The Oakland Roots have built a local soccer club dedicated to Oakland, but the team has been playing its current season at Hayward’s Cal State East Bay campus because the turf at  Laney College—the team’s home field—has been unfit for games. And while the club is seeking to take over part of the Oakland Coliseum area to build a new soccer pitch that could open in 2025, it’s having to assess its options for next year. 

One option is to move to a different site at the Coliseum even sooner. On Friday, June 16 the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Joint Powers Authority board, the public agency that manages the Oakland Coliseum and Arena, announced they are working with the Roots to build an interim stadium on the Coliseum grounds’ C Lot, a large plot of land. This location could be ready for the 2024 season, and it would be adjacent to the Malibu Lot, the piece of land where the team wants to build a stadium by 2025 that could serve as their home pitch for a decade or longer.

“There are some challenges, but we do not think those are insurmountable,” said JPA executive director, Henry Gardner, at the meeting earlier this month. “The key ones are these; when we have dual events—when we have a big event at the Arena and the Oakland A’s at home, then it is going to be very difficult to accommodate a third activity on the site.”

Just what the Roots will be able to piece together for next year and the longer term remains to be seen.

Turf troubles at Laney College forced the team out of Oakland, for the time being

On May 5, the Oakland Roots announced a venue switch from Laney College to CSUEB’s Pioneer Stadium because Laney’s recently renovated field was incompatible with the special turf the team needed to install before games to comply with league standards. Now over three months since leaving for Hayward, Roots’ president Lindsay Barenz said it’s become clear that the Oakland junior college can no longer host the team. 

“We love Laney. We love playing there and we love the school, they’ve been fabulous to us. But there is no viable solution given the current setup at Laney right now, there’s no viable way for us to put our turf there,” said Barenz. 

Issues at Laney stem from its field renovations in the weeks prior to Oakland Roots’ home opener against Memphis 901 on March 25. Due to the rain in early March, renovations delayed completion all the way until 48 hours before game day. Laney College athletic director John Beam tweeted the day before the Roots’ game that their field was complete, but this left the team only 24 hours to prepare for the match.

The Roots are required to lay down their own turf on top of Laney’s field in order to adhere to the USL Championship league’s standards. Upon receiving clearance to begin putting down their field on March 24, the organization spent the night wheeling in its turf to prepare for the following day. When returning the morning of the Memphis 901 match, Roots staff noticed several warped and unbalanced areas of its field. 

“When we laid down the field the previous day it actually looked ok at first,” said Roots’ co-owner Edreece Arghandiwal. “We waited overnight and on Saturday morning, the field lost its form.”

“When you put our turf on top of that and walked on it, it was like walking in sand,” said Barenz. “Your feet would sink with every step, which is obviously unsafe and doesn’t work for playing soccer.”

The problem is the field’s infill—a synthetic combination of rubber and sand—and the fiber of the recently renovated turf being a longer strand than the previous field. Because the two turfs are incompatible, the organization scrambled for options before landing on CSUEB’s Pioneer Stadium. 

“We worked with Laney over the course of weeks and months to find a solution but the solution was highly expensive and would cost over $1 million to install a layer over Laney’s field to protect it,” said Arghandiwal. “We’re still trying to build and be sustainable, so Cal State East Bay was the only viable option based on 5,000 seats, lighting, and a field that was compliant.”   

The Coliseum might be able to host an interim field in 2024, but scheduling is tricky

The Oakland Coliseum’s C Lot could host the Roots in 2024.

CSUEB is scheduled to undergo renovations next year after postponing operations to allow Roots games at Pioneer Stadium this season. And the Malibu Lot at the Coliseum can’t be ready until 2025. Without an official home for 2024, Barenz said the club will explore “every option” to find its next place to play.

“We are continuing to explore a temporary home before our 10-year interim stadium,” said Barenz. “The earliest the Malibu Lot can be available is 2025 so we still need a place to play for 2024. We want to explore every option to see what might be possible.” 

The Coliseum’s C Lot is the only location that’s been mentioned as a possible solution so far.

During the June 16 JPA meet, Gardner, the agency’s executive director, said the largest hurdle the Roots face at C Lot is scheduling concerts at the Oakland Arena and Coliseum. 

“What we do not know are the activities we’re likely to have at the Arena a year ahead of time. Events at the Coliseum net substantial revenues. So we want to make sure that we don’t end up with a situation where we have an opportunity to host a big concert at the Coliseum and we now have an event at the Arena and Roots,” said Gardner. 

“There are challenges there,” acknowledged Barenz.

Other obstacles, said Barenz, include figuring out how to construct a soccer stadium at that location for one year’s use. Then there are various permits to be obtained and agreements that have to be reached. 

Despite the issues at Laney, Roots leaders say they still want to work with the Peralta Community College District should things not work out for C Lot.

“Building a culture and identity at Laney has meant so much for our club. We have multiple paths in 2024 towards getting to Malibu Lot in 2025,” said Arghandiwal. “And we’ll have more discussions to explore whether there are any viable options to get back to Laney.”

Regardless of what happens for the Roots, the Oakland Soul, the Roots’ twin women’s team, will likely still play most of its matches at Merritt College in order to prevent scheduling issues with the Arena and Coliseum. 

“Merritt College is a turnkey solution,” said Arghandiwal. “There are no field goal posts, it’s not marked for American Football, and it’s a brand new turf field that is soccer-specific. We also wanted to build an experience for Soul that really cared about the experience at the games.” 

When it’s ready, the Roots’ Malibu Lot stadium will be a welcome home field

The Roots’ future interim field at the Coliseum is currently a gravel surface. In an appearance on NBC Sports’ Brodie Brazil’s podcast, Roots’ chief real estate director Lydia Tan said they are looking to start construction in the summer of 2024 after environmental reports are completed and approvals are given. 

“There’s a process of negotiation with the city and county,” said Barenz about the timeline. “There’s a variety of planning approvals that need to be obtained and permits to qualify for.”

Since the Roots plan on using a modular stadium design at the Malibu Lot site, they could use some of these same components for the C Lot stadium’s infrastructure. Modular stadiums are relatively quick to assemble. Phoenix Rising, for instance, moved its modular stadium from Chandler, Arizona over the offseason to its current site near the Phoenix Airport. Inter Miami’s $60 million build, DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, is similar, say Barenz and Arghandiwal. 

“Our interim stadium at Malibu will be a bit of an improvement to Phoenix. Take Phoenix and Inter Miami, and our plans might be a bit more special,” said Arghandiwal. “The C Lot would be more like Sacramento Republic, which are big bleachers around a field instead of being an actual stadium. We would buy some things that we know we could pick up and move to Malibu, like a modular scoreboard.”

Roots leaders say they are unsure of when a final decision might come about their hopes of using the Coliseum’s C Lot next year, but they expect a decision from the Oakland-Alameda Joint Powers Authority in the near future.