Oakland Soul continued its undefeated season on Sunday at Merritt College with a 3-2 win over California Storm, separating themselves from Storm in the USL W League’s Nor Cal Division by improving their record to 5-0-0.
It marked the most important match of the first five games, firmly putting Oakland in second-place behind SF Glens, which has played one more game and is also undefeated at 6-0-0. Storm’s loss makes them 3-0-2 down in third.
The match featured Soul responding to its first deficit in team history after conceding a goal to Storm’s leading scorer, Giana Riley, who is a sophomore at Gonzaga. It took just two minutes for Oakland to respond with a goal by Kaytlin Brinkman, while Oakland piled on two more scores in the early minutes of the second half by Jaida Nyby and Nayeli Diaz before Storm added one more in the 58th.
In the end, coach Jessica Clinton thinks Oakland left some goals on the field.
“I think its the mentality of the players,” said Clinton regarding the quick response. “They don’t like to be behind or lose, they are competitive in training and they know it was a big moment to respond. Kudos to the group that was on the field for their response in getting the goal and pushing for more. We had a lot of chances, this game should’ve been a bigger win. Their goal keeper made some fantastic saves and that’s probably what kept it 1-1 for a while.”
It was truly an entertaining free-flowing game for both teams with quick counter attacks and plays in possession moving into the box–which speaks to the quality atop the W League’s Nor Cal Division. California Storm is notably a 28-year old youth program, a previous WPSL national champion, and attract top-talent from throughout the region. USWNT legend Brandi Chastain is a board member.
With all of that considered, Soul answered well to its first real challenge.
“We didn’t know what Storm would re-use from their recent game [Friday vs. SF Glens], they wound up using just about all of them. But we had a hunch that they would be confident in what they do; Cal Storm doesn’t lose two games in a row. My mentality for the Cal Storm showing up is they would be exactly who they are, Cal Storm. They were going to play in a 4-3-3 and they were going to do Cal Storm things. We prepared for a more athletic and technical team, and one that matched us physically position-by-position. The formation for us didn’t change, it was just how we managed things a little bit differently. I think we were okay in that, but not great. If we were great, it would’ve been a much different game,” described Clinton.
“As a group we have a lot of confidence. I think that’s what’s really special, even when things aren’t going our way, we still believe what we can do and there’s no sense of panic. Even if we’re not at our best, we know we can get back to that level. The way the game goes is dictated by us and we don’t let other teams dictate the flow, which is why I love playing with this group,” added Nyby.
Storm got its goal in the 12th minute by way of a scrum in the Oakland penalty area. After a failed bicycle kick attempt, Soul attempted to clear the ball but Riley was situated perfectly to intercept the pass. Her shot from about a foot inside the penalty area looped over Layla Armas’ leap for the score.
But it took just moments for Soul to answer in the 14th. In the buildup, Sarah Mirr played a perfect through-ball to Miranda Nild breaking past the back line. Nild’s shot was saved off of the foot of Storm’s goal keeper Abbie Faingold, which rebounded back into play perfectly for Brinkman in the area–scoring her fourth goal of the season.
Kaytlin nearly bagged a brace in the 25th minute before exiting around the 40th for Nyby. Clinton explained the move with Brinkman.
“We forget sometimes that the over-23 players have jobs and go through a work week. In this heat and turf isn’t easy, you saw it in all of the players. Brinkman is an excellent player, she just knew she was having a tough day. She asked to come off and we were able to do it. Now we rest Brink and some other over-23 players,” said Clinton.
Cal Storm nearly regained the lead in the 37th minute after they were awarded a penalty kick, but Riley’s shot attempt clanged off of the left post.
In the second half, it took just four minutes for Soul to break the deadlock with Nyby’s goal. It started with Sam Tran breaking down the right wing in possession, before sending a cross to Jaida on the far-post run. Nyby met the ball with a slide right in front of the goal keeper, successfully pushing it by–using her face to help a bit in the process.
“I saw Sam on the breakaway wide open and the pass was a little in front of me. I honestly, thank God it off my face because it hit off my foot, then off the keeper, then off my face and it went in. When I saw the ball roll across the line, I just thought ‘Thank God’ because we deserve it. What’s really special about this group is even if we don’t get a lot of chances, I have full confidence in whoever is on the ball to execute the opportunities we have,” said Nyby.
