For the first time, MLS will have a World Cup winner as a team owner.
Perhaps one of the most surprising names among the 22 owners revealed on Thursday for Los Angeles FC was that of Mia Hamm. Once a fixture of the U.S. Women's National Team and arguably one of the best women's soccer players in history, period, Hamm has two World Cup titles, two Olympic gold medals, two FIFA World Player of the Year awards, and one club title to her name.
Since retiring from soccer in 2004, Hamm is periodically in the public eye, but she married baseball star and LA native Nomar Garciaparra shortly before retiring and has since had three children. This week, her public profile was raised tremendously, as she not only became a member of Italian Serie A club AS Roma's board, but also, along with Garciaparra, was named as one of LAFC's owners on Thursday.
Speaking with reporters following the unveiling of LAFC at an event in Los Angeles, Hamm spoke about the pitch that got her involved in the new LA club, slated to begin play in 2017.
"Well, Henry [Nguyen] and Tom [Penn] had been in conversations with Nomar, and obviously, he being my husband, he came back, and told me, 'You know Mia, I think this is a great opportunity,'" she said. "And for us, the timing was just right. I think you have two athletes who were constantly on the road for our entire careers, and we've established roots here. Nomar's from this area, our kids are going to school.
"So the timing was just perfect and we just felt that this was a great opportunity to share our love and passion for the game and help it grow in the greater Los Angeles area."
As one of a few people with experience in professional soccer, and the only one with on-field experience involved in the ownership group, Hamm discussed what she brought to the group overall that was unique.
"I think maybe giving some insights that a player has in terms of what's important," Hamm explained. "Obviously, name recognition, but I was also part of some championship teams.
"I was part of teams that were successful and weren't successful, and there were big differences in our approach, in our leadership, and kind of the foundation that was established during those years. And that's one of the things I definitely would share with them."
Hamm will not be the first female co-owner in MLS, in fact her club is effectively replacing a club, Chivas USA, that had a female co-owner, Angelica Fuentes, for a time. But when a reporter asked if she felt there weren't enough women involved, Hamm chose to frame her involvement in a male-dominated domain differently: "I look as it as a positive. Hopefully, this opens the doors for more [women] to come."
Unsurprisingly, questions did turn quickly to NWSL and the prospect of a women's professional club allied with LAFC in the future. But unlike the men who are involved in owning professional sports teams, Hamm's response to why she chose to invest in MLS before the NWSL is likely pretty familiar to many women, who often have to deal with the logistical responsibilities of having children in a way men typically don't.
"I would probably say when the NWSL started, I probably wasn't ready to make that commitment," Hamm said.
"Just because my kids were much younger, I think I was actually pregnant with our third child. And Nomar wasn't working with the Dodgers. And kind of everything just really came together this past year. I think we felt more comfortable with us being grounded, and that's exciting for us. To be here in this community and to help this sport grow and to have this franchise be one of the leaders in MLS is exciting."
But she did seem interested in the prospect of bringing a first division professional women's team back to Los Angeles: "That would be awesome in my opinion. We haven't talked about that, quite yet. I think our focus is, every step, making this the best club possible. But I think that would be wonderful, and especially [as] we continue to grow the NWSL, and this is a great spot. So many girls are playing in the greater Los Angeles area. It would make sense to have that."
Above all, Hamm seemed energized by the task ahead in building a professional team in Los Angeles.
"I'm filled with a lot of excitement and pride today. I'm sure it will be even greater [when the team takes the field].
"...It'll be a collaboration of efforts. And that's one of the things that's so exciting, that we're going to do this together, and you have a lot of really smart, successful people who are extremely committed to making this so successful. When you heard Henry and Peter [Guber] and Tom talk about it, this isn't just window dressing, these people are invested."
Thanks to Ryan Rosenblatt, who provided reporting on this story.
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