of grief and sadness because you think this is the end. But this is also a new beginning, the fact I get a new beginning in my hometown and with Sam as my teammate, I just feel so grateful,” said Gee.
“Ceci said at halftime it felt like magic… We never really got to play together that much in college, but we came from co-ed and indoor soccer together. Now that we get to play on Soul on something a little bigger, it just felt so right and I’m so happy,” mentioned Tran.
Coach Clinton could also see the relationship between the two working well on the field.
“Ceci was really figuring out the space she could check in to and Sam was exploiting that piece, and just the thoughtfulness of how they were doing things. And then players were moving underneath; that’s the important part, that’s how we want to play. We want to play thoughtful soccer, we want to have those connections, so I think you saw two players who really did it well today,” explained Clinton.
When speaking to Tran this week, the former Cardinal spoke about returning to the game. She was the catalyst in numerous attacks through transition for Soul, moving fluidly up field.
“I’m pretty beat right now,” said Tran laughing. “Wish I could’ve gone at em a little bit more, but I definitely feel good. This is kind of the benchmark, we set a pretty good benchmark and I’m excited to see if we can take it on.”
Oakland’s attack looked dominant with all three goals in the first half, recording eight shots in the first 45 minutes, all of which were on target. Diaz scored the game’s first goal on a swift counter attack, taking her shot from around the top of the penalty area. Following Ceci’s goal in the 24th, Stockton crept back into the game after scoring in the 37th to make it 2-1 on a shot by Alexis Brewah, which looked more like a cross to the far post.
Cargo struck again in the 54th when Brewah, who plays at Stanislaus State, fed former Azusa Pacific midfielder Haley Bostard–making things uncomfortably close. Cargo nearly knotted things up in the 77th minute on a shot to the top left bin, but goalkeeper Layla Armas made a huge leaping save to prevent the goal.
With this year’s roster coming together rather quickly, Stockton benefitted in the second half from Soul players entering the field with little experience playing together.
“I think a part of Stockton inching back into the game was because we’re still filtering players into the system and we haven’t covered defending as a group. So players are operating with what they know from whatever systems they came from and we saw that. However they got to goal came from the way of us just not being our most organized. But this is a start, and it’s a pretty amazing start,” said Clinton.
Soul deployed players like Marissa Garcia of St. Mary’s College and Jaida Nyby of Stockton’s University of the Pacific, who were only training with the team for less than a week.
“We had two players join us today who we’ve barely seen in training yet. We had Marissa Garcia play, we saw her yesterday for the first time in training. She’s an outside back for us, but she’s a center back at St. Mary’s. Jaida Nyby also plays for Pacific, she walks next week for graduation and has a fifth-year at Pacific. She’s going through her senior things and came out to play for us,” said Clinton.
Oakland still had their chances in the second half. Kaytlin Brinkman hit the crossbar with a free kick from distance in the 62nd minute, where the rebound fell to Tran for a header attempt but the keeper was there. Tran also had a shot on target pushed wide for a corner in the 64th. Former Utah midfielder Eden Jacobsen also had a shot on target in the 79th.
- Soul provides Oakland’s best chance at a title?
I was posed the question, “Who do you think wins a title first, Roots or Soul?” and the answer is undoubtedly Soul. You could tell a big separation in quality between Soul and Cargo despite the one-goal difference, Oakland was clearly the dominant side.
Teams like Soul, Cal Storm, and the SF Glens stand apart from other USL W League’s NorCal Division like Marin FC Siren, Academica SC, Olympic Club, Pleasanton Rage, and Stockton. With just a 12 game season, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly the team can sustain consistency given the accelerated nature of their two-month schedule. The initial expectation is things will come down to Soul, Storm, and the Glens.
- Playing style is fluid and swift with plays into space.
Observing team’s playing styles is always the big focus when seasons start. For Soul, they clearly had a playing style where they want to push the ball quickly from their midfield into the attack. Diaz, playing the 10-role, looked great as a creator in possession. Tran, meanwhile, was frequently laying off passes and moving centrally from the wing.
Clinton described the team’s playing style and what she wanted to see.
“The way we were getting behind the back line in the first half was exactly what we wanted to do. We want to penetrate through, we want to use our 9, we want to get players narrow at times but also get them out wide. I thought we were doing some really nice things,” said Clinton.
Tran points out they want their offense to move “with a purpose.”
“Sometimes people think long-ball isn’t a possession style of play, but as long as you’re doing things with purpose like keeping the ball and keeping in line. We just want to keep it moving, keep it simple, and can we go forward and get goals,” said Tran.
- Mentality monsters.
Ah, the overused sports phrase has finally made its way to RootsBlog. But after a quick discussion with Sam and Ceci, the two incumbent leaders mentioned how mentality is paramount multiple times.
“Something we’ve been focus on is “Big Five moments.” That is: can we win the first five minutes? Can we set the tone? Can we get another goal the first five minutes after we score? And when we get scored on, can we keep composure and just go at them,” said Tran.
“Coach Sergio [Valle] reminded us before the game that we’re always in control. We want to cotrol the controllables. Even if we don’t have the ball, we’re in control. When we were pressuing them into making mistakes, we knew we were still in control,” said Gee. “It’s always about setting the tone. If we’re trying to go at them and stay in their half, it sets a good tone for the rest of the game.”
- Their excitement for the fans is real.
It’s easy to see just how grateful the Soul players were for the faction of traveling fans at Stockton. Their cheers when running towards the supporters following the match brought a similar excitement to a derby win. Each of the players ran the fence to shake hands with fans.
Clinton isn’t sure that she’s fully prepared for the home support the squad will receive on May 13 at Pioneer Stadium.
“It was nice hearing them. I could hear the drums and the chants that I’ve been hearing at Roots games for the past few weeks. I don’t think I’m prepared for what’s in store next week, I know what happens at Roots games, but to experience it on the sidelines is just different than being in the stands. I don’t know if I’m well-prepared for next week but I’m excited,” said Clinton.