It was a one-sided win for Oakland Soul against Pleasanton RAGE, as expected, beating the visitors 5-nil in front of another Soul’d out crowd at Merritt College. The win improves Oakland’s record to 7-0-2 with three matches left in its regular season.
Soul went up 3-nil in quick succession with all three goals coming within the first 15 minutes, added one more before halftime, and finished with one second-half goal. However, coach Jessica Clinton still felt the performance left more to be desired.
“We wanted them to start aggressive and I thought we did. Our plan is to play fast and find a tempo where teams can’t keep up. I thought we did a good job through the first 20-25 minutes and then we started to kind of drop. We started the second-half okay and then we dropped. We need to solve the problems of how opponent’s defend us, whether it’s being high pressed or sitting in. My message to them was I’m happy for the result, but it was not good enough. This was the first time I’ve said that to them, I think there was more left on the field and we need to learn how to be relentless,” said Clinton.
The match featured forward Sam Tran putting away the team’s first hat trick in club history. It also marks the organization’s first three-goal performance since former Roots striker Jack McInerney against the Cal United Strikers in 2019.
“It feels great. I’ve been fiending for another goal or two, so to get three on one day–I can’t complain,” said Tran with a beaming smile.
Tran scored her first in the fourth minute following a slick move by Miranda Nild in the box, where the former Thailand striker took a shot that deflected off of the keeper and rolled towards net before Tran cleaned it up. Sam then scored again in the seventh minute before Nild scored one of her own in the 13th.
“I felt a little bad because of Miranda’s shot on the first goal. I was like, ‘It might be going in? But also, I want to leave no doubt.’ I just tapped it in, I was glad Miranda got her goal,” said Tran of her first goal.
The rout was on at that point with Oakland taking a 4-0 lead in the 38th minute when Nayeli Diaz received a perfect cross by Jaida Nyby to slot home a shot just a few feet in front of the net.
Oakland opened the second half with Sarah Mirr taking a shot on target in the 50th minute that rebounded back into the play before eventually cycling to Jordan Geis, leading a shot that sailed over the net. Ceci Gee later had a shot on target in the 65th.
Tran’s hat trick came in the 67th. Clare Robke fed a perfect through-ball to Sam in the buildup, whose initial shot attempt clanged off of the left post and back to her in the box.
“I knew it was going hit off the post and I saw it, so I thought, ‘Not a problem.’ I was ready for it. I dropped into the midfield, so I was kind of getting my bearings. I saw Clare, our right back, make a great run up the middle and I looked for that little slip-pass, we were on the same wavelength. She dinked it to me, I hit it and saw it go into the post and the angle looked like it was going to come straight back to me, so I just beat everyone to it,” said Tran.
She wasn’t pressing for the third goal but overall wants the attack to be more productive.
“The hat trick was on the mind, but in general, we need to get more goals as a team, period. Me, Miranda, or anyone else on the field. We’re just gonna go for it,” explained Sam.
But Oakland couldn’t find the net again in the remaining time. Geis had a shot on target in the 71st, Lizzie Vranesh had attempts around the 80th and 86th minutes, while Kaytlin Brinkman hit the crossbar in the 88th.
Tran also thinks Soul may of left some goals on the field.
“The goal at halftime was to get four or five more. Obviously, we fell short on that second-half goal, but its in us. We just take it as a learning opportunity to keep pushing and put the pedal to the metal like coach Sergio [Valles] says. We know we have it in is, so can we just rise to the occasion, especially with the postseason coming into play,” said Tran.
With just three matches left in Soul’s regular season (Olympic Club, Marin Siren, and SF Glens), the race to the postseason is on. It’s now a critical time for Oakland to make sure they are peaking at the right time.
“We’re not stopping. We’re in a playoff position, I’ll tell them to take the foot off of the pedal when there are those moments. But I don’t want to stop,” said Clinton.
“We’ve got to keep going. We’ve got it in us to bring that greatness out of us and just go at teams. We know what we’re capable of and we know anyone who is on the field can contribute and is part of this group for a reason. We just all have to believe it, go at it, and finish these last games strong,” mentioned Tran.
- Oly Town and United PDX tied on Sunday, what does that mean for Soul?
United PDX and Oly Town played to a 1-1 tie on Sunday in a battle for first-place in the Northwest Division–bringing its record to 4-2-1 and a Points Per Match average of 2.00. With three matches left in its season against weaker opponents, United PDX will likely finish 7-2-1 with 22 points and a 2.20 PPM average.
