Credit: Courtesy of Oakland Roots SC

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Oakland lost the Raiders to Las Vegas, the Warriors to San Francisco, and may yet lose the A’s—but not everyone on the local sports scene has their gaze directed out of town. Team officials from the Oakland Roots soccer club announced on Tuesday that they’ll be fielding a brand new women’s team, “Oakland Soul,” beginning in 2023.

Lindsay Barenz, team president of Oakland Roots, said it was always the club’s vision to be more than just a men’s team. “We want our soccer organization to be for men and women, non-binary people, kids, grown-ups, professionals, amateurs,” she said. “We want to be a club that’s inclusive and represents all parts of the community.”

The opportunity to form a women’s club presented itself after a new women’s pre-professional soccer league, the USL-W, announced it would be launching in 2022 with 44 teams in 20 states. Oakland Soul will join and compete in the league starting next season. 

Barenz said the early success of the Roots, now in their second year competing in the professional USL Championship league, made opting into the women’s league a fairly easy decision. When the opportunity presented itself, the club pounced.

“We have a proof of concept, in terms of soccer and the success of it in Oakland. People love the sport here and they want more,” said Barenz. “Our social audience, broadcast audience, and in-person audience for the Roots is growing. We’re one of the top merch-selling teams in the league. Our growth trajectory is already really steep, and adding a new club in the women’s space is going to accelerate that.”

On its website, Oakland Soul is described as a “purpose-driven” team. Asked to explain what that means, Barenz said it’s a commitment to using soccer and the clubs’ platforms to harness and promote positive social change in Oakland.

“We don’t make decisions if they aren’t aligned with our purpose,” she said. “That’s quite different from how other sports clubs operate. They may have a community-relations department but it’s not infused in their organizations.”

Mission-driven work isn’t unusual for Barenz, who took the reins as club president in January. Born in San Francisco and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Barenz said she was a political activist and union organizer in her early career, before attending law school. She worked in the Obama Administration’s office of management and budget and later founded a digital media company covering arts and culture in New York City.

“Then I decided I wanted to work in soccer,” said Barenz. She held posts in several women’s and men’s professional clubs, before joining the Oakland Roots, and now Soul, as president.

Barenz said the vast majority of Oakland Soul players will be recruited from Oakland and the surrounding area. Because the USL-W is a pre-professional league, she noted, players will be able to join the club without losing their college eligibility. “We want to include players who are developing in their career, to ultimately reach a pro destination,” said Barenz. 

Unlike the Roots, Oakland Soul games won’t be played at Laney College due to a lack of capacity there, said Barenz. The team will be playing its home games in a different Oakland location, which is yet to be confirmed.

Oakland Soul will be hosting a launch party on June 23 at The Loom in Oakland, featuring food, drinks, and live performances. More information about that event and tickets for the 2023 season can be found on the club’s website.

Jacob Simas is Managing Editor of The Oaklandside. He joined us from Univision, where he led social-impact initiatives and established the Rise Up: Be Heard journalism training program for young people and community organizers in underserved areas of California. He was a senior editor and director of youth and community media at New America Media, where he led a community news network that amplified student and youth reporting in California news deserts. Simas has lived in Oakland for the past decade with his wife and two children, who attend Oakland public schools. He is an advisory board member for Youth Beat and a former volunteer host and producer with KPFA.