Soccer newsletter: Angel City will have a lot of guardians
Hello, and welcome to another edition of the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, The Times’ soccer writer and we start today with Angel City, Southern California’s newest professional sports franchise.
The NWSL club – the first women’s top-division soccer team in Southern California since the Sol folded after one season in 2010 – won’t play its first competitive game for another 14 months but there’s already a lot of preparatory work going on.
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Last week the team signed DoorDash, the food-delivery service, as its primary kit sponsor (the team’s crest and colors will be announced this summer). And in keeping with Angel City’s community-based philosophy, the company pledged to deliver 250,000 meals to Southern Californians in need in the first year of the multiyear agreement.
The club has an extensive, deep-pocketed investor group that includes A-list Hollywood talent (Eva Longoria, America Ferrera, Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Garner, Uzo Aduba) and world-class athletes (Serena Williams, Cobi Jones, Billie Jean King, Candace Parker, P.K. Subban, Lindsey Vonn). But there’s a subset of those two groups that will probably play an outsized role in the fledgling franchise’s early development because 14 of the team’s original investor/owners are former women’s national team players. And having gone from the locker room to the owners’ suite those women not only know what the players need, but they also have the power to write the checks that will pay for that.
Julie Foudy, a two-time World Cup champion who participated in the failed Women’s United Soccer Assn., said the former players will be pushing for tangible things such as training-room equipment and good practice fields.
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“We’re definitely vocal about the players’ side of it,” she said. “We have an incredible breadth of experience having lived it at different levels. It’s not enough just to have a great ownership group. It’s a good perspective to [hear] from people who have lived through it.”
Among those who can speak to that are Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Lorrie Fair, Joy Fawcett, Lauren Holiday, Shannon MacMillan and Tisha Venturini – all world champions who spent part of their playing careers calling out the unequal treatment women athletes receive. The majority also have long-standing ties to Southern California.
Foudy said the idea of packing the largest majority-woman ownership group in U.S. sports history with soccer players came from Hamm, who is also a part-owner of MLS franchise LAFC and was formerly on the board of Italian club A.S. Roma.
“She said ‘this feels like we should offer it up to the whole group, right? We could come in as one big share’,” Foudy remembers Hamm saying.
That wasn’t grandstanding though because these women are not simply lending their name and fame to the team. Each had to ante up some cash as well.
“We felt it was important as players that we give back to the game and that we invest in the game and that we’re part of it,” Foudy said. “This is a long play. We want to be in it for a long time because it can take decades before you even get any return on what you put it.”
The former national team players are likely to measure that return differently than an investment banker might because they’re less interested in making money than they are in making a difference.
“They’re trying to figure out what they need to make Angel City better,” said Christie Pearce, a former national team captain who played under the name Rampone. She is not an Angel City investor but was a teammate of all the players who are.
“You know, be there for any questions and concerns that maybe the owners may not see from a players’ perspective,” she said. “The one thing that lacks with owners is the fact that they don’t understand how a locker room is conducted. A locker room is the biggest part of your success and how to build a team and make sure that the players feel like they’re wanted there.”
Entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, one of the team’s three founding investors, said the former players will be listened to. In fact, she’s already budgeted for a staff member who will handle “player needs,” allowing the women to focus on soccer.
“Having access to these 14 incredible former players really gives us a good understanding of what the players go through every single day,” she said.
“We’re really building on the backs of their legacy. It’s through their successes…that the National Women’s Soccer League has continued to succeed. Here’s an opportunity where they can build on the legacy that they’ve already created and make something better not only for the current players, but future players.”
The shirts on their backs
Angel City isn’t the only local team making a jersey announcement this month. The Galaxy, in fact, are making two.
On Wednesday the team will reveal its secondary kit, which features alternating bands of dark blue and light blue separated by thin gold stripes. The team is calling it the “Community Kit” and it is an updated take on the jersey the Galaxy wore in their infancy when they played at the Rose Bowl. New coach Greg Vanney will certainly recognize the shirt since he played for the Galaxy during the franchise’s first six seasons.
The jersey reveal won’t exactly be news, however, since replicas of the shirt began showing up on the Internet earlier this month.
On Monday, in a separate announcement, the Galaxy said it has signed Honey, a Southern California-based tech company, as its sleeve sponsor. The Honey logo will be displayed on the right sleeve of the team’s jersey’s starting this season. MLS teams have been permitted to sell right-sleeve sponsorships as part of a four-year program that began last season. That deal has since been expanded through 2025, according to the Sports Business Journal.
In addition to the Galaxy, other teams that will have right-sleeve sponsors this year include Atlanta United, Austin FC, DC United, FC Dallas, LAFC (its deal, signed before last season, is with Target), Sporting Kansas City and Toronto FC.
