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There are sacred moments in American soccer, the kind that only come around once. In this age of unrestrained club expansion and growth, there is nothing more special than the start of the journey, the first match.
No first match has been as anticipated for as long as Angel City FC’s has.
“I am so excited,” said Alondra Espinosa president of Mosaic 1781, an Angel City supporters group. “This has been almost two years in the making. It’s filled with optimism, with hope, a rebirth almost. Soccer is not new to Los Angeles but it’s a new beginning now. It’s really exciting.”
One of the NWSL’s two expansion sides to join the league in 2022, the seeds of Angel City were sown in 2019, thanks to a supporter movement led by Lindsay and Mark Rojas, who began displaying “Bring NWSL to LA” signs and banners at every possible opportunity, from LAFC matches and college games to the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
That message evolved into a movement, which became powerful enough to catch the attention of people that could actually do something about it, namely Julie Uhrman, Kara Nortman and Natalie Portman. The rest is history.
Rojas retired the banner last Friday, before heading to the inaugural match, a small, but bittersweet step that’s part of a dream being realized.
The air thrummed with excitement at the supporters tailgate before the match.
“I am in awe today,” said Amanda Ponce, a member of AC Pandemonium. “We are so excited to show everyone what we’ve been working on for the last two years, from chants to creating the tifo for the last month. Every weekend has been dedicated to really showcasing the excitement that we have for NWSL in LA.”
Imelda Coronado-Skolnik, president of Relentless Ladies supporters group has already seen the impact that Angel City is having on the next generation.
“My daughter woke up today and she was like, ‘It’s ACFC day.’ She won’t wake up for school, but she woke up and she knew what today was,” said Coronado-Skolnik. “Whatever the club is doing, it’s working.”
A wait that started in years had now shrunk to mere minutes, as groups began to break down their tailgates and make their way inside.
“We had a group text all the way back to 2019,” said Stephanie Batum, president of Angel City Valkyries. “During the 2020 Challenge Cup the rumors started, and once it finally happened, we were so excited. It’s just excitement and that payoff of the longest wait ever.”
In the run up to the match, the moment may have felt like a culmination for many supporters, but as soon as Angel City took the field, the anticipation melted away to pure emotion.
Front and center within the supporters section was Jill Panaro, a Massachusetts-native who grew up watching Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Michelle Akers.
“It’s a little overwhelming. I never thought this would happen in my lifetime,” she said.
She spent months going to voice therapy in preparation for this moment, to be able to chant and cheer all match long, to give her best, just as the players would.
“Everyone thought I was crazy,” she said.
Panaro, and 22,000 other fans did not disappoint, keeping the Banc of California stadium rocking all match.
Angel City battled to a thrilling 2-1 upset over the North Carolina Courage, a storybook ending to a dream start. Supporters now get the messy, beautiful gift of actually supporting an active club, navigating the wins, losses, tifos, away days, drama, and bliss that, up to this point, had lived only within people’s imaginations. But before that happens, supporters can enjoy this brief, sacred time to let the magnitude of the moment sink in.
“Some of us grew up playing soccer, a lot of us grew up watching soccer and just loving it with our families, but as women we were often discouraged after a certain age,” said Daisy Chavez, president of ACFC supporters group, PodeRosas. “A lot of us follow other soccer teams, but they’re all men, they’re built by men. For us, there was just this big push to bring [Angel City] and now that they’re here we’re so excited. I feel like it’s ours. We built it, and we’re going to continue to make it part of the fabric that we have here in LA.”