OAKLAND — The Oakland Roots and Oakland Soul soccer squads can now be added to the list of professional sports teams here that are looking for a new home.
The Oakland Roots Soccer Club, which owns the two teams, announced Tuesday that they have outgrown their current home at Laney College and have begun efforts to secure a new location to build a modular soccer stadium, instead of renting the junior college football field.
“We are looking for a permanent home,” club president Lindsay Barenz told the Bay Area News Group. “We need to find it really soon. Our fan base and community have grown so much that we struggle to fit inside Laney on game day. We also have the Oakland Soul now, and there’s not room for both of those teams.”
The Roots are in the fourth season as a men’s soccer team and are currently competing in the United Soccer League’s second division. They joined the USL in 2021 after competing in the National Independent Soccer Association in its first two seasons. The Roots announced in May the formation of the Soul, a women’s team that will play in the 2023 USL W League.
The club also oversees Project 510, the club’s development program for local talent.
“I really cannot stress enough that this is not a situation where we are unhappy with Laney College or feel like they’ve treated us poorly. It’ s not that at all,” Barenz said. “We’ve grown to a point, where it really just doesn’t work anymore for a lot of reasons, primarily that we would be disrupting the sports programs and students. But honestly, we’ve loved Laney College.”
The Roots front office is positioning the growing sports franchise as a club committed to Oakland, as the Golden State Warriors and Raiders have exited the city for newer digs in San Francisco and Las Vegas, and the A’s keep Vegas as an option while trying to get a ballpark built at Howard Terminal in Jack London Square. Matches at Laney College average 4,300 fans a night, with a maximum capacity of 5,500. Multiple matches have sold out, said Roots spokesman Tommy Hodul.
Long-term, the soccer club is trying to find a site already zoned for a sports facility that can hold up to 10,000 fans. Club officials have not disclosed possible locations within Oakland but say that, at a minimum, they are looking for a 15-acre lot. The Roots stadium will be privately-financed, Barenz said.
To get the stadium built in Oakland, the club will first have to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city of Oakland, a process similar to what the A’s have done on a larger scale at the Howard Terminal site. Team officials said they hope to enter such an agreement before the end of the year, and are planning to also identify a temporary site to use until a permanent facility is built.
“We are talking to everyone,” she said. “We’re talking our fans. We’re talking to our community advisory board. We’re talking to local elected officials. We’re talking to everyone. We haven’t talked to everyone yet. But we have kickstarted the process.”
The Roots will have played 17 games at Laney College from March to November by the time their 2021-22 home season is completed Oct. 1. Among the issues created by playing there, officials said, is that Laney College does not meet U.S. Soccer Federation requirements for width.
A USSF field must be at least 70 yards wide. Laney College’s football field is only 62 yards wide — the usual size for American football. Crews must lay out an additional eight yards of turf, a process that takes at least eight to 10 hours, Hodul said.
That forces the team to rent out Laney’s football stadium for nearly 48 hours whenever there is a home game.
“We have to roll out a field to play,” Barenz said. “That’s a lot of time, and that’s a lot of money. So that’s a complication, and the second is just the scheduling. Laney is a functioning junior college with student needs that take priority, as it should be.”
Barenz said the club anticipates staying in any interim location for “at least five years.” Once there, she said the club can begin looking for its permanent home.
“This is a big first step, stating that we need a new place,” she said.