Walking into Titan Stadium, the atmosphere was electric. Everyone was buzzing with excitement as they prepared to watch Los Angeles’ first-ever NWSL team play its first game. As I looked around and saw waves of little girls with their parents, I couldn’t help but feel emotional. I felt pure joy for the growth of the game, but I also briefly felt somber for little me, who did not get to experience this.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I was fortunate enough to be immersed in a world of sports that made my love for them natural. Like the little girls in Fullerton on Saturday, March 19, I fell in love with soccer. To this day, nothing beats the peace that comes from being alone on a field with a ball.
The beautiful game helped me not only find myself but also helped me get through life for the 10 years that I played competitively. As I get older and take up a new position in the world of women’s soccer, I couldn’t be more elated for the sport’s growth and what it means for all the little girls who are falling in love with it just as I had.
The beginning of not one but two NWSL teams in Southern California is a massive step for the growth of women’s soccer in a region inundated with youth clubs. Angel City FC has already received massive amounts of support ahead of its first-ever season, from fans young and old. San Diego Wave FC, the other new Southern California team, is not as widely known but feeds the demand of a smaller region that is often overshadowed by the glitz and glamor of its northern neighbor.
For so many of us growing up, there was a shortage of female role models. The massive position of men’s sports meant that many looked up to the star male athletes in their respective sports. Personally, my icons were the likes of Xavi and Landon Donovan — the latter especially being reaffirmed during his tenure with the LA Galaxy when I spent too many hours at the Home Depot Center/StubHub Center (what is now known as the Dignity Health Sport Park).
When I got a little older and advanced further in soccer, I was fortunate enough to have the inspiring USWNT and the New Kids to look up to, but the long gaps between international stints still left me aching for more.
The creation of the National Women’s Soccer League in 2012 changed things for me. I now had relatively easier access to countless female professionals to look up to and idolize. Unfortunately, the closest teams to Los Angeles were those in the Pacific Northwest, meaning that for me and other young players like myself, men’s soccer still took the cake. The closest access I had to watching high-level women’s soccer in person was through local collegiate matches.
Watching women’s professional soccer got easier as I got older because I had a wider knowledge of the game and knew how to hunt out livestreams of the matches. The hoops I jumped through are things that parents of young girls just beginning in the soccer world would not know how to navigate; so, even though the league was established, it was largely inaccessible to a massive group who would arguably benefit the most from it.
Finally, as a 20-year-old former player, I get to see this gap bridged.
For fans of women’s soccer at large, the growth of the league is always a fantastic thing. For those of us from Los Angeles specifically, it is an amazing opportunity that is long overdue. Little girls can have their love for the game fostered early and heightened by being able to go out to the Banc of California Stadium and watch our very own professional women’s soccer team compete.
My hopes for the future are large, but I know they are not unfounded. Saturday’s match was truly something out of dreams. There was a line wrapping around the streets of Fullerton to park. Hoards of fans waited at the gate to get in. Titan Stadium was packed. And all were there to watch women’s soccer.
Little girls littered the stands as they sat side by side with their parents and teammates. Their screams of support for teams that they knew little about truly said it all. They were purely excited to see women play professional soccer.
It didn’t matter who the players were or where the teams were from; what mattered to them was seeing grown-up versions of themselves showing them that playing professionally was possible. Of course, the additions of USWNT stars Alex Morgan and Christen Press did not hurt.
Ultimately, only time will tell how Angel City FC will impact Los Angeles’ youth soccer scene, but I believe it will be profound. With a club that prioritizes its players and city’s culture, combined with fans who’ve been waiting for a team of their own, I know Los Angeles will not disappoint.
Who knows, maybe the rest of the nation will even have another championship-winning Los Angeles team to hate.