I realized it was time to think about what I would wear to the very first regular-season game for Angel City FC about a day earlier. Or maybe it was two. Either way, I suddenly remembered that, even though I had bought season tickets (months ago, if I might brag), made plans for who would come with me (one of my best friends, my spouse, and one of his friends), and sorted out how to get there (the train), I had not actually thought about clothes. This was hardly my first sporting event, so I quickly remembered that all I had to do was scrounge up something in the team’s colors—in this case black, grey, and pink. I took to my wardrobe and laughed. Of course Angel City FC, a club that has wrapped itself up in a sort of Hollywood girl-power aesthetic, would pick pink as one of their colors. But I couldn’t say they were wrong, either. I had plenty of pink. Finding a shirt, heck, a whole ensemble, would be incredibly easy. I debated doing a black shirt but, fuck it, I thought. I’ll go with the pink. I even threw in my pink flower earrings too.
On game day, we followed the pink and black masses toward the stadium. We were greeted by a huge pink banner, welcoming us in all capital letters to ANGEL CITY FC FAN FEST. It was like every other sporting fan fest, a cacophony of vendors spread across the grass, plying their various wares and services, booths for booze and snacks, a DJ playing all the songs you expect, and a lot of spots for taking cute selfies, including one featuring a miniature soccer goal and net. My friend and I decided to pose in front of a giant banner that had the Angel City logo, plus logos for their sponsors, after deciding the other lines were too long and the mini soccer net got taken down. It’s not a great photo—can any photo taken in front of a flat, giant banner with a cell phone be a great photo?—but it’s cute and we look happy. Pic mission accomplished.
With that done, we made our way inside. In many ways, it was like any other game at the same stadium, which I’ve visited before to watch LAFC. People were buzzing in this direction and that direction, they lined up for beers, for food, for merch, for the bathroom. Before the game, the giant video screens showed us hype videos. Players warmed up on the field. The smell of pizzas and nachos wafted through the air, while the stadium lights slowly crept on and the seats filled up with more people, clad in black and pink, many wearing the “Day One” supporters’ scarves that the team gave out to season ticket holders beforehand. Our seats were behind the visiting team’s net, which I had forgotten meant we’d have to keep our heads up for the occasional stray soccer ball into the crowd. Through the unscientific system of shouting “look out,” our section made it through the warmups unscathed with no food dropped (that I saw, at least) and zero beers spilled.
Then came all the rest of the pomp and circumstance expected from a North American sporting event, plus more because this was the club’s first-ever regular-season soccer game. The introduction of the players. The anthem. The introduction of the (many) owners, who earlier had posed for the media on the pink carpet. The pyrotechnics. Julie Foudy, one of the team’s many investors, instructed the entire crowd on how to do her three-clap cheer, which we all did loudly and enthusiastically. Brittany Howard and Tia P. performed the club’s official anthem, “Running with the Angels,” live with the L.A. Marching Band. The entire ceremony was big and loud, gaudy and gratuitous. Pink and black flags fluttered through the supporters section, pink and black scarves dotted the skyline, all later followed by the display of the giant (and very pink) tifo. Everyone cheered loudly on command, many times.
None of this should have felt so remarkable, as “big” and “loud” and “gratuitous” are pretty apt descriptors for any North American sporting event. And yet it did.
Like any U.S. institution, you can’t divorce women’s professional soccer from its history, which can be summed up as lots of powerful people saying they loving women’s soccer but then not actually paying women real living wages for playing soccer, let alone treating them with respect and dignity. There’s the Women’s United Soccer Association, which folded after three seasons. Then came Women’s Professional Soccer, which also folded after three seasons. And now the NWSL, which includes Angel City FC, and has, so far, had multiple coaches ousted for abusing players. As Jeff Kassouf noted at ESPN, half of the league’s head coaches from last year have since left their teams due to reports of misconduct.
I went to one WPS soccer game in 2011, pretty soon after the U.S. women’s national team’s remarkable run in that year’s World Cup, and the bleak setup depressed me so much that I couldn’t bring myself to go back (the team we saw was literally called magicJack). I am, and have remained, exactly the type of person who should have women’s professional soccer marketed toward her: I am not strapped for money, I grew up in soccer-crazy South Florida, and I have been watching the USWNT my entire life. Getting me to part with a bit of my cash to support women’s soccer should not be terribly hard, and yet for whatever reason the powers that be in U.S. Soccer have, time and time again, somehow, managed to make supporting professional women’s soccer feel less like a party and more like like going to the doctor—I had to do it, but I wouldn’t call it fun.
