Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Angel City FC win inaugural NWSL regular season game in front of star-studded and festive crowd in Los Angeles

Angel City FC defeated the North Carolina Courage, 2-1, on Friday night in front of a sold out 22,000 spectators at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles to take home three points on their inaugural regular season match to kick off NWSL’s 10th season. 

Vanessa Giles scored the first (regular season) goal in franchise history and 21-year-old Japan international Jun Endo notched a goal and an assist on the night. Debinha cut the deficit in half in the 51st minute as she and fellow Brazilian Kerolin unsuccessfully tried to spoil the L.A. party.

The debut and the win is massive step forward for the expansion franchise after it was eliminated from Challenge Cup contention. The club walked away with a victory and it delivered on their overall message that soccer is the vehicle it will use to change the landscape of the league.

Let’s take a look at some of the key moments from a historic and celebratory day as women’s pro soccer returns to Los Angeles:

Women-led ownership group celebrates on pink carpet

The league announced expansion to Los Angeles in 2020 after the inaugural Challenge Cup with a majority female ownership group led by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars (Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, Becky G) and the biggest names in women’s sports (Serena Williams, Billy Jean King, Candace Parker, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach). After nearly two years of planning and preparation in works, Angel City FC finally made their regular season debut at Banc of California Stadium and put on a show in the process. 

The return of professional women’s soccer to the state of California comes after a decade-long absence, and with it, new perspectives on what it means to have an infrastructure of support around women’s pro soccer. Ahead of the historic game, the league held a pregame show and several prominent Angel City investors spoke briefly on the pink carpet to discuss the landmark moment in Los Angeles sports history.

“It feels like a tipping point, maybe” Angel City investor and tennis icon Billie Jean King told Lori Lindsey before the match. “I’m hoping that the empowerment that these women are going to show by being out on the field, it’s sold out, it shows that people believe in it. They believe in these women. They believe in sports. They know it’s good for everyone.”  

“It’s this mindset of what is possible,” Foudy, a two-time World Cup and Olympic champion and ACFC investor, told Marisa Pilla before the match. “Rather than in the past when we were players [and told] ‘Hey, you know what, why don’t you kind of just tone it down and be grateful, that would be great. And this is like ‘What are we going to do next? And this is what’s possible and this is our blank canvas.’ And this is what happens when it’s female-majority owned. I’m glad and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s been a long day coming and I’m super grateful to be a part of it.” 

“I don’t know football, I don’t understand it — soccer, or whatever the heck we call it these days — but I do understand women supporting women,” said Jennifer Garner to Lori Lindsey prior to kickoff. “And I do understand really celebrating the heroes that all of you are to our kids — boys and girls. To having a little boy look out there and say ‘I wanna play as well as she does someday, she’s my absolute hero, I want her on my lunchbox.’ I love that. It is so time. It is absolutely time and I can’t believe we actually get to have this moment tonight. … It’s criminal that we didn’t have this [sooner] — how is this just now happening?”  

CBA ceremoniously signed 

Ahead of the start of the season, the NWSL Players Association and the board of governors agreed ratified the first-ever collective bargaining agreement in professional women’s soccer history in the United States. Similar to Angel City’s arrival, it was a negotiating process that took nearly two years, and the official 44-page document was ceremoniously signed during the pregame show by new NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman and NWSL Players Association executive director Megan Burke.

Berman, who has a background as a labor lawyer, considered getting the CBA signed a top priority. 

“There’s nothing more important than our relationship with our players association. It’s the underpinning of any professional sports league, particularly in North America, and we’re going to work together to bring this agreement to life.”

A new dawn with fan support

A sold out crowd of 22,000 helped set the tone for the first Angel City FC match at Banc of California stadium, with supporters unveiling one of the largest tifos in NWSL history. “Un nueva amanecer,” which translates from Spanish to “a new dawn” and was the message across a long pink and white landscape with black accents. 

Look ahead

The end result of the match is merely a fraction of the sum. Angel City’s commitment to build a team that is reflective of the larger Los Angeles community is evident in both the players on the roster and their efforts on the pitch in their regular season debut. The franchise’s ability to secure funding through investors and sponsors in an effort elevate standards was unprecedented of league before it’s 10th year, and has changed the way for future expansion groups.

Angel City continue their regular season on May 8 against Orlando Pride at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles on Paramount+

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