In the city of dreams, Natalie Portman and her famous friends made sure that this team was going to shine bright.
A very, very famous movie claims that everyone comes to Los Angeles with a dream — and it makes sense that a film, something so synonymous with the city, would make such a bold statement. In a place where big dreams are the norm, and the impossible materializes on the silver screen every day, it's tough to imagine anything that can't happen with a little hard work and perseverance. For Angel City Football Club, it took a list of Hollywood heavyweights to help make that dream come true — and from the fans cheering in the stands to the little girls kicking soccer balls in the parking lots around Banc of California Stadium before every game, it seems that the dream of having a National Women's Soccer League team in L.A. was something just about everyone wanted to come true.
Natalie Portman (yes, Oscar-winner Natalie Portman), worked with former U.S. Women's National Team member, Olympic gold medalist, and World Cup champion Julie Foudy as well as Alexis Ohanian, entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, and venture capitalist Kara Nortman to invest in a team that would make Los Angeles proud. And that didn’t just mean bringing in their friends to help out. It meant involving everyone from nearby soccer teams to local businesses and their celebrity friends to offer up not only financial investment, but a commitment to being part of the team. Not by scoring goals out on the grass, but by showing up to games, cheering the players on, and making sure that everyone hears them hyping up ACFC even when they’re not in the stands.
"Being an owner with Angel City is like your soccer life and dreams coming full-circle," Foudy says. "To be on the other side now as an owner, alongside my amazing USWNT teammates and a ton of other phenomenal women and owners, helping build something so incredibly special, with a smile and a helluva lot of positive energy and belief in the possible, is an absolute gift."
That ownership group and team of investors reads like the guest list for Vanity Fair's annual Oscars after-party, including actresses Eva Longoria, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Garner, Christina Aguilera, America Ferrera, Uzo Aduba, Gabrielle Union, and more. (There are some men among the owners, too, like the aforementioned feminist and husband of Serena Williams, Alexis Ohanian.)
The team even caught the attention of athletes like Lindsey Vonn, Shawn Johnson East, former World Cup champions and Olympic gold medalists Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, and four-time ESPYs Best WNBA Player award-winner Candace Parker. To prove that the whole women-supporting-women thing isn't just clever marking, the ownership group is majority female — and at 99 members strong, that's a lot of girl power and more voices than many other professional sports teams, which can often have just one person in charge. Plus, on any given game day, fellow athletes, like UCLA gymnasts, the U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team, and other women's soccer legends can be spotted cheering from the stands.
Portman had a personal reason to get involved: her son. After she saw how much he enjoyed the sport, she was compelled to look into how she could be involved with a team — and is elated to be part of a group of like-minded people hoping to promote the growth of women’s soccer in America. Foudy even called her the team’s unofficial godmother.
"Soccer is a huge passion of my son's. He’s as big a fan of [Angel City and USWNT striker] Christen Press and Alex Morgan as he is of [Real Madrid’s Karim] Benzema and [Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel] Messi. Seeing the game through his eyes helped me realize the power of the sport in how we create heroes," Portman says, echoing the sentiment that the club’s focus is soccer, not the Hollywood A-listers supporting from the sidelines. "Our investor, Abby Wambach, lit the spark for me when I heard her speak about her personal experience in soccer and the extreme pay inequity in the sport. They have assembled the most incredible group of investors, partners, and fans, all active on this journey with us and I could not be more proud of how far we have come and the impact we have and will continue to make."
The team kicked off in 2022 — the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which prohibited sex-based discrimination in schools and education programs that receives funding from the federal government. While many think that Title IX is only about sports, the landmark gender equity law extends beyond P.E. class and ensures that everyone has equal opportunities in STEM, and even goes as far as prohibiting discrimination based on pregnancy. The significance of that isn't lost on a club that's built around community and the role that sports play in it. ACFC even donates 10% of all sponsorship revenue to local groups that focus on sports and athletics for girls in addition to providing 300,000 meals to combat food insecurity in L.A with a partnership with DoorDash and even building community gardens through a partnership with Sprouts supermarkets.
Striker Sydney Leroux, who joined the team mid-season in 2022, has been vocal about the importance of Title IX in the past, saying that the ruling allowed her to live her dream of being a professional athlete — and then continue playing soccer as she became a mother.
"My teammates have always been extremely helpful and understand what it means to be a mom. It is also nice to have two more moms on the team with Sarah [Gorden, defender] and Almuth [Schult, goalkeeper], who really understand what it is like to be a pro athlete and have kids," she says.
When she gave birth to her first child, Cassius, in 2017, there were only two other moms in the league. Now, it's not uncommon for NWSL players to be moms and with the addition of her daughter Roux, Leroux is a mother of two.
"Being with Angel City has been amazing. I couldn't be happier. It is an incredible place to play," she adds. "You can see it with the support throughout the city and in the stadium. It has been amazing."
That women-first ethos extends to other parts of the team, too. Even the team's sponsors are considered, like Birdies, the women-owned shoe brand that has the distinct honor of being the team’s sleeve sponsor, with its logo loud and proud on every player’s jersey. The Birdies logo also features prominently for one of the sports world's most crucial moments: the stadium walk-in. From basketball players to soccer superstars and even F1 drivers, the arrival is a chance for players to showcase their style before they change into their uniforms. It's a place where statements are made (think: shirts bringing awareness to social movements like the death of Breonna Taylor and the BLM movement) and where a bit of bling and showboating is encouraged. Other team sponsors are female-forward companies, like Rachel Zoe's Curateur, Katerina Schneider’s Ritual supplements, and Elizabeth Banks-backed Archer Roose canned wine.
Skeptics may think that having a Hollywood backing is more about image than on-field performance (superficiality is something a lot of people associate with L.A., after all), but the team investors come to games, cheer alongside fans, and even lean into their roles as soccer moms. Jennifer Garner went viral on Instagram last July when she offered up orange slices to players after the team's match against San Diego Wave FC.
Don’t let the team’s buzzy ownership and cute post-game antics take away from the ACFC’s actual soccer skills. When the team signed Press, a USWNT stalwart and World Cup veteran, it showed how serious winning was to the owners and players alike. The addition of fellow superstar Leroux after Press suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the team’s game against Racing Louisville on June 13, 2022, only underscored the organization's commitment to producing a successful team, not just a flashy brand.
Co-owner and comedian Lilly Singh explained that when she’s not working her normal 9-to-5 (With A Little Late With Lilly Singh and Hulu’s Dollface in the rear view, she’s coming back to flex her comedic chops in Disney+’s The Muppets Mayhem and Bright Futures with Emily Ratajkowski and Lisa Kudