Oakland Soul is on a roll, getting the job done on Thursday at Merritt College by defeating Stockton Cargo 5-2 to improve its record to 4-0-0 through its 12-game season, officially 1/3 through the regular season. Although the match went into halftime in a 2-2 draw, Soul never trailed in the match after going ahead 1-0 and 2-1 before adding three second-half goals.
“I know Stockton is a very good team, I think they’ve just had a very tough run. How they came out and managed us in the beginning was difficult to see,” said coach Jessica Clinton, via Doug Zimmerman. “I liked our possession and seeing us try to figure it out, but they are good defenders and a well-organized group. We’re in a position where we have such great depth and that’s so helpful because some teams don’t have that… I liked our fight and our willingness to go to goal. Our defense did well to adjust and not allow the same goals or situations as previous games.”
Soul is currently listed No. 8 in the entire USL W League’s power rankings, but are behind Nor Cal Division opponents No. 1 SF Glens and No. 5 Cal Storm as the three vie for playoff contention. Soul is currently second in its division with 12 points, while third-place Storm and first-place Glens play tonight.
It’s worth noting the Nor Cal Division is awarded 2.5 playoff spots in the USL W League postseason. A Wild Card spot in the playoffs will either be awarded to an extra Nor Cal or Northwest Division team based on Points Per Match–making wins that much more important with Cal Storm on the horizon this Sunday at Merritt.
“I’m excited about playing Cal Storm. [Cal Storm and SF Glens] play on Friday, so having them just have 24 hours of recovery is a little bit helpful for us. But it all goes back on who the teams have as depth and then we play each other again [Sunday, June 4]. So we go Sunday, Thursday [June 6], it can be two completely different teams in the same uniform. I’m excited for it, we have some really good teams in the league, they are a storied program. But we also have to give some of our players rest because we’ve been pushing some,” said Clinton.
Oakland came out quickly with a goal in the 14th minute when Aliyah Jones had a shot blocked just a couple of yards in front of net with Kaytlin Brinkman well in position to clean it up for the goal. However, it required Stockton just four minutes to answers on a botched play. Soul goal keeper Layla Armas came out to attack a ball over the top to Alexis Brewah, but the Cargo striker took a touch around Armas, who collided with center back Mia Parkhurst.
Soul pressed on for another goal where Oakland recorded six shot attempts, including Sam Tran having a curling shot from a few yards above the penalty area ring off of the crossbar in the 38th minute. But moments later, Oakland went ahead 2-1 with Brinkman’s second goal, where Tran sprung Jones out wide–enabling the former San Jose State Spartan to send a cross to Brinkman on the doorstep for a first-touch tap-in.
But it took Stockton just two minutes to answer with Brewah’s second goal and seventh of the season. It happened shortly after a free kick played short, where a short from distance smacked the crossbar and rebounded perfectly for Brewah charging forward.
“I think there’s some self-pressure and I feel that’s one of the hardest things you have to deal with. But there’s still a belief that we are the best and that carries us through. It goes to the depth of the team and knowing everyone can do it. We made some major mistakes, but it wasn’t just one individual. Our really quick conversation at half was just making sure we organized a tad bit better and paid attention to those moments,” said Clinton.
Soul came out how in the second half with Jaida Nyby having a shot on target that forced a diving save and a subsequent corner which led to Oakland breaking the deadlock. In the 48th minute, Henar Urteaga’s pass from the corner eventually made its way back to her on the left side. She then lobbed a ball in toward Miranda Nild, who got a foot on the ball to nestle it perfectly for Tran–scoring her first goal in an Oakland uniform.
“When you’re even and come out of the gates as hard as we did , it’s important to get those goals so you don’t give your opponent time to build momentum. We didn’t want to be in that position, so getting that goal gave us a few minutes to breath but then Stockton came right back at us. Getting the fourth goal was the breather,” said Clinton.
The fourth goal came from Nayeli Diaz in the 85th minute on a hard right footed shot from atop the penalty area. Prior to goal, Nild received a ball at midfield with a ton of space. Nild kicked the ball out to Nayeli, to took a few dribbled before unloading a shot to the left post.
Nild put them game away in the 90th minute following some beautiful touch work by Sarah Mirr, who perfectly flicked the ball by a defender down the right wing before centering a ball to Nild to the first-touch shot.
- Critical games with playoff implications ahead
Now the schedule turns up. This Sunday, June 4 marks the biggest game of the season against Cal Storm and then heads to Davis to play Storm on Thursday, June 8. And it doesn’t let up after that with SF Glens away three days later on June 11–meaning the next three games will shape the playoff seeding for the Nor Cal Division.
As mentioned above, the Nor Cal Division gets some favorable treatment by getting a Wild Card allocation versus the Northwest Division. The Nor Cal’s third seed’s Points Per Match will act as the tiebreaker against the Northwest’s second seed.
Right now, the Northwest’s second seed is PDX FC, which is currently 2-0-2 and has a -8 goal differential. If Soul can take points from Storm and Glens, while not suffering any setbacks against the other programs, Oakland should be in the clear for postseason play.
- Defense adjusted well
The two goals conceded in the first half were both pretty unconventional with Armas’ collision on the first and a rebound off of the crossbar on the second. Soul made things much more difficult in the second half, showing their depth by consistently pressing Stockton, forcing turnovers, and now allowing any clear shooting lanes.
Clinton provided her thoughts on the defense in the latter 45 minutes.
“It was something that David [Cordova] really worked on in training the last few days; managing how we defend in the box and what that looks like. They absorbed Stockton really well and then got better at reading the cues, managing the space around them, and that allowed us to transition out. They got better from a mental standpoint and understanding what was going on around them,” said Clinton.
- The support is real
With just 1,500 seats at Merritt College, you can expect the remaining games to fill up fast. It’s refreshing to see Soul players and coaches soak up the attention and truly enjoy every second. For these players, it’s a good escape from the rigors of professional and academic life.
“It’s amazing. When you look at the players and all of them signing autographs, a part of it is inspiring the youth and the community, but what I really love are the adults in the stands. We know we’re here to entertain and be a part of the community, it’s a big part of what we do and why we do it. To have the mix of groups and feel the support is amazing; the Hooligans gave me a scarf the other day and its tied to my backpack. To have the support from people who have jobs and rush to get here at 6:00 p.m. on a Thursday is truly amazing. It even makes a better atmosphere for the opponent because it makes them step up; it’s not just a boring summer league game, teams are excited to play us,” said Clinton.