LOS ANGELES – Angel City Football Club is looking to make an impact on women’s sports and soccer with new community initiatives as the team prepares to join the National Women’s Soccer League in 2022.
With a star-studded ownership group that includes actress Natalie Portman, former U.S. national team player Abby Wambach and tennis legend Billie Jean King, Angel City hopes to attract LA’s rabid soccer fans to women’s games.
The NWSL now has teams in 10 cities, and the Los Angeles expansion marks the first team in the Southwest. Phoenix has been mentioned as a contender for a team in recent years, but no plans have been announced. NWSL players come from all over the country, including Phoenix native Jessica McDonald, who plays for North Carolina Courage, where she is a three-time champion and was on the 23-player squad that won the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France last summer.
Julie Uhrman, founder and president of Angel City, outlined three steps to ensure the organization makes an impact on the field and off.
“We want to have an impact on equality, we want to address essentials [in the community] and we want to address education,” she said. “Angel City can really lean in these verticals, and not only make sort of immediate change, but also work towards systemic change.”
Women’s soccer became an epicenter of the fight for fair pay in all sports after the U.S. women’s national team sued the national federation in 2019 alleging gender discrimination. Their fight has rippled through girl’s and women’s sports, where, according to advocates at the Women’s Sports Foundation, persistent barriers to leveling the playing field harm the health and well-being of women everywhere.
Angel City FC is seeking to hire more female coaches to raise the quality of coaching, Uhrman said. On the equality side, they are focusing not just on pay equity for the players, but how to level the playing field, addressing the cost of club soccer in California and lowering the price of paying soccer.
One of the biggest things Uhrman and Angel City are focusing on is opening the door to a fanbase that includes diverse and underrepresented communities in Southern California.
“How can we bring more youth from brown and Black communities into this incredible club culture that we see up here in soccer by working with our partners and trying to increase access and decrease costs,” Uhrman asked.
Angel City already has partnered with the LA84 Foundation to formally support the foundation’s Play Equity Fund, which is “committed to leveling the playing field to help ensure that all kids across Los Angeles have access and the opportunity to experience the transformational power of sport,” Uhrman said.
LA native Alondra Hernandez is the former owner and general manager of SoCal FC in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, and she grew up playing neighborhood pickup games in an empty lot and watching Mexican league games with her parents. It wasn’t until she was in her late teens that she was exposed to women’s soccer and finally saw the representation she always wanted: women just like her on a soccer pitch.
“It became the center of my universe,” Hernandez said. “I had never had such a direct and personal relationship to soccer as when I got into women’s soccer. It felt I was seeing myself in the players and my passion for the game only grew bigger. Being a fan of women’s soccer quickly turned into one of the most rewarding things in my life.”
It’s a feeling that she and many others are looking forward to, including Amanda Filimon and Nina Kiefer, hosts of the fan podcast Angel City Chicks. They value the diversity and acceptance of the fans.
“In this community, we’re seeing a blending of different ethnicities and races, we’re seeing a blending of sexual orientations, and everything is just accepted and welcomed, there’s no judgment, there’s really just pride in allowing people to be whomever they want to be,” Kiefer said.
That attitude reflects the global nature of “the only sport that’s played all across the world,” she said.
“It’s a language that everybody speaks the same and it unifies so many people,” Kiefer said. “You don’t have to speak their native language, but you show up in a game (anywhere in the world) and you don’t have to talk to anybody in their language because you all know and feel that passion.”
Now, with the November announcement of Angel City and their plans to play their home games in Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles come 2022.