LOS ANGELES — “It’s a dream I didn't know I could have.”
That was the sentiment from Angel City FC defender and captain Ali Riley, in her first media appearance after arriving at the Los Angeles expansion side. It was one of those quotes that sticks with you not just because of the poetry of the words themselves, but because of the immense weight of the emotions behind them. For players like LA-area natives Ali Riley, Christen Press and Dani Weatherholt, Friday wasn’t just the inaugural home match for an NWSL expansion side, it was doing what couldn't be done for 13 years, taking the pitch for a top flight professional women's soccer club that called Los Angeles its home.
If you've been here a while then you know the story well. What started out as a single ‘Bring NWSL to LA’ sign at an LAFC match in 2019 spawned a movement that hit its climax of Act I this past Friday.
It was a devastating night for the small, ‘nobody watches women’s sports’ crowd still left.
On a Friday night in Los Angeles, with the city’s beloved Dodgers hosting a game around the same time, over 21,000 people decided the place to be was Banc of California Stadium to welcome home the city's first professional women's soccer team in over a decade.
The day itself was a fever dream. There were drums, smoke flares, fireworks, an on-field photo op for nearly 100 celebrity owners and investors for the club, a live concert performance of the team's official song — complete with marching band — one of the coldest intros we’ve seen in sports, and all that was before kickoff, when ACFC scored two goals in the first fifteen minutes!
The night was the perfect encapsulation of Los Angeles: glitz, glamour, and glory.
But for all of the pomp and circumstance, the pink carpet and blinding lights of the camera flash, Friday night was just as much a celebration for the fans as it was the team. While it gets said plenty of times, this was one instance where without the fans in LA this team well and truly may not have existed. I mean, despite being one of the biggest sports markets on the planet, it took this long and petitions signed by thousands before Los Angeles was even thought of again. The obvious support LA had for women’s soccer as a whole opened eyes, and more importantly, wallets.
Fans showed their appreciation tenfold. Over 15k season tickets were sold before the roster was even complete. It's hard to put into words just how historic the night was. For Angel City Head Coach Freya Coombe, this was one she’d never forget saying after the match, “The crowd was unreal tonight. Their energy, enthusiasm, and support for the players and for the coaching staff was felt throughout the night. It’s the best environment that I’ve ever coached in.”
The moment ACFC scored that first goal was the personification of the SpongeBob meme. You know the one, where his body lifts as his soul transcends space, transforming into a ball of pure joyous energy. That was the feeling we all got when Vanessa Gilles got the first-ever ACFC goal at The Banc. A moment of bliss so pure, and so extreme, I’m surprised it didn't turn The Banc into one of those mythical floating cities for the rest of time.
LA … WE MADE HISTORY TONIGHT!!!! This moment … for us as a team, a club, a community, a league, womens sports. Like damn we really just did that… and I can’t thank you all enough… I’ll remember this night forever!— Jasmyne Spencer (@Jas_it_Up) April 30, 2022
While the result was the perfect cherry on top, it was probably the least important part of the night. A lot has been said about this club openly wanting to be ‘more than a soccer team’. The truth is, they are, and Friday night was proof of that. This isn't just a group of athletes on a soccer team, it’s the start of something special. Something this city hasn't had in a while, a source of genuine inspiration. Tears were flowing, not because the team won, but because it exists in the first place.
Friday was a night everyone — old, young, lifelong woso fans, or those brand new — will never, ever forget. While it may have been a full-circle moment for players like Ali Riley, it was also the start of a new circle. One that starts with her, because for the first time, thousands of young girls around Los Angeles went to sleep on Friday night with dreams of their own. Dreams that they too could one day take the pitch for Angel City FC. That is definitely, more than just soccer.
What are your thoughts and emotions from Friday night? Leave a comment below!