“Can You See the Pride In the Panther
As he grows in splendor and grace
Toppling obstacles placed in the way,
of the progression of his race.
Can You See the Pride In the Panther
as she nurtures her young all alone
The seed must grow regardless
of the fact that it is planted in stone.
Can You See the Pride In the Panthers
as they unify as one.
The flower blooms with brilliance,
and outshines the rays of the sun.”
– The Voice of Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), words of Tupac
Oakland Roots is breathing new life into American soccer culture. Fueled by purpose, fitted with a distinct style and designed with an emphasis on grassroots, community-centric storytelling.
Sure, they want to win. They want to lift trophies. All of that. But in talking with club leadership, it’s clear that when it comes to community representation, it’s purpose over points. If you know, you know.
As the newest members of the USL Championship, I sat down with Edreece Arghandiwal, the club’s Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer to talk about the brand, the vibe, and what keeps Oakland Roots Sports Club moving.
RM: Edreece! How you feeling?
EA: Is this a dream? On the real, I am feeling grateful. Nothing like gratitude. This entire process, from its inception, has been an honor to be a part of. Not only because I love the sport, but because I love Oakland more than that. The Town has given my family, friends, and colleagues a lot, so it’s nice to see us trying to give back in a way that helps preserve the principles that make Oakland, Oakland.
When you can go from inspiration to perspiration, that’s a feeling you can’t quite describe. I am happy that we are able to continue the growth of our roots, and we are doing it with the USL.
RM: Last week you and your team dropped the “Oakland Forever” video. It blew up in a major way. Walk me through that process – from conceptualization to launch.
EA: A big part of the Oakland Roots ethos is our tagline: #OaklandFirstAlways. We try to have this phrase at the forefront of every decision we make. And you don’t have to be from Oakland to subscribe to the tagline or our brand. It means you appreciate the arts, activism, humanities, historical movements that have come out of Oakland, inclusivity, and all the things that make Oakland the city it is. It’s those principles that we want to preserve, forever. This video, and the narration that accompanies it is a nod to our tagline and the promise to always be about Oakland. Forever.
RM: Having Mistah F.A.B. and ZION I on the voiceover was crazy. How does that come together, and what is it about the club that makes them want to be involved in something like this?
EA: More than Roots, it’s the tie to Oakland. Folks that come out of Oakland have tremendous pride in giving back or showing love to the community that helped build them up. It’s a special thing, and I don’t often see it in other places throughout the states. No knock on other cities, because there are a lot of great ones, but the Bay is a little different.
Mistah F.A.B., seen here pregame at Laney Stadium, provided voiceover for Roots' launch promo as the club joined the USL Championship. | Photo courtesy Oakland Roots SC
RM: I did an IG live earlier this year with former Roots defender (and current Richmond Kicker) Devante Dubose and we talked about his player announcement video from last year. I feel like that was a big moment where the American soccer landscape looked up and said “woah, this club is creating something unique and different.” Do you agree with that?
EA: That was one of my favorite experiences. We were in the super early stages at that time, so we kept the budget small and had some fun with it. I hit up my close friend Sajad and we synced up with Devante to shoot. The beauty of that piece is that we had no motive. No storyboarding or planning, it was just about the feeling. We worked backward. We knew we wanted to use Ultraista - Gold Dayz (Maribou State Remix) and SOB x RBE & Kendrick Lamar - Paramedic!. SOB x RBE is from the Bay so it felt right.
We followed Devante throughout the city and hit up Jack London, City Hall, Defremery Park, and other spots. It was 100% authentic. Devante would run into people every step of the way. The interactions were raw throughout the whole shoot. After lunch, Devante was like, “my homie has a whip and he can do donuts around me.” Back of my head, I was thinking...this guy is REAL Oakland for that. In the spirit of being different, we ran with it. Sajad hopped in the car and we whipped the whip. What I will say is that Devante is a dude that will forever have my respect. His character, who he is as a person, the impact he had on our club in the early days. He will forever be Roots first player and we will probably have to keep that #67 reserved.
RM: Another area you continue to push the limits is in the apparel space. Collaborations with Oaklandish, Vans and others has given the club an aesthetic that feels more local – closer to the streets – than a lot of other soccer clubs. How would you describe your approach?
EA: From the start, I made it a point that we always thought about the following points: First, you should feel comfortable and proud of wearing Roots anywhere; fashion week, to your mom’s house, a party, etc. And two, when you wear Roots, you become a superhero.
Sports merchandising doesn’t have to follow a traditional format. We are called Oakland Roots Sports Club for a reason because it's bigger than just the game. It’s about Oakland, and Oakland is swaggy.
RM: Like most kids from California, I remember seeing the TurfFeinz “dancing in the rain” video for the first time. That whole movement – and it shows up in your content a lot – feels like an important part of Oakland culture. Tell me what I need to know.
