Northwest of San Francisco, across the Bay Bridge, there is Oakland, a city that, with its 400,000 inhabitants, is among the largest and most important cities in the bay. That area of the United States and California is one of the richest and most active in the world, the largest tech companies and more – like Facebook, Google, Apple – are based here, but despite the rivers of dollars that flow underneath the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the relationship with professional sport is turbulent. To change the course, at least in soccer, the Oakland Roots want to impress in the USL and this weekend they will make their home debut.
After the farewell to the Raiders in the direction of Las Vegas for the NFL and the Warriors in San Francisco for the NBA, Oakland is also in danger of losing the Athletics in MLB. In football, on the other hand, after the failures in San Francisco, the Oakland Roots project was born to stay and above all grow in the community of the city, very passionate about football.
To let us tell you something more, we had a nice chat with Douglas Zimmermann, a journalist from Oakland who follows and will follow soccer in the Bay Arena.
Oakland life is getting better and bigger, commercial and residential speaking, but what’s happing to professional sports and how big is the impact on the city?
There are a lots of issues in Oakland, plus a big rivalry between San Francisco, for a long time Oakland was labeled as the unsafe place to live. When SF became unaffordable for a lots of people, this “moving” in Oakland made also a lots of shady places with homeless people, so teams like the Warriors and the Raiders weren’t attracted anymore by the city and they wanted a better city where to be advertised, even if Oakland is actually growing. The very nice thing about the Roots, which they stressed about, was saying that they were made by people who lived and worked in Oakland, so cheering and playing in Oakland. They’re not planning to go anywhere, it’s really good that having a team leaving, there is one saying “I want to stay, I want to grow”.
Even the Roots logo speaks about the community right?
Exactly, Oakland is a very welcoming place, very diverse, there are so many different ethics groups. Once you live the city you understand what it is having a really good community.
With the soccer part, what was the story of the soccer in the Bay Area and how the roots became the main sport in the bay?
There is definitely history, the soccer is huge, and in the particular in Oakland area, you go to parks on the weekends and you see all packed with mixed ethnic groups playing together. If there are international games at the Oakland coliseum, it would go completely sold out. There was already a huge amount of interest, we were just missing the organization who put everting together and represent the city and the community which is amazing how much they accomplish in very short time.
You talked about the USL East Bay, which was the first project in Oakland for the Usl, how was the process from Usl East Bay to the Roots?
As you can see in the lower divisions in the league in America is about who can pay the League, so with the Roots there was this parallel project “Usl East Bay” and the owner, big real estate company, had essentially more money from the the start so he bought the rights for the Usl. So the Roots wanted to start the team anyway so they ended up joining the new NISA League. They played two years there which was an ok level, with good teams like Detroit.
When Covid came up this opportunity, because East Bay promised to start by 2021 and they tried to built the stadium outside Oakland which created community oppositions so the pandemic made the owner make investments on real estate holdings which withdraw the soccer project, he worked out a arrangement to sell the rights to the Roots.
Do you think the other Nisa teams are coming to the Usl as well or not?
I think the cool thing about Nisa is that is more similar to the European model. It’s not a franchise, your team is your team, in Usl you don’t have so much freedom as in Nisa because you own the club. Some teams there they don’t want to join Usl, even if the level is better there where we play now, but because the there are not promotion or relegation you are “stuck” in the division you choose. In addition there are more expenses, you need a bigger stadium, so you need more criteria for the organisation, which makes the Nisa teams staying where they are. For those teams the are really ambitious, to reach the MLS in the future, the have to make the big jump.
Speaking of ambitions, is there a plan for the Roots to get their own stadium?
They definitely want to get a new stadium, they’re looking for the a space in the city to build it, but there isn’t anything concrete because the baseball team, the Oakland Athletics, they might be relocated as well so once they find a solution with the MLB, the Roots either jump in for that stadium or see other locations in the city.
What was the average of the price ticket and what was the answer from the fans to go to the stadium and buy the season ticket?
I got the season ticket in the supporter section for little over 300$ but the amazing thing was not only embracing the community but also getting the community involved, inside and outside the stadium, also making cool merchandising in order to get the fans with their own gear.
What’s the plan of the Roots, I mean, staying as much as they can in the Usl, or trying to get the jump in the Mls?
Right now, the ownerships group wants to stay and get settled in the Uls but, of course if the opportunity comes they will try to make the jump some point. The first step is getting the stadium, then I think then they will start thinking about the bigger league. The other thing they need is more investors and a certain amount of money for moving up.
Do you think the Roots will reach the playoff?
I think they have a chance, because the have a competitive team, maybe not winning the Western Conference but really got chances to get to the playoff.
Last question, do you have a “favorite” soccer team in Italy and Mls?
Unfortunately no, I don’t know Italian soccer well enough to support a team. But I’m looking for suggestions. Actually I became a soccer fan during the World Cup 1994, the game was Italia-Nigeria, the Nigeria was up 1-0, then Roberto Baggio ties up in the final minutes and the Italians fans went crazy and I was like: this is my sport! In the MLS I used to like the old MetroStars, which became the Red Bulls because I liver in New York for a while but they have been disappointing lately, not really good results a part from the Supporte’s Shield.