LA’s newest expansion team just finished an inaugural NWSL season filled with promise, potential, and serious celebrity backing. Here’s what the story of their MLS neighbors tells us about what’s next.
Los Angeles is an undisputed sports city. Two football franchises — including the reigning Super Bowl champion — a mountain of WNBA and NBA championships, and now, three professional soccer clubs backed by some of the most influential names in Hollywood and beyond.
This year’s arrival of Angel City FC in the National Women’s Soccer League marks a long-awaited movement to bring professional women’s sports back to the City of Angels. Founded July 21, 2020, they’re LA’s first women’s professional soccer team since the Los Angeles Sol folded in 2010 after one season. Their nearly 100-member ownership group — a majority of them women — includes former USWNT superstars Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, and Julie Foudy, Serena Williams, venture capitalists Kara Nortman and Alexis Ohanian, and actresses Natalie Portman, Eva Longoria, and America Ferreira.
And outside of a long list of A-list figures that are beyond bullish about the club’s potential, ACFC also have the advantage of being in a city that already hosts two successful pro soccer clubs with established, ingrained prestige.
LA Galaxy were founded in 1996 as one of Major League Soccer’s 10 charter members, and to date, they’ve accumulated a record five MLS Cups, two US Open Cups, four Supporters’ Shields, and one CONCACAF Champions League title. A plethora of elite players have donned their kit, from Cobi Jones to Landon Donovan to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
And who can forget when David Beckham revolutionized MLS overnight when he announced a monumental move to LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007, far and away the single most consequential moment in league history to date?
For years, the Galaxy singularly dominated the professional soccer scene in southern California; neighbors Chivas USA lasted 10 seasons and did not win a major trophy before folding after 2014, never overcoming their status as “little brother” to Liga MX overlords in Guadalajara. Four years after Chivas went kaput, LAFC arrived on the scene, and since then, the two LA clubs quickly developed a fierce, star-studded rivalry that has been aptly named “El Tráfico.”
The crosstown derby is all too exciting in the regular season, but the MLS Playoffs only intensify the contest — Oct. 20’s postseason edition of MLS’ Battle of Los Angeles has the potential to be the biggest yet, as a trip to the Conference Finals is on the line.
Though Angel City FC didn’t make the NWSL Playoffs in their maiden campaign, it doesn’t take a single thing away from the merits of the ambitiousness or the fanfare surrounding their founding. After all, their path to soccer supremacy has already been heralded in several ways by the Galaxy and LAFC’s own trajectories.
But thanks to the overall growth of the game in this part of the world, the NWSL club boasts unique advantages that a club like the Galaxy could not have dreamed of when they opened up shop way back in 1996.
Like their MLS neighbors, Angel City already have a laundry list of major national and international sponsors to their name, from women-owned shoe brand Birdies to Therabody, Gatorade, and Orangetheory Fitness. Mirroring the successes of Galaxy and LAFC, they also wasted no time building a talented roster loaded with past NWSL Cup and World Cup winners. Sporting the asphalt and pink “sol rosa” kits include USWNT veteran and two-time World Cup winner Christen Press, two-time NWSL champion midfielder Cari Roccaro, and Sydney Leroux, a 2015 World Cup winner who joined the club halfway through the inaugural campaign after Press suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
The wins did not immediately materialize in 2022 — the club finished eighth in the regular season table, four points out of the final playoff spot — but the organizational commitment to winning has been there from day one. Angel City surely noted the pomp and circumstance and fan fervor that surrounded Beckham and Ibrahimovic’s moves to LA Galaxy or Carlos Vela and Gareth Bale’s relocations to LAFC. While injuries and setbacks will happen, their blueprint for lasting NWSL success is very much in that same spirit as their LA neighbors.
Los Angeles has long been branded as the land of surface-level personalities and an undying urge to identify the next big thing at the expense of embracing the current moment, so you can’t blame cynics for wondering whether ACFC’s Hollywood connections reinforce those stereotypes; the truth is actually to the contrary. These notable names, whether the public likes it or not, influence the direction of popular culture — and in some cases, entire sectors of the economy itself — so their investment into women’s sports is a serious win for current and future fans.
It’s likely only a matter of time before other clubs, whether here in the US or beyond, find themselves longing for similarly robust backing and the sheer visibility and cultural capital that come with it. Right on cue, according to Sportico, Angel City FC boasts a valuation of more than $100 million — more than double that of the next closest known NWSL franchise and a current NWSL record.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you women’s sports aren’t worth investing in or broadcasting or caring about, especially in Los Angeles. And while the Galaxy and LAFC might have set the pace, Angel City FC has a unique chance to become the new prototype for capturing imaginations in the stateside version of the Beautiful Game.
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