If you’re a soccer fan, you were probably excited to hear about the coming arrival of Angel City FC, an NWSL expansion team in Los Angeles. If you’re a women’s soccer fan, you were probably even more excited.
If you’re a girl or woman playing soccer, then the excitement is perhaps ratcheted up even more. Or maybe’s it’s more a sense of relief.
That was the feeling 16-year-old Nayelli Barahona said she had when she found out about Angel City FC.
“Actually it’s kind of like a big relief that a women’s team has come to my community so that everyone can watch them, because LAFC is just around the corner and everyone’s like a big fan,” Barahona told Angels on Parade during a recent interview. “But you know you always want to see your own people trying to play within the same field and everything so I think it’s amazing that Angel City FC has come to this community and just all around being able to come and play here.”
Barahona was recently the latest local youth player featured in Angel City’s video series, “ACFC Rising Stars,” the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants who lives in South LA and plays for Downtown LA Soccer Club.
In an age when elite soccer players in the United States start playing almost as soon as they can walk, Barahona said she started playing the sport as part of an after-school program when she was in elementary school, and her interest in the sport gradually grew from there.
“We have sports for different seasons [in the after-school program] and every time soccer would come around, I want to play it because a lot of my friends liked soccer a lot,” she explained. “I actually started off as goalkeeper for a couple years, but then I kind of shifted to striker, and then after that I started watching more of people playing and everything in it. I just kind of fell in love with it a lot and it led me to this moment.”
Barahona says she’s a fan of LAFC and FC Barcelona, but her real fandom is of superstar Lionel Messi, whose jersey is framed in her bedroom.
“When I was younger I started watching soccer and I kind of fell over Messi, because...well he’s still kind of the greatest,” she said with a laugh. “I just love the way he played and everything so I kind of fell in love with him and his game. Ever since then, since he stayed at Barcelona I became a Barcelona fan, and I’ve just stuck with him for all these years that he’s been there and he just hasn’t disappointed me ever since.”
Women’s professional soccer is arguably as accessible for fans as it’s ever been, with a variety of free and paid TV and streaming options to watch club and international soccer from around the world. But importance of local ties is key, as Barahona admits she follows Alex Morgan’s career, for example, but hasn’t previously picked an NWSL team to root for.
Now, she doesn’t have to worry about that, with a team launching in Los Angeles in 2022.
But Barahona has higher aspirations than that.
“My goal is to become professional and be able to play for the U.S. women’s national team,” she said. “But I think coming along with that, college ball, of course I have to take those steps or whichever steps it takes to like get to where I want to go. So pretty much I just want to do everything necessary for for me to become pro because that’s the main goal.”
In the video produced by Angel City, Barahona was surprised with a personalized message from ACFC co-owner and soccer legend Abby Wambach. Barahona said she was still speechless by the message from Wambach, but she was taking the lesson of empowerment and to keep working hard to heart.
“Now that I have time to reflect on it and watch the video again, I just I felt amazed by what she had said to me because it really reflected deep within what I needed to hear, because it’s always hard to just try and keep on trying to do new things and just be who you are, without having to change them, so I felt like it was just like she was speaking to me one on one of course, so it was great to have heard [from] someone like her,” Barahona said.
Whether Nayelli Barahona’s destiny is to be in the stands rooting for Angel City FC, or to be suiting up for them one of these days, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the youngster and others like her in the local soccer scene.
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