It was a historic Saturday, May 13 at Cal State East Bay’s Pioneer Stadium for Oakland Soul’s home opener with 5,855 people turning up to attend the combined double-header, creating a club record. Although the 1-nil victory for Soul was closer than anticipated, it was a mission accomplished for the club–now 2-0-0.
As coach Jessica Clinton explains, perhaps the nerves from playing in front of the raucous crowd may have contributed to the slow start. Oakland only had a couple of shots on target in the first 45 minutes, but progressively looked more dangerous as the minutes wore on.
“The atmosphere from the crowd, everything that was going on was amazing and inspiring. That was our halftime talk. In the first half, I thought we struggled a little bit and got caught up in the pressure of having that big crowd and performing in front of them,” said coach Jessica Clinton.
“A majority of our players have not played in front of a crowd this size, only a small handful have. When we went into the second half, that was the focus. There wasn’t any major changes, it was just a matter of lets perform for the crowd, we have to work harder, how do we win the 50/50 balls, and that will start to carry us. Then we put in some of our younger players and that carried us in the second half. I thought the second half was exactly what we wanted in the first half.”
Olympic Club provided an interesting challenge for Soul. Without any available rosters or film available to scout the San Francisco club, Clinton describes that Oakland focused on itself going into the match. All we knew about Olympic Club was its coach, JT Hanley, has been at Archbishop Mitty in San Jose for the last 16 years and won eight Central Coast titles at the school–including four straight Open Division banners from 2018-2021, which is reserved for the best teams in the section.
“We knew they played in the local league, the Golden Gate Soccer League. We knew they came from there with some of the connections our players have from playing in that league. We didn’t know their roster, really, until we showed up. But we knew a couple of the players who were from the college realm, so it was really figuring out what they look like now as opposed to what they looked like during college,” said Clinton.
Olympic Club had a good scoring opportunity in the 36th minute that forced a leaping tip over the bar by Soul goal keeper Layla Armas, but the visiting side struggled to create much from there.
In the second half, Oakland continued pressing forward for a goal, recording three shots and two corners before breaking the deadlock in the 63rd minute. Clinton describes how the match progressed for Soul and how they were eventually able to break the game open.
“One thing we’ve been working on is controlling the tempo of games. Going from last week to this week, we went so fast right out of the gates. We need to understand that this isn’t college or club anymore, so our subbing rules are different. So we’re working on managing limiting subs and not being able to re-enter matches. Our tempo in the first half was slow, I think that’s why we weren’t able to break them down. As we started to gain more in the second half, we started to be more dynamic and finding space. Pressing together was a big halftime part. I’m really pleased with the second half; it was a keep it simple message at halftime, let’s perform for the crowd,” said Clinton.
Soul scored in the 63rd minute when Kaytlin Brinkman, the 23-year old Fullerton grad, was there to clean up a loose ball in the penalty area. Brinkman has had a visible presence in her two appearances, frequently reeling off shots. There’s a clear swagger about the Oakland midfielder, who lined up as a forward throughout her career.
“She is a very good player. But she’s a forward, and I think you start to see that in her wanting to be on the ball. I think she’s an excellent central midfielder. We have to teach her about spacing, like when to go or when to pull away; it’s not her natural position. But you see the talent, the thought process, and the ability to attack, which is why I value her in that spot. She’ll be playing there a little bit more,” said Clinton.
Playing coy, Clinton eluded Brinkman building a reputation for having a “Big” type of energy.
“She will always be the hero, she loves that role. One of the teammates called her…. I wanna say its “Big” energy, something along those lines, you know what I’m talking about?” said Clinton with a laugh. “She’s always in the front and she deserves it too, she’s earned it, and her playing style is also fun and entertaining.”
In the remaining time, Oakland nearly scored again after late sub Jordan Geis struck the post on a beautiful curling shot from the left wing. Geis is notably a junior at Mitty, playing against her High School coach Hanley on Saturday. Armas also had a diving save in the 82nd minute.
Going forward, Clinton wants Soul to focus on
“The defending piece, again, we’ve been working on defending and finding double-moments and working hard to transition quickly. As we get into it, that’s a big part of our principles of play. We’ll start filtering in our college players this week, we saw one or two who joined us this week. Our training group will get bigger and stronger, but we’ll rely on our basic principles that will push us through the game,” said Clinton.
- A slow start but a strong finish.
As Jessica mentioned in our postgame interview, it took a bit for Soul to build into the game and break down Olympic Club’s defense, but I don’t think Oakland was ever in a state of trouble throughout the game.
Even with Olympic Club forcing a leaping save by Armas in the first half, it never felt like Soul risked giving the game away. Even in the first half, Soul found ways to get on the front foot but were working on getting players in behind the back line. Once the attack figured things out in the second half, things were off and running. It felt like it could’ve easily been a 3-0 win for Soul.
- Kaytlin Brinkman is the truth.
How exciting is Kaytlin Brinkman? The reaction of Brinkman over the last two games couldn’t be more optimistic, she is the type of player who makes you hold your breath in anticipation of something magnificent. Simply put, she’s a playmaker in every sense of the phrase.
If Brinkman had any attributes on FIFA, it would undoubtedly be Long Shot and Power Free Kick. I truly feel her ability to keep powerful shots from sailing over the net and accuracy from free kicks would get her a spot in Roots’ starting 11–she’s a clear X factor.
And she has swagger; hitting the smeeze after her goa and shining Nayeli Diaz’s boot the previous week. Some athletes can turn their swag on and take their game to a new level and I think Brinkman is that type of player. I’m really eager to see how Brinkman plays in intense situations when the lights are bright because I think that is when we’ll see her best performances.
- What a turnout.
Selling 5,800 tickets between the two Roots and Soul matches was incredible. It didn’t mark a USL W League record by matching Aurora FC’s 6,016, but it was a great debut for the women’s team. Of course some of those final numbers were inflated by adding the two matches together, but there is a clear interest in Soul.
There was more media on-hand at the Soul match than any previous Roots match I’ve attended. It shows people want women’s soccer and there’s a demand in the Bay Area.
It’s also worth mentioning that NWSL officials were at the match, advertised season-tickets to its future matches, and talked briefly about building the new franchise. It’s safe to say if there is a club working in conjunction with the NWSL, it is Oakland Roots and Soul, not any other prospective sports entity.
- An ever-changing roster should be upon us.
A big reason why a majority of players weren’t officially announced by the club is because some athletes will only make limited appearances, like USYNT goal keeper Teagan Wy. As Clinton mentioned, college players came in last week and will continue to filter in.
It will be interesting to see what Soul’s starting 11 looks like once the USL W League playoffs start later in July.