Last month the Sports Business Journal reported that MLS teams have been given permission to sign left-sleeve sponsors as well, part of an effort to help the league recoup a projected revenue drop of as much as $1 billion because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
USWNT’s Dunn: It’s taking to take a stand, not a knee
The players on the women’s national team – and women athletes in general – have been among the most vocal and active proponents pushing for racial and gender equality and for an end to police brutality. And in an effort to call attention to those issues, many players on the national team have been kneeling during the national anthem before recent games.
But the team stood at attention before Sunday’s SheBelieves Cup win over Brazil, something defender Crystal Dunn was asked about afterward.
“We decided that moving forward we no longer feel the need to kneel because we are doing the work behind the scenes,” she said in a teleconference with reporters. “We never felt we were going to kneel forever so there was always going to be a time that we felt it time to stand.
“We’re all proud that we are doing the work behind the scenes and it was just a game where we felt we were ready to move into the next phase and just continuously fight for change.”
Dunn said the team didn’t take a vote on the change but suggested she was involved in the decision and made it clear the rest of the team was supportive.
“Ultimately we are more than athletes. I just thought it was time for us to move on to the next phase,” she said. “I think we are prepared to stand moving forward and it’s only because we feel very comfortable in our efforts off the field to combat systemic racism.”
Dunn, one of seven Black players on the women’s national team, has blossomed into of the best players on a squad full of stars. But she has also found her voice on a roster chock full of big personalities, becoming a thoughtful and impassioned leader at a time when leadership is needed.
“For me personally I always felt like I’m a testament to a lot of Black experiences. I am a Black athlete who has often felt like I have not been heard or not been seen. And a lot of Black people feel the same way,” she said. “We’ve had those initial discussions and I feel better about where this team is. But I do think moving forward that we’re prepared to just continue working off the field and continuously having these discussions.
“Even though we are choosing to stand it doesn’t mean that the conversations go away or they stop. It’s all to say that we are no ready to move past the protesting phase and actually move into putting all of the talk into actual work.”
Dunn and Co. will face winless Argentina on Wednesday in the final game of the SheBelieves tournament needing only a draw – or a draw in Wednesday’s first game between Canada and Brazil – to win the competition for the fourth time in six years. But that’s far from the most impressive stat the team has compiled. Just look at these numbers:
36 games: length of the national team’s unbeaten streak
52: consecutive games without a loss at home
182-27: Margin by which the U.S. has outscored opponents during that 52-game run
15-0-0: the team’s record under Vlatko Andonovski, the best start for a coach in U.S. Soccer history
55: Goals scored in those 15 games
3: Goals allowed in those 15 games
4: Goals allowed in 20 games since winning the 2019 Women’s World Cup
10: Consecutive shutouts for goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, also a U.S. Soccer record
2014: Last time the U.S. was ranked anywhere but first in the FIFA rankings. It was ranked second then.
And finally there’s this….
Forward Jordan Morris will be unavailable to the national team for this summer’s Nations League and Gold Cup tournament and will likely miss this fall’s eight World Cup qualifiers as well after tearing his left ACL while on loan to Swansea of the second-tier English League Championship. Morris, who ruptured his right ACL three years ago while playing for the Seattle Sounders, tore his left ACL in Swansea’s 4-1 loss at Huddersfield last Saturday “It’s significant ligament damage,” Swansea coach Steve Cooper said Monday. “Everything we hoped it wasn’t, unfortunately it is. It’s the end of his season for us, and a long road back to recovery. It’s very cruel.”….
The NWSL is quietly collecting some of the most high-profile ownership groups in professional sports, with the Washington Spirit announcing last week that former first daughters Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush-Hager have joined gymnast Dominique Dawes, World Cup-winning goalie Briana Scurry, former senator Tom Daschle, journalist Claire Shipman and three dozen other investors in backing the team. That follows December’s announcement that former professional soccer player Brittany Matthews and her fiancé, NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes, were joining the ownership group in Kansas City. Last July, Angel City was welcomed as an expansion franchise with its own sprawling group of celebrity owners….There has long been little suspense atop the tables of Europe’s top five leagues, where the same teams tend to win titles years after year. But with less than three months left in the current season, Bayern Munich is the only defending champion currently in first. In the Premier League, Liverpool is a distant sixth, 19 points adrift of Manchester City. In Italy, Juventus, winner of nine straight Scudetto, is third, eight points behind Inter Milan. Real Madrid, the defending Spanish champs, is second, three points back of crosstown rival Atlético while in France, Paris Saint-Germaine, winners of three consecutive French titles, is third, four points behind first-place Lille.
“I have a platform now and I want to use it. I don’t want to wait until I’m 20, 30, 40. I’m just focused on right now because I may never get to a point where I’m making millions of dollars. My career can end tomorrow. I want to help today.”
Galaxy forward Julian Araujo, the teenaged son and grandson of agricultural workers, on his campaign to raise assistance and awareness for farmworkers Read more about his work by clicking here.
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