After A False Start And 13 Years, Pro Women's Soccer Returns To LA — In Heavenly Fashion
When Angel City FC takes the pitch at Banc of California Stadium Friday night, they’re playing for more than the crest on their kit.
They’re descending from a heavenly place for local soccer fans.
It’s a team with funding and fans, the absence of which ultimately doomed the Los Angeles Sol, the last professional women’s soccer team to call the city home.
For one, they sold over 13,000 season tickets five months before they first took the pitch for a meaningful game. Banc of California has a capacity of 22,000.
To have half your stadium full of season ticket holders isn’t small potatoes — for comparison, the L.A. Rams have 20,000 season ticket holders versus SoFi Stadium’s 70,000-seat capacity.
Jenn Perez, a Van Nuys resident, is one of those lucky 13,000. She grew up playing soccer and is glad to see the groundswell of soccer support in the city .
“This city is becoming a bit of a destination for quality soccer in recent years, with the Galaxy and LAFC,” said Perez. “I think the addition of ACFC only expands upon that growing trend. As a season ticket holder, I’m definitely excited.”
When it comes to financial backing, well, let’s just say there’s money in the Banc. The ownership group is composed of seemingly equal parts fútbol and flash — investors include U.S. Soccer legends Mia Hamm, Joy Fawcett, and Abby Wambach as well as Christina Aguilera, Gabrielle Union, and Jessica Chastain.
And their founding triumvirate is alright as well, composed of Kara Nortman, the managing partner of L.A.’s largest venture capital firm, Julie Uhrman, a Lionsgate executive, and Natalie Portman — you know, the humanitarian/actor/rock solid hip hop artist.
Angel FC’s matchup against the North Carolina Courage starts at 7:30 p.m.
L.A.’s Fútbol False Start
The Los Angeles Sol’s shine was white-hot and brilliant.
And then, it was gone, a sparkler that enraptured the party for the extent of its brief existence before being tossed aside.
By the rest of the world’s soccer standards, L.A.’s last professional women’s soccer team did the unthinkable in their very first season in 2009 — they won the league, recording the best regular-season record in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS).
Oh, and they also had one of the single best soccer players of all-time leading their attack, Brazilian superstar Marta, who is still kicking in the pro leagues and now has won six FIFA World Player of the Year awards.
Now, that year was also the inaugural season for the whole WPS, but, nonetheless, the team’s prowess was undeniable through 20 regular-season games. Outside the lines, however, the team served the city with more than the glory of victory — it gave inspiration for young footballers all over L.A.
Annabel Romanos grew up in L.A. youth soccer, starting before she could even lace up her own cleats, climbing through club play, and ultimately playing goalie for the Campbell Hall Vikings in Studio City. The Sol’s emergence marked a big moment for her.
“Soccer was a huge part of my life from the time I was four to when I was about 19,” said Romanos. “The year the L.A. Sol was playing was actually the first year I started to play club soccer….having them to look up to was totally inspiring as a young girl, but more than that, it gave me a tangible goal to work towards. It made me want to get better so that one day I could play on that team.”
However, this is America, and, ultimately, we need playoffs to truly determine who’s the best. Playoffs are where heroes are forged, or whatever. Playoffs are where most U.S. sports fans disregard a season’s worth of success and data and pour all their emotion into a seven-game series or a single-game championship.
And the Sol lost in the title game. By the time the offseason rolled around, the team not only disappeared from Los Angeles but vanished entirely. The Sol didn’t move, like many teams that flee a city — they disbanded.
Lackluster attendance, funding, and a wholesale partial ownership abdication (by AEG, which has some experience managing major sports franchises — see: Lakers, Los Angeles) scrubbed the team from the city of Angels.
And just like that, the inspiration turned to disillusionment for many.
“When the Sol left, even as a 13-year-old, I could see that women's soccer wasn't being taken as seriously as men's soccer, and I would say it definitely had a huge effect on how seriously I ended up taking the sport,” said Romanos.
Angel City FC looks to step into that void.
On the field, they have something to prove. Their offensive blade will be tipped with another superstar of the game in a similar fashion to the Sol, with forward Christen Press. Press has won two FIFA World Cups with the U.S. Women’s National Team while netting 64 goals and dishing out 43 assists in 155 appearances. She is the 9th all-time leading scorer for USWNT, just two goals ahead of Megan Rapinoe.
Oh, and she’s from here — she grew up in Palos Verdes Estates.
Besides Press, however, there are plenty of folks with less illustrious trophy cases filling out the roster. They’re managed by Freya Coombe, who is relatively fresh to coaching stateside, with just two seasons under her belt and a 10-8-11 record.
In the pre-season Challenge Cup, Angel City FC failed to take off with any sort of conviction, losing four of six games.
Win or lose this year, however, things look bright for the club. A victory in an empty stadium is a sterile thing, forgettable and emotionless.
Among enraptured supporters, however, even a loss bears a bigger weight. Loss can only be felt with investment, something that Angel City FC has in spades, both in the stands and for the salary cap.
Editor's note 4/30/22:
Angel City FC took down the North Carolina Courage in their franchise opener Friday night, winning 2-1. Two early goals from Vanessa Gilles and Jun Endo gave L.A. an early cushion by the game's 13th minute. Angel City's goalkeeper, Didi Haracic, only let up one goal from North Carolina's Debinha in the 51st minute, but L.A. was able to hold on until the final whistle, putting a spectacular display for a packed house at Banc of California Stadium.