March 14, 2021

By William Ink, Staff Writer

The Roots Soccer Club held a virtual media day on March 4 as they ramp up preparations for the upcoming 2021 United Soccer League (USL) season. Players and technical staff were introduced and then interviewed by a group of invited members of the media. Members of the Roots staff in attendance were new technical director and previous head coach Jordan Ferrell and former assistant and new head coach Dario Pot.

The four players introduced were Saalih Muhammad, Max Ornstil, Tarek Morad (all three of whom are playing in their first season with the team) and Yohannes Harish, who will be playing in his third season as a member of Roots SC. 

Oakland Roots SC (clockwise, starting top left) midfielder Saalih Muhammad, defender Max Ornstil, midfielder Yohannes Harish and defender Tarek Morad. Image courtesy of Oakland Roots SC.

Harish immigrated from Eritrea at age 14 and he was introduced to American sports through Sports Without Borders (SWB), a youth mentorship program that assists young immigrants with cultural transitions and guidance using athletics as a springboard. 

Tarek Morad comes to the Roots bringing championship experience. In 2017 he played as starting center back for USL champion Louisville City Football Club. According to Morad, the social mission embedded in Roots DNA was part of the allure of coming to Oakland.

Part of the recent Roots mission has been the creation of the Justice Fund, a charitable project focused on racial and gender justice. Their foundational goal has been to use their position in the community as a catalyst for social progress. 

Ornstil and Muhammed are both from Oakland and are coming home to be leaders and exemplify the meaning of having Oakland roots. Pride, resilience, loyalty and community were among the sentiments expressed by the two at the media event.

Ornstil spent his last four seasons playing for the Portland Timbers, ultimately ascending to team captain.

Muhammad spent five seasons in Croatia, playing for the Dinamo Zagreb Academy before returning to the states. He played the previous two seasons with New Mexico United.

Oakland Roots SC Head Coach Dario Pot. Image courtesy of Oakland Roots SC.

Coach Pot brings an extensive global resume to Roots as the new head coach. He promises to combine the best of old school and new school approaches, using the power of communication without sacrificing responsibility or accountability. The key, according to Pot, is getting everybody to “buy in” to the core concept as defined in the team’s purpose statement: Using “the power of sports as a force for social good.” 

In building the organization, Roots management consistently emphasized the importance of recruiting “high character” players — people inclined to leadership roles on the field and off. 

Former head coach Jordan Ferrell has been instrumental in driving this narrative for the organization. After serving as the team’s head coach last year, it was decided that Jordan’s talents could be best utilized as the club’s new technical director. He shared his enthusiasm for preparing the first team players for game day and the planning and tactics involved as head coach. Now, as technical director, he “gets to be the guy who focuses on building culture throughout the [entire] organization.” 

After a 2020 season disrupted by COVID-19, all parties have been looking forward to getting back on the field as practice resumed at Los Positas College in Livermore on Monday, March 8. Practices are currently scheduled to last for two hours daily, leading up to an ambitious season schedule set to begin in May, consisting of 32 matches over a 27-week period, including 16 home matches. These matches are expected to be played at Laney College Stadium.

Oakland Roots SC Head Coach Dario Pot (left) and Technical Director Jordan Ferrell (right) during a practice at College of Alameda before the pandemic hit. Image courtesy of Oakland Roots SC.

To date, Roots has played six home games at Laney stadium. The college itself has been an important figure in the organization’s grand design from the start: in terms of the history, the social gravitas, the community and the location. “I can still remember sitting on the bench before the whistle blew for the first match day and looking up at the sunset on the skyline, the Tribune Tower, and just thinking we’re changing the game,” recalled Ferell.

If the vibe at this event is indicative of what’s ahead, the Oakland faithful will have a lot to root for.