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.Kicking It Up A Notch

Oakland Roots and Soul hit goals this year

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At 1pm on July 21, Oakland Roots fans will be one of two places: Pioneer Stadium in Hayward, cheering on their favorites as they play their biggest regional rivals, the Sacramento Republic, or glued to their screens as the team makes its national television debut on CBS.

“For us to be chosen is an incredible opportunity,” said Mike Geddes, cofounder and chief purpose officer for both Roots and women’s team Soul.

“It will sell out,” said Edreece Arghandiwal, co-founder and chief marketing officer. “The national broadcast is possibly one of the biggest visibility opportunities [for the growing regional pro soccer niche].”

Yet the CBS broadcast is only part of a stellar year for Roots, Soul and the organization behind both. Posting record attendance, Roots won five and tied one of its last six matches as of this writing, leaving it in a good position to make the playoffs.

Jordan Ferrell is the organization’s technical director, responsible for overseeing operations, including player recruitment, coach development, performance analysis, sport science and strategic planning. With the clubs since their 2019 inception, he noted that Roots’ recent successes result from a growing feel of cohesion. “This group has been through a lot together. We had a rough patch to start this year, but the guys now understand and trust each other,” he said.

Soul has not lost a match this season so far; at the time of this reporting, the team had won five and tied three matches, also giving it good standing for a playoff berth.

Every Soul home match sold out. “We’d love to host a playoff game,” Arghandiwal said.

The crowd-funding effort toward a new stadium, launched last year, drew 5,400 contributors and far surpassed its original goal, raising $3.1 million, Geddes said. “Most of it came in donations of $100 or $200,” he said. “Some donors said they weren’t even soccer fans. They just said, ‘We need sports to stay in Oakland.’”

The effort’s success enabled the organization to recruit people such as basketball legend Jason Kidd, now a part-owner, and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, a Rodeo native and also now a part-owner.

Progress in negotiations for both clubs to play in the Coliseum next year continues, both Geddes and Arghandiwal confirmed. “Our attendance is limited by our facilities,” Geddes said, while praising both California State University, East Bay and Merritt College as excellent hosts. “We are working hard to get into a bigger facility,” Geddes added. “The double-header [of both clubs, played June 8] posted our record attendance of all time.”

Earlier this month, the Oakland City Council approved a deal to sell the city’s 50% share of the Coliseum to the African American Sports and Entertainment Group for $105 million. “We hope to be in the Coliseum in 2025,” said Arghandiwal, noting that matches could then accommodate crowds of 12,000 attendees.

That transition, if it happens, will support another 2025 goal: Elevating Soul to a professional team, “the first pro women’s team in Oakland,” he said. Both Arghandiwal and Geddes pointed to the dramatic rise in interest in women’s sports as being the best possible sign for a pro Soul squad.

“We want to be competitive right away,” Ferrell said, explaining that a 2025 Soul roster will combine recruited pro talent with “the ton” of local talent. “We feel an obligation to bring a product for our fans that is really unique to Oakland.”

Soccer, a.k.a. football, will be everywhere during summer 2025, with the Paris Olympics, the ongoing European Championships and Copa America happening in the U.S. until July 14. “The excitement has never been greater,” Geddes said, noting this extends to popular media, such as Emmy Award-winning Ted Lasso.

“Soccer in the U.S. is really taking off, and we believe we are a major part of that,” Ferrell said, “giving the East Bay teams to cheer on in their neighborhood.”

Roots and Soul celebrated the Oakland community on Juneteenth, part of multiple theme nights, including Pride. “We see these nights as a chance to express who we are, part of Oakland’s culture,” Geddes said.

Community involvement has been a cornerstone of the organization since its founding. This year, its Project 51O program, a reserve team dedicated to training young local talent, elevated five players from Oakland to Roots, Arghandiwal said.

Ferrell said that this year’s Roots squad combines “a good mix of returners with some really good additions,” noting that some of the new players have already logged more than 1,000 playing minutes.

“Oakland wants to see local stars,” Geddes said. “We now have the largest number of Oakland-born players on our teams ever.”

The organization recognizes that many talented young players don’t have the financial resources to further their development, and remains committed to ensuring opportunities for free or low-cost camps, such as Let the Kids Play Free, Aug. 2-4, hosted at Roots and Soul’s UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Training Center.

Created in 2023 by Mike Garrick, a local entrepreneur and former soccer player, in response to what he saw as a lack of opportunities for kids in Oakland to access high-quality soccer training for free, this year’s camp, for kids ages 8-12, receives support from a grant from the Oakland Roots and Soul Foundation. It provides jerseys, training equipment, soccer balls and materials. Roots and Soul players will be on hand to provide training.

This is in addition to the organization’s participation in the city of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention’s free Town Nights. The first-ever Town Nights Futsal Cup takes place in community parks and public spaces across Oakland this summer, with the last two on June 28 at Hoover Elementary and July 12 at Fruitvale Transit Village.

The “small-sided soccer tournament” for kids ages 14-18 includes soccer skills clinics for ages 3 and up, in partnership with the American Youth Soccer Organization. Oakland Roots and Soul will attend with competitions, clinics, ticket giveaways and player appearances, as well as special prizes for the winning teams.

“There are more than 100,000 youth playing soccer in the East Bay,” Arghandiwal said.

Roots and Soul are also part of Visit Oakland’s Oakland Summer Vibes Passport promotion, along with OMCA, the Chabot Center, Fairyland and the zoo, in which participants use a “VibeMap” to check in when they visit partners, earning “badges” for prizes, which include field-side seats for a Roots or Soul match. (For more info, visit visitoakland.com/oakland-summer-vibes-passport/)

All of this aligns with the organization’s core values, all three interviewees said.

“Our games are community vibes. It’s a joy and a privilege to provide a world-class experience,” Arghandiwal said.

Ferrell also pointed to the game-day experience. “The energy our fans create in the stands is one of the best in pro sports,” he said. “We’re utilizing soccer to represent Oakland, giving voice [to communities] where there isn’t voice.”

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