I may be biased since I’m a collegiate female soccer player, but to me, it seems obvious that the most exciting part of quarantine is the fact that — unlike any other professional U.S. sport — the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) managed to safely hold a 23 game tournament in Herriman, Utah this past June and July.
With COVID-19 shutting down athletics on every level (including my own senior soccer season), the NWSL’s Challenge Cup stood out as a major source of entertainment amid a socially-distanced and sports-deprived nation.
Since 2012, the NWSL has been scraping and clawing for national recognition, largely riding off of the success and notoriety of the iconic U.S. women’s national soccer team, which has won the World Cup four times.
This year the league proved its growing popularity with the tournament’s opening game between the North Carolina Courage and the Portland Thorns, drawing 527,000 viewers.
This made the match not only the most-watched NWSL game in history, but it also secured more viewers than this past year’s most-watched men’s Major League Soccer (MLS) game. Women’s soccer is unquestionably gaining traction, something that simultaneously thrills me and makes me wonder why it took so long.
Not only is women’s soccer the most technically challenging and most beautiful game there is, but it has also been a crucial component in the growth and acceptance of women in sports. Women’s U.S. soccer has consistently used its platform to elevate voices, strive for equality and shatter norms, time and time again.
This past month was no exception. As if the tournament wasn’t enough, the league announced on July 21st, as the NWSL Challenge Cup came to a close (and as the Houston Dash beat the Chicago Red Stars 2-0), that a brand new Los Angeles-based team is on its way to join the NWSL in 2022. This will bring the league to a total of 11 teams.
And the best part? The National Women’s Soccer League’s new team is owned by a majority of women.
The group was started by venture capitalist Kara Nortman and actor Natalie Portman. The pair bonded over their love for women’s soccer and quickly became involved in the USWNT’s fight for equal pay. A few years later, the two decided to act on their love for the game.
“Natalie texted me three times, just one line: ‘Let’s bring a team to L.A.,” said Nortman.
The idea caught fire, and soon, the ambitious pair grew to a group of thirty-three. Other members include the team’s president and gaming entrepreneur, Julie Uhrman, tennis star Serena Williams and her husband, Alexis Ohanian (plus the couple’s daughter — now the youngest known sports team owner at two years old).
The group also includes actors Uzo Aduba, Eva Longoria and America Ferrera, along with a number of former USWNT players, such as Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Julie Foudy.
A diverse group of like-minded and forward-thinking individuals, with the shared values of equality and community, has the potential to drastically change women’s sports for the better.
“We come together with a collective passion for bringing about change,” Uhrman said in an interview. “Change for our players, change for our fans, and change for our community. Change that begins today.”
The group has provided clear goals from the start, with their main focus on more aggressively continuing the USWNT’s pursuit of equal pay, attempting to bridge the gender wage gap in all sports and hopefully inspiring similar changes for women in other careers.
The group also expressed its commitment to fostering a strong relationship with the L.A. community, announcing its partnership with and support of the LA84 Foundation and its Play Equity Fund — a nonprofit “committed to driving access to sports for underserved communities, including communities of color, girls, the physically challenged and developmentally disabled.”
In addition to these goals, the mere existence of the group is inspiring for female investors, athletes and sports enthusiasts alike. Because there are only a handful of female-owned sports teams, this new collection of successful and passionate women will help pave the way for female ownership groups in all sports.
“Together, we aim to build not only a winning team on the field, but also to develop a passionately loyal fan base,” said Portman. “Sports are such a joyful way to bring people together, and this has the power to make tangible change for female athletes both in our community and in the professional sphere.”
Despite the excitement, the group still has a few things to figure out. Temporarily nicknamed “Angel City,” it hopes to choose a team name, training facility and stadium partner by the end of the year. Both LAFC’s Bank of California Stadium and the L.A. Galaxy’s Dignity Health Sport’s Park are in the mix of options for the new team’s home venue.
The team roster is an entirely different obstacle, but with the team mission statement, “Champions on and off the field,” the group has already cultivated a warrior mindset. But what else can you expect from a group of star athletes and business people like this one? Each member is wildly successful in their own right, knowing that ambition, dedication and timing is everything.
“Next year is the Olympics, then we will start, then the following year is the Women’s World Cup,” Nortman said of her club’s time frame and the sport’s recent surge of popularity. “We’re coming in at an ideal time in 2022.”
While some of us have been following the sport since day one, it took a world-wide pandemic to encourage others to hop on the women’s soccer bandwagon. However, with all the powerful people leading and the untapped potential residing in the newest NWSL team, you couldn’t ask for better company on the ride.