For Oakland Soul, they’ll face Olympic Club on June 19 and Marin Siren on June 25. With expected wins over OC and Marin, Soul’s toughest test will be responding to its 3-nil loss to SF Glens in the season-finale on July 1. Even if Oakland drops the last match, they’ll finish the season with 2.25 Points Per Match to narrowly edge past United PDX for a wild card berth.
- The USL W League needs to revise rules to disincentivize blowouts.
With Pleasanton at 1-2-6 overall and goal differential playing a factor in the Nor Cal Division standings, Clinton’s message was players can’t take their foot off of the pedal with playoffs looming–which is an interesting viewpoint on the heels of a five-goal shutout, but is also a big reflection on the league’s structure.
Soul currently holds a +16 goal differential, but are behind Glens’ +33 and California Storm’s +26. Storm will undoubtedly continue piling on goals against teams like Marin, Pleasanton, and Stockton. Unless Soul can blow out Olympic Club and Marin, they will finish third in the Nor Cal Division.
Thanks to Glens having 7-0 and 5-0 wins over Academica to start the year, while Storm boasts 8-0 and 10-0 wins over Pleasanton and Olympic Club, goal differential plays a big factor in how the standings play out. With disparity between the top teams in each division, there’s a clear incentive for teams to obliterate weaker programs in order to secure a playoff spot.
Perhaps Soul feels getting results versus Marin and Olympic Club will be enough to reach the postseason, but they’ll need to score goals in mass if there’s a push to overtake Cal Storm.
The USL W League’s own definition of itself is a “pre-professional development league.” If their focus truly is development, allowing teams to get blown out contradicts its purpose. No one on the field benefits from a walk-over 10-nil win; it destroys confidence on some members of the losing team and fails to properly develop players on the winning side.
The league office owes its players a better structure which enables progress instead of its current counter-productive model.
- With the GD rules, Soul is building a killer’s mentality.
“Mamba Mentality”, “Killer mentality”; whatever you want to call it. The league’s model for playoff positioning means Oakland cannot take its foot off of its opponent’s necks even if they are winning 5-0.
Clinton offered her thoughts on what she wanted to improve despite the one-sided score.
“I felt like some things we did was really silly… In the waning minutes, we were being silly in our decision-making and letting them come at us. Any chance they created was from our own silliness. From the mentality standpoint, I think playing down to the opponent happens when you’re tired. There’s a few of them who have the mentality to keep going when they’re tired, but you can’t always keep them on the field for 90 minutes. It’s up to the younger players to figure out how to get that mentality,” said Clinton.
- Miranda Nild and Sam Tran’s first appearance in three matches.
The pair of Nild and Tran was a welcomed sight, and weren’t they magical? It marked the first appearance for the pair since the win over Cal Storm. Nild was building a personal highlight reel throughout the match by nutmegging multiple defenders and dancing by defenders with slick footwork. Tran showed her usual speed, work in transition, and perfect positioning and finishing to get her hat trick.
“That is a magical duo. They do some really great things and have a really great connection. They get each other. I’m so happy for Sam because of everything she works for. It is her effort, tactics, and energy. She has owned it,” said Clinton.
- The expected squad rotation.
There’s a lot of squad rotation on the docket with the season winding down, playoffs approaching, and players returning to their college programs in the coming weeks. Typically, kids return to their school’s around the first-week of July. Defender Mia Parkhurst, for example, is already back at the University of Georgia.
Clinton expanded on the roster situation:
“We actually just gained 2-3 players this past week off of their quarter system, so you’ll see new names pop in. We made a lot of commitment to a lot of players based off what we’re trying to do with Soul. It’s managing minutes, it’s also trying to get the group to peak at the right moment. As we start to get closer to the end, it’s a management system of who is really gelling and who becomes the team that takes us to playoffs.
“We just lost a couple of players who went to college early, but we expected that. The trickle-down effect is coming within the next few weeks… A part of it is identifying our playoff group and we’ll try to hold onto players as long as we can, but its also a balance between minutes and conversations with college coaches to make sure their players are healthy. There’s no perfect formula or exact science, you won’t see the same roster for the next three games. But when we make it to playoffs, there’s an availability factor. Like if we play during the daytime, what do we do with the 9-5ers?
“Henar Urteaga is an example. She puts together robots, she’s an engineer and works at a corporation which is flexible. When we played in Turlock, she went to the Pleasanton office and her boss told her to work at a Starbucks close to where we were playing. So, it’s management of who is available and what we can get away with,” said Clinton.