The U.S. Women’s National Team’s stunning, disappointing flameout at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup this week left a sour taste in the mouths of soccer fans across the country.
For a team that entered this year’s competition having won back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2019, the early Round of 16 exit came as a shock to the sport’s most passionate followers and casual viewers alike.
What became clear after the devastating loss, however, was that excitement for women’s soccer isn’t a flash in the pan. The fervor has been here, long-simmering and gaining momentum year after year.
Just a few weeks before the Women’s World Cup kicked off, a brand-new women’s soccer club in Oakland was wrapping up its very first season. Oakland Soul SC—a new addition to the pre-professional USL-W League and counterpart to the 5-year-old men’s team, the Oakland Roots—had just won their final game of the season in front of a sold-out crowd, punching their ticket to the playoffs.
With a 3-1 victory over the top-seeded San Francisco Glens, the young women of Oakland Soul had shown the city of Oakland they’re a force to be reckoned with.
“Soccer isn’t a new concept in Oakland,” said Edreece Arghandiwal, co-founder and chief marketing officer of both the Oakland Soul and Oakland Roots. “It’s always been here.”
Arghandiwal’s two clubs were founded on the idea that a sports team can and should be more than just a random collection of athletes assigned to a city. A team should be a source of civic pride, firmly rooted in and dedicated to the community that gave it birth. In that light, the Soul’s arrival in Oakland could not have come at a better time.
In almost every other professional sport—football, basketball and baseball—Oakland has experienced nothing but heartbreak.
The Golden State Warriors, who played at the former Oracle Arena in Oakland for 48 years, moved across the bay to San Francisco’s Chase Center in 2019. The Raiders departed for Las Vegas in 2020. Then, on June 15, 2023, Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo signed a bill into law that will fund a baseball stadium in Las Vegas for the Oakland Athletics, all but cementing the team’s eventual departure
A sports team can often carry meaning far beyond its purpose of entertainment and competition. People grow up with these teams. They become inextricably linked to one’s own identity. Sports teams provide an emotional connection to the place where one is born and raised. They bring people together in celebration—and sorrow.
“When you extract that from a community, people have to find ways to fill that void,” Arghandiwal said.
Can an up-and-coming soccer club fill the shoes of Oakland’s professional teams? Time will tell, but if the Soul’s first season is any indication of what’s to come, then there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful.
The current roster boasts World Cup veterans Miranda Nild and Teresa Noyola—who competed for the Thailand and Mexican national teams, respectively. The rest of the squad is built of accomplished college athletes with national titles under their belts, as well as promising young talent straight out of high school.
Not to mention the fact that the team will be a part of the planned USL Super League set to debut in 2024. This new professional women’s soccer league intends to offer the same standards and competitive play as the National Women’s Soccer League.
If anything is certain, it’s that the people of Oakland who were raised with the now-departed teams are clamoring for something new to root for and take pride in. The young women of Oakland Soul SC just might be what they’re looking for.