Oakland Soul clinched their way to the Western Conference semifinals with a dramatic 3-1 comeback against San Francisco Glens on Sunday at Merritt College. Glens went into the half holding a 1-0 lead, but Japanese teenager Manaka Hayashi entered the second half to play the role of Oakland’s hero–landing a hat trick including two absolutely stunning goals from shots outside of the penalty area.
“Mana is so good, she is unbelievable. Sometimes I forget that she’s entering college in 2024 because her level is five steps ahead of everyone. I hope we can hold on to Mana for a while. I’d love to keep her forever and would love to have 100 of her. She’s a game-changer when she’s on and rested. She looked good today, this is what we love,” gushed head coach Jessica Clinton over Hayashi, who will start her freshman year at Santa Clara University in January 2024.
Following each of her goals, Manaka never overly celebrated and would modestly put her head down at times, smile, and embrace her teammates. Following her second goal to put Soul ahead, Hayashi barely moved from the spot she scored, only raising her fists to the air as her teammates jolted toward her.
“I’m so happy to be here and so happy to score three goals… I was thinking that I wanted to score today, so when I scored I was just so happy,” said Hayashi.
The victory hands San Francisco its only loss of the regular season and gave Oakland the third seed in the Western Conference standings. The seedings are as follows based on the USL W League’s Points Per Match model: 1. Oly Town (2.60), 2. SF Glens (2.58), 3. Oakland Soul (2.50), 4. Cal Storm (2.33).
Soul will now travel to Skyline College in San Bruno for a rematch against the Glens on Friday at 12:30 p.m. I’ll discuss more about this topic below.
Oakland started Sunday’s meeting without both of its usual starting center forwards, Miranda Nild and Sam Tran. Clinton opted for Kaytlin Brinkman and Ceci Gee up top, marking Brinkman’s first start as a striker. The changes resulted in Oakland lacking fluidity in the opening 45 minutes, but everything changed coming out of halftime.
“Our second-half group changed the game. The first half, we were able to see what Glens were putting out there and we had to weather the storm. Going down, this group hates to be down, it’s just a matter of we’re going to climb back. I’m so happy for the players and I’m so happy for Mana,” said Clinton. “Not having players available is tough, but we’ve spoken about the depth of our group and the players we have who can step up. This was a moment where a group was able to do that. The hope is we get [Miranda and Sam] back from life things that get in the way of soccer.”
Glens opened the game hot with a big scoring chance in the eighth minute but goal keeper Layla Armas made a diving save to push a ball onto the left post. The ball bounced to a charging San Francisco’s Nádia Gomes, who smashed a shot off of the crossbar.
San Francisco’s goal in the 21st came when Emmie Ennis fed a ball through Oakland’s back line to Gomes, who easily slotted home a left footed shot from a couple of yards in front of Armas.
Going into halftime trailing by one goal without much offensive firepower, Clinton’s message was to remain calm and have confidence in what they are doing.
“The message was clam at halftime. There are moments where I’m pretty fiery, but the message was, ‘We can do this. This is what it’s going to look like. And if we’re still down at 70 minutes, this is what we’ll look at.’ We needed to come out and play,” said Clinton.
Soul quickly heeded her words. Coming on as one of Oakland’s halftime subs was Hayashi, scoring on an absolute banger just four minutes into the half. In the buildup, Brinkman squared a cross toward Jaida Nyby in the area but the ball bounced around until rolling out of the 18-yard box to Hayashi. The Hyogo, Japan native instinctively pounced to send a right-footed rocket to the left of Glen’s keeper.
“When I was watching the game, I was thinking there was time in the middle of the field,” said Hayashi regarding what she observed before entering the match. “So when I got the ball, I knew I would have time to dribble.”
Hayashi put Oakland ahead in the 64th minute on a beautiful shot from a couple of feet atop the penalty area. It started with Manaka feeding Brinkman out wide, who sent a pass to Sarah Mirr, following up with a pass to Hayashi. She took one dribble with her left, one touch with her right, then sent a curling right-footed shot that hit off of the left post and into the net after making contact with Glens’ keeper.
The game had a hydration break in the 70th. Clinton explained they broke down the full match into five-minute increments, continuing that all the way until the end.
“We were taking things every five minutes to try and break it up. Every time we scored, I came out of the box yelling “Five,” and they knew they had to push on for five minutes or whatever Glens might change,” said Clinton. “We kept things in five minute increments in what were big moments to not rush things because we were up at that point. Safety at the water break was the big coaching point; don’t dink it around and be silly, just be safe and if you have to clear it out, clear it out.”