EA: TurfFienz is for the people. They are truly an Oakland icon and family of the Roots. The whole Hyphy Movement came out the hood; a way for the different blocks to express themselves either through music, art, dance, etc. Everyone from Mac Dre to $hort to even G-Eazy….hyphy is a part of the DNA. It’s a way of moving, living, expressing even a mindset. Garion aka @icecold3000 from the TurfFienz, has appeared in music videos rocking our merch, and have performed at games alongside the OG Mistah Fab. Hoping we continue to give hyphy a platform.
RM: I want to ask you about the gameday experience real quick. There was a great story on the club in Hypebeast a few weeks ago and in it a quote that read “many who’ve had the privilege of seeing the team live would agree that a Roots game feels less like soccer and more of a block party where anyone and everyone is invited.” Sounds amazing. Paint the picture for us.
EA: I chose the image below, not because it fully encapsulates everything that makes a game day great, but because it’s of Rhomi the Homie throwing a turkey leg into the crowd. It’s just different.
Imagine a block party on a street that is shut down every match. You walk through the gates and you are greeted with local artists and musicians, food, and beverage that tastes and smells like the world, and lastly, you see everyone that you have crossed paths with at some point in your life. This is a Roots match. People come to see each other, not just the Roots.
Winning is always important. It’s a part of our fabric. We want to win in every domain, but joy, family, and Oakland supersede everything else.
We love thinking about Disneyland as it relates to the fan experience. The attention to detail and the lens of being different is important to us. I mention this to staff all the time, but I want us to push the boundaries of what sports experiences are. How can we activate smell, touch, feel, etc. in every aspect of the match? All of what happens around the match itself enhances the experience. At the end of the day, the guys on the field are a physical embodiment of the brand living and breathing in the real world. It’s all intertwined, but it’s bigger than the sport itself. We want to make people feel like they are a better person when they leave a Roots match.
Oakland Roots SC has averaged more than 5,000 fans per game at Laney Stadium in its short history, packing out the historic venue and providing a top-class gameday atmosphere. | Photo courtesy Oakland Roots SC
RM: Two more questions: Beyond the club, you have a really interesting personal story as well. Tell me about your journey. How did you end up here?
EA: I am a first-generation Afghan American, born in Oakland and raised throughout the Bay and Central Valley. The first sporting experiences for my family occurred in Oakland. My first was at an A’s game, and I will never forget the taste of garlic fries. It changed my life (laughs).
I get emotional talking about my parents and my family because they are truly some of the greatest people I have ever met. They went through a lot to ensure my sister and I could be the people we are. My sister, if you didn’t know, played in the Serie A and Bundesliga. She captained the Afghanistan National Women’s Soccer Team and has since retired. She cares tremendously about the power of women and dedicated her career to pushing this narrative. My father and the women in my life mean everything to me, and they have become a part of my guiding light.
I studied Biological Sciences and Economics at UC Davis. I wanted to be a doctor, but got the entrepreneurial bug and decided to split. I had an affinity for brand building. Specifically, building brands that impact the world in a positive way.
I had a stint at Apple, worked a little at Sean John and BET before I ended up creating a tech start-up and learning immense amounts of lessons. Soccer was a major part of my life, and after meeting my fellow Co-founder and President, Benno Nagel, we asked the question, “why not us?”
This is when the concept of soccer acting as a vehicle for positive change in the city we loved the most became a reality. The rest is history, I guess, but we’re just getting started.
RM: You did a podcast with Grant Wahl last week – it was great, by the way – and one of the things I thought was most interesting was when you talked about the influential role that the women in your life have had on you and your success. Mind diving into that a little?
EA: I mentioned this above, but I would like to dedicate this to all the women of my life. My mother, grandmothers, wife, and sister. I lost my Grandmother a few months ago. She carried a family on her back.
A lot of immigrant families have this common thread. It’s what motivates me, and it’s what allowed my sister to become the first Afghan National Team Member to play professional soccer in Europe. There are others out there with Afghan Roots doing incredible things too, like Nadia Nadim who is killing it at PSG. I hope there are more young women who can continue to break boundaries. The only thing boundaries are good for is for breaking them down.
RM: Appreciate all of your time, Edreece… is there anything else you want the people to know?
EA: I am so excited to see what happens. I can’t wait to get back to hanging out with the family at Laney. Let’s pack it out, and let the world know that the Town is forever.
RM: I love it. Before you go, I just want to say on behalf of everyone at USL HQ how excited we are to welcome you and the entire Oakland Roots family to the USL Championship. We can’t wait to witness and celebrate all of your future success.
EA: Thanks for the time and dialogue Ryan. I truly appreciate everyone that has helped us get here. I can’t begin to think of how many people that is. No one can get things done alone. Big big love.