UPSL Spotlight on Oakland Stompers
Here is an example of a UPSL men’s soccer club with a rich legacy that is creating new loyalty and making a difference today.
If you’ve heard of Pele, then you’ve probably heard of Shep Messing.
The self-proclaimed and handsome “bad boy” of soccer starred as a goalkeeper at NYU and Harvard where he was a two-time, second-team All-American.
Messing’s collegiate success earned him a spot on the U.S. National Team and he joined the team for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Upon returning home, Messing discovered his professional soccer career had begun to take off. “When I got back from the Olympic games, I’d found out I’d been drafted by a team that I had never heard of, the New York Cosmos,” said Messing with a laugh.
“But that was before Pele — and, at the time, it was just kind of a part-time job.”
The part-time job Messing was referring to was the small numbers in attendance at the games, which in turn, resulted in lower pay for the players. This is where the self-proclaimed “bad boy” was born. “We got a thousand people coming to the games,” said Messing. “
“So, I got offered a lot of money to pose nude for the centerfold of a women’s magazine, so I did it.”Referring to when Shep Messing Posed Nude for VIVA: The International Magazine For Women – December 1974 issue
That stunt may have been a nice payday for Messing, but it was the same stunt that would see him be dismissed from the North American Soccer League team that drafted him. Citing a violation of the team’s “moral code”, Messing was cut and then picked up by the Boston Minutemen where he would go on to lead the league in goalkeeping that season.
Two years later, with Pele now a part of the Cosmos, Messing would rise to stardom. “We beat the Cosmos in a game that I stopped a Pele penalty-kick,” said Messing. “A week later, their goalkeeper gets hurt and Pele said he wanted “that goalkeeper on Boston.”
Now a free agent and the face of American Soccer, Messing needed to decide where he would be continuing his career. After multiple phone calls with multiple teams, Shep got a call from the owner of the Oakland Stompers. “They flew me out to Oakland and I got to meet with the Gene Washington of the San Francisco 49ers who was a minority owner. I was treated really well and I fell in love with Oakland and so they offered me a contract to become the highest-paid player ever in American soccer. Oakland was fast and furious, it was only one year, but I would say it was one of the best years of my life in soccer.”
Shep would head back to the Cosmos and things started to take off from there. “That’s where I really made my name,” he noted. “We won the Championship against Seattle in Pele’s final game and we were drawing 77,000 people at Giant’s Stadium every game.
That’s really I think the beginning of Professional soccer taking off in this country.”
The Oakland Stompers of the NASL folded after that year, but the seed had been planted and the Forte family would see that it grow.
The Oakland Stompers returned to Oakland in 2018, for a 40 year commemoration season and honored their rich past … and remember when Shep Messing Played in the iconic Oakland Stompers kit of 1978
The road to this club’s resurrection is a long and interesting journey.
Patrick Forte resurrected the brand of the former professional club as a youth club, the Lil Stompers and Stompettes. The youth club played throughout the ’80s and ’90s before going on hiatus. In 2008, when Patrick’s son Billy whose siblings grew up as a “Little Stompers and Stompettes” — was old enough, he brought the team back yet again, this time, as an adult team.
The second attempt to bring back the Stompers saw the team playing in a local recreational league. The team then played out of San Francisco and then East Bay as a semi-professional team until 2017 before moving to Northern California and playing in the United Premier Soccer League where the Oakland Stompers brand would soon be reborn.
“We had been trying to bring back the brand the whole time, but it seemed like there was always some roadblock that didn’t allow us to play in Oakland,” mentioned Forte. “The UPSL presented us the best opportunity to do what this club’s ambition always was – bring back the old Oakland Stompers and shine a light on the last first-division pro team in Oakland.”
The current roster is vast and is representative of the large melting-pot in the Bay Area. “We get players fresh out of college from Community College all the way up to D1,” added Forte. “One of our guys played for the Afghanistan National Team and has even competed in World Cup Qualifiers with them.” Stompers’ goalkeeper, Dominik Jakubek, has been rostered in Major League Soccer, won a Title with the USL Championship side Sacramento Republic and most recently played for Reno 1868 of the same league.
This January, the club will be competing in the UPSL Division I Playoffs.
The Stompers’ nickname and the crest tell a story, as the best usually do. Located within proximity to Napa Valley’s “wine country”, the stomping of grapes is one of the more recognizable steps in the process of creating wine. In the team crest, you will find the shape and color of a bunch of grapes in the background. Forte even credited his team’s very physical style of play as a salute to the team nickname, with “Stompers” giving a sense of physicality.
While Forte is doing all that he can to bring back the Oakland Stompers brand on the field, it’s the brand that his club has created off the field that he is most proud of.
“We have an off-the-field project going on that started last year when we chose Raimondi Park in Oakland as our home venue,” said the team’s owner. “There was a huge homeless encampment, the locker rooms were filthy, our bathrooms didn’t have doors. We cleaned out all the garbage and had a local guy donate the wood for doors and benches.”
Forte went as far as meeting with the Mayor of Oakland and utilizing his club’s partnership with Sister Cities, a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network that creates partnerships between communities in the United States and those in other countries. The nonprofit connected the club with the East Bay chapter of the United Nations to pitch a park revitalization project to the Mayor that can be adopted in other Cities or Countries as well.
“Everyone wants to build a stadium, but there are a lot of existing local parks that people can work with the community and make it a project and get everyone involved,” stated Forte. “Our whole premise is sports diplomacy and being able to be involved with the community and do our part.”
The park revitalization project is something Forte hopes can be used as a model for UPSL teams across the board.
“We are partnering with a local seed bank out of Berkley to make it a very green project. We want it to be a grass field and show how you can bring back a park just by working with your local community. Especially for teams in the UPSL, not everyone has their stadium, but if you can take something like an old existing grass pitch and bring it back, I think that would be productive.”
Renovating a park doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what the Stompers are off of the field though. “We are all about sports diplomacy,” Forte told me. “When there was a fire up in Paradise, CA, we were able through our partnership with Sister Cities, to bring a U-HAUL with a quarter of a million dollars worth of medical supplies that were rounded up by the disaster relief teams and delivered up there.”
Soccer is one of those sports where tradition reigns true. The club that once featured the teammate of arguably the world’s greatest player over forty years ago, is the same club revitalizing parks, helping the community, and providing a competitive environment for the world’s greatest game to be played.
They are The Oakland Stompers.