Two minutes later, Oakland scored again with more help from Nyby. The midfielder pounced on a poorly handled ball by Storm’s center back and pushed it down by the end line on the left side. Nyby perfectly cut a ball back to Diaz cutting inside for the first-touch shot and goal.
Storm’s goal in the 58th minute made things a little more tense. Savannah Schwarze, a sophomore at St. Mary’s and college teammate of Diaz, scored after receiving a perfect through-ball.
Tran had a chance to score in the 72nd minute after making a forward run through Storm’s back line, but couldn’t make square contact. Sarah Mirr had a shot go wide in the 85th, while Tran had another look on the doorstep in the 88th, but her shot was pushed aside. Diaz also had a shot on target in the final minute of play.
Oakland now looks ahead to facing California Storm in its house at the Davis Legacy Sports Complex next Thursday. Scroll down for Clinton’s thoughts on the team Soul is preparing for the midweek trek.
- The 12th Man for Oakland Soul
There is something so wholesome about this team. You see it immediately after the game with players walking up and down the stands to high-five every supporter and sign autographs for every kid. It’s an atmosphere that isn’t replicated anywhere else in the Nor Cal Division.
When speaking with coach Jessica and the players, there’s a clear joy in what they are building and gratitude for the support.
“Hearing them behind us, especially getting on the referees, is amazing. It’s so helpful, and we’re grateful because, in the end, they push the players further. We can yell from the sidelines but to have people in the stands yelling for them, that’s a game-changer itself. What’s that called, the 12th man? That is huge for us,” said Clinton.
As a player, Nyby feels the energy as well.
“I love the home crowd. We joke that its never quiet at our games. But for real, that amps us up and when we score, we hear all of our fans supporting us. That adds to the adrenaline and I think its a huge part of why we scored those two goals in the second half really, really quickly,” said Nyby.
- Miranda Nild stepping up as a captain
One of the big takeaways from Clinton’s postgame interview was her praise of Miranda Nild as a captain. When entering the half at a 1-1 draw, the coach said it was Nild who took the initiative as a leader to make sure everyone right on down to the coaching staff was focused.
“I said something at halftime and Miranda then stepped up as a captain and said, ‘No, this is what we need to do.’ And I thought, ‘That’s why you’re a captain.’ Even though she had tired legs, we were refusing to take her off because Miranda raises the game for big games. She may have been tired, but she has the ability to compete and fight. You saw it in the last few minutes of the game, she was ready to fight for her teammate. That is needed in games, that’s her personality and she brings it out of other players,” said Clinton.
- Impressive play from Aaliyah Schinaman, but suffered an unfortunate injury.
Soul right back Aaliyah Schinaman smacked the crossbar twice in the 26th and 28th minutes. She is entering her junior year at the University of California and has been impressive through the last few games. She’s listed as a forward for the Golden Bears and you see her skill when in possession.
Schinaman, unfortunately, had to be subbed off in the 68th minute after suffering an apparent ankle injury.
“She’s been so impactful. We know fitness is huge for our outside back position and carry that load. We know the program she comes from and know their standards, she brings that fire and ability to attack out of the back. It pins the opponent back… She has an egg there on her ankle, but she seems to be okay,” said Clinton.
- Layla Armas–RootsBlog’s Player of the Match
Layla Armas looks like a special player in the making. She just finished her junior year of high school and has the look as a sure-fire Division 1 starter when she gets to UCLA in 2024. She has a high vertical leap, has range diving to either side of goal, and can distribute passes downfield.
We named her our RootsBlog Player of the Match for several key saves. She stopped a shot in point-blank range in the 24th, had a diving save before halftime, stopped another shot in the 56th, and tipped a shot onto the crossbar in the 74th to preserve the lead. Even on Riley’s penalty kick, Armas dove to the correct side with great timing. Riley’s shot hit the post but would’ve had to be perfectly placed at the left post in order to go in.
Furthermore, her mother dropped off cookies to The Function. After eating nearly a full bag, I can confirm they were delicious.
- It will be a much different group on Thursday at Cal Storm
Clinton explained that most, if not all, the over-23 players will rest in Thursday’s game. That means players like Brinkman, Nild, Tran and Teresa Noyola are unlikely to make the trip. As the coach explains, its a midweek game and workdays on Thursday and Friday for those players.
“It’ll be interesting what a midweek game means for us. We are changing over our roster for Thursday and giving the older players a midweek break just because the travel and work is tough. It gives an opportunity for some of our younger players to rotate in at a very valuable game,” said Clinton.