That’s a huge problem when your product is sports because that’s primarily why people watch sports and go to games—they go to have fun. Fun is the product.
Dear Lord, was Angel City’s first game fun, which admittedly was helped by the fact that the team scored early and, in both cases, right in front of my seats. (Sorry supporters section!)
The first goal could not have been more perfectly scripted. It came in just the third minute, off a corner kick, with midfielder Savannah McCaskill sending the ball into the box. One Angel City player got a head on it, but then the ball sailed wide, all hope seeming lost for half a moment as it almost rolled out. But it was corralled by forward Jun Endo, who, with a flick of feisty footwork, sent her North Carolina Courage defender hopelessly in the other direction, and used the now-open space to kick a gorgeous pass right smack in front of the heart of the net. There, defender Vanessa Gilles headed it in, making all the chaos seem somehow planned as the ball sailed into the back of the net.
The pink-and-black crowd, 22,000 strong, roared.
The second goal came during the 13th minute, when a wide-open Endo wrangled a long pass from McCaskill and sent a laser into the back of the net. The crowd exploded, screaming and jumping in something like unison. Strangers hugged and high-fived. The home team was up by two goals, and we weren’t even halfway to halftime.
North Carolina pulled within one in the 51st minute with a goal by Debinha, but the Courage wouldn’t get the ball in the back of the net again. As the game wore on, Angel City went defensive (as expected) and the Courage pushed harder offensively (as expected) but the score wouldn’t budge and the party in the stands wasn’t stopping. Fans freaked out when they were shown on the giant stadium screens. Everyone screamed when Angel City got possession, and the crowd yelled even louder every time Christen Press touched the ball. Throughout the game, as happens in sports, the stadium cameras would also show anyone famous who showed up. But no one, and I mean no one, got the cheers that investor and movie star Jennifer Garner did every time they showed her—because she’s Jennifer freaking Garner and she was clearly having an amazing time. It is probably way too much and too early to suggest that Garner could become for Angel City FC what Jack Nicholson became for the Los Angeles Lakers but, hey, universe, let a girl dream.
(When she was interviewed, on, yes, the pink carpet before the game, Garner admitted she knows nothing about soccer, which only makes me like her more. In fact, the direct quote is: “I don’t know anything! I don’t know football, I don’t know, I don’t understand it—or soccer, or whatever the heck we call it these days.” And so what! Who cares! She showed up! She had a great time! I also, frankly, wish more sports team owners would admit when they know nothing.)
When the game finally ended, Endo, to the surprise of absolutely no one, was announced as the player of the game. The rest of her teammates did a lap around the stadium to more cheers and applause, which Endo did as well after her interview. There was more cheering, more celebrating, more high fives and then everyone left, our throats a little bit sorer, the pink-and-black scarves spilling out into the chilly night, nearly all of us clutching the free black-and-pink posters we were given that listed all the rest of the season’s games.
The second game would not be quite so magical for Angel City, a 1-0 loss to the Orlando Pride. The team gave up a pretty disheartening goal to Sidney Leroux in the third minute, an eerie callback to the team’s regular-season opener, and then never found the back of the net. Then I watched another episode of Winning Time, the HBO show based on the rise of the Lakers dynasty in the 1980s, which includes various storylines that all can be summed up as “new owner Jerry Buss spends a bunch of money on some idea that might or might not work but vaguely strike him as glamorous and fun.”
I do not love everything Angel City FC has done. Am I really supposed to consider 4-year-old Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. an owner? Could they quit it with the NFTs? I realize it’s silly to expect morality from a kit sponsor, but I still wish the initial one for the front of jersey hadn’t been DoorDash. I don’t care for the volume of girl-power branding. But I could also make a list like this for any sports team I follow. (Hello, I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.) Honestly, I would love for these—and not abusive coaches, and low pay, and poor facilities, and bad owners—to be my only complaints about women’s professional soccer.
After the game was over, the stadium screens showed a graphic that mentioned that 1 percent of the day’s ticket revenue went to the players. In the crowd around me, I heard some people groan—because 1 percent seemed way too low to them. I quickly realized that most of the people in the crowd probably did not know the long history of women’s professional team owners finding ways to pay them well below a living wage. They probably did not know the players’ union signed its first CBA this year. They didn’t realize that Angel City was bragging. Good, I thought to myself, let’s all stay angry about this.
I still have my season tickets, even if I had to watch Sunday’s game on TV because I was working, and I can’t wait for the next game that I can attend in person. It felt nice to go to a women’s soccer game and have my biggest worry beforehand be what should I wear. I had fun, not because I was trying to have fun or because the girl-power marketing told me to have fun. I just had fun. How remarkable is that.