The news was announced on Tuesday morning, after hints from soccer journalists on Monday night, that Los Angeles would be awarded the next expansion rights for a National Women’s Soccer League team.
A team that is not tied to the two men’s teams in the city, and founded by a diverse group of women including Natalie Portman, Serena Williams, America Ferrara, Eva Longoria, and Lilly Singh, among many former US Women’s National Team players like Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy. These names have teamed up with venture capitalist Kara Nortman, media consultant Julie Uhrman, and Serena Williams’ husband and tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, to make this team a reality.
Even with the excitement of Liverpool’s trophy lift happening this week, this news has been on my mind since it came out. The last, and only, time Los Angeles had a women’s soccer team was in 2009, with the Los Angeles Sol playing for the Women’s Professional Soccer League — for one season before folding. That league itself was reborn into the NWSL we know today, but Los Angeles hasn’t had a team since then, despite having two men’s teams that play in MLS.
Even as a Houston Dash fan myself, I am very excited.
Soccer, or whatever you want to call it, is a huge part of the culture in Los Angeles. Any given evening you’ll see groups playing on fields in parks, the LA Galaxy are one of the most successful teams in MLS and are one of the ten charter clubs for the league after their founding in 1996. Even LAFC, the second team in Los Angeles, were only founded five years ago and have seen their support explode.
And yet, the owners of the Los Angeles Sol were AEG, a subsidiary of the Anschutz Corporation — they also own the LA Galaxy, and sold their majority shares in the Sol back to the WPSL, who were then unable to find a new buyer for the club and forced it to disband in 2010. Los Angeles lost players like Marta, Shannon Boxx, and Aly Wagner, when they were dispersed into other WPSL teams.
The game has changed a lot since then.
The USWNT have won two World Cups, for one, and have jump-started the NWSL with their popularity. Even if you don’t like them, the results from the 2019 Women’s World Cup have done wonders for the Women’s game all around the world, especially in the United States. Even the FA WSL was seeing the benefits of it at the start their season following England’s performance on the world’s stage in France last summer (which makes Liverpool’s problems even more upsetting, again).
The excitement doesn’t just come from the start of the club itself — although it is pretty big. It comes from the roots, from the founders, this group of incredible and accomplished women, coming together to truly change the game. They have come together with the common goal of being the change in women’s soccer and women’s sports that is so desperately needed. They are throwing their names behind this organization and creating it themselves, after seeing something that needed the help.
Natalie Portman has apparently been the driving force behind all of this, getting together the money and other names to make this a real thing. According to the New York Times, Nortman met Portman at a fundraiser and “both soon became active supporters of the U.S. women’s team’s fight for equal pay, and after last summer’s Women’s World Cup, they decided it was time to involve themselves more personally in the game.
“Natalie texted me three times, just one line: ‘Let’s bring a team to L.A.,’” Nortman said.”
They are going to be the only team owned almost entirely by women. And not just a group of wealthy white women, a diverse group covering many different backgrounds and circumstances (although it does help that they all have their own money and lots of it).
The excitement also comes from the club’s plans to give back to the city. They have already announced partnerships with the LA84 Foundation and Play Equity Fund — both initiatives focus on expanding sport opportunities to kids in under-served communities.
“We also hope to make a substantive impact on our community, committing to extending access to sports for young people in Los Angeles through our relationship with the LA84 Foundation,” Portman said in her statement. “Sports are such a joyful way to bring people together, and this has the power to make tangible change for female athletes both in our community and in the professional sphere.”
One of my friends, and the most ardent women’s soccer supporter I’ve ever met (seriously I’ve learned everything from her), even rightly pointed out that even though these women are making a conscious effort to already pay it forward and invest in local communities, they have approached this organization as a business opportunity. While they have the intentions of elevating women’s sports in this city, this will be a business and the additions of Kara Nortman, Julie Uhrman, and Alexis Ohanian to the group are reflective of those choices.
“I feel like folks always approach women’s pro sports with a charity mindset. It feels like women’s soccer is turning a corner,” she tweeted.
She’s right. So much of women’s professional sports is framed from a charitable and representation driven place. Which isn’t bad, per se, but when players are framed as “role models” instead of being allowed to be brash and sometimes harsh athletes that men are allowed, it becomes a problem. The announcement and formation of this club already feel like a shift is happening for women’s soccer. This club already feels like it is doing something to change that framing and that mindset, merely by the way their founders and owners are collected. These women, this collection of former players and media personalities, focusing as well on the business aspect of the formation of this club, rather than treating it as a charitable action -- something to appease female fans and little girls who like to play AYSO soccer -- is what will bring change and recognition to this league as a whole. Supporting these players, coaches, and staff like equals to others in their field and not just novelties.
Change is coming, hell it may already be here, and I can’t wait for that opening game in 2022.