Oakland did well to limit any opportunities from then on aside from a free kick one foot above the penalty area, but Elise Evans’ shot was easily handled by Armas.
Hayashi’s third goal in the 82nd minute started with Aaliyah Schinaman pressing high in San Francisco’s half to divert the ball to Brinkman, who then sent a pass to Eden Olsen in the area. Olsen flicked a pass on her first touch to Manaka by the right post, sending in another right footed shot.
Hayashi instantly becomes a Soul legend, saving Oakland’s season with each wave of her right foot. She is the second hat trick scorer this 12-game regular season alongside Tran. It gives Oakland Roots, meanwhile, have just one hat trick scorer in history with Jack McInerney in 2019.
- USL W League needs to use 2023 as a learning experience.
Struck a nerve?
Starting off, San Francisco Glens are an amazing group from top-to-bottom. Their roster is filled with players who are bound to play Division 1, reach the NWSL, or even appear with the United States Women’s National Team some day. Gomes, who has spent time with the Portuguese National Team, is fleet-footed and glides across the pitch when in possession. Stanford’s Elise Evans looked fitting of a player raised in the U.S. Youth system and was truly great to watch first-hand. Players like Gomes and Evans show just how far the game needs to go, because they should be getting paid like MLS players.
San Francisco clapped back at my calling Friday’s Conference Semifinals at 12:30 p.m. “strategic planning ” by the Glens, where the club wrote it was Oakland Soul’s own doing by agreeing to the noon-time kickoff. I’m inclined to think this lacks basis based on player and fan availability issues (moreover, “joint host” doesn’t make sense if it isn’t at a neutral venue). But overall, if the W League is okay with teams dictating kickoff times for playoff matches, then why not try to hurt the only opponent with a traveling fan base right after losing to them?
It’s not Glens’ fault they are given impunity on this and their front office has every right to protect its players in any way possible. Although it’s a weak move to strategically plan against Soul using over-23 players like Nild, Tran, Urteaga, and Brinkman from playing, it’s still fair at the end of the day. That fact reflects on the W League, which is understandably still working out the kinks of a brand-new league with 65 teams competing for one trophy.
Another issue with the W League has been its struggle for competitive equity with teams obliterating developmental programs by double-digit scores. Tampa Bay United won 11-0 over Miami AC, Minnesota Aurora has 10-0 and 8-1 wins over RKC Third Coast, Cal Storm beat Olympic Club 10-0, Indy Eleven ended its season with an ungodly 16-0 win over St. Charles FC. With goal differential playing a factor in the league’s standings, there’s an incentive for teams to run up the score.
No player on either team benefits from a walk-over, blowout game. Perhaps putting a cap on Goal Differential in wins will force more teams to focus on developing players rather than placement on the table.
- A great response to a big game deficit.
Moving away from the drama, this was the exact performance you want to see in a big game without your top-two forwards. Going down one, Soul answered the call quickly in the second half and performed with criticality on both ends of the pitch. It’s momentum you want to bring into a rematch regardless of all the extra conditions.
“For a group that hasn’t been together for very long. In March and April, we didn’t have any rostered players. So it was a matter of how they come together as a core group from a culture standpoint and how they brought in those younger players to buy into what we’re doing. That’s the best part about the culture,” said Clinton.
- What a special performance from Mana Hayashi, RootsBlog Player of the Match.
What we saw on Sunday was truly special. With the season on the line, Manaka Hayashi saved the day with three splendid goals. This was only her third appearance for Oakland and she’s been a scoring threat in each game. She hit the post on May 28 against Academica, came inches away from scoring on June 22 against Glens, and came through in the biggest of ways on Sunday.
- Stellar performances by captain CB/CM Henar Urteaga and CB Sydney Shepherd.
Henar Urteaga was another big candidate for our RootsBlog Player of the Match award for making an enormous impact on the offensive and defensive sides. Typically lining up at center back, Urteaga rotated into the midfield and allowed second-half sub Sydney Shepherd to lock down the back line.
Urteaga frequently won the ball off of San Francisco and shut players down time and again as a defender. She also showed off her skills in possession more actively than any other appearance. Shepherd, meanwhile, was always there to put in a challenge.
Clinton had high praise of Urteaga.
“Her mentality is amazing. What you see on gameday is what you see in training. Henar is always on ‘go’ and she’s had a tough work week because her hours are so long. But she’s a player who will keep pushing even though she wants a break at some point, but is someone who thinks, ‘I’ll just take a break after the season.’ Her mentality is to always go and take no days off,” said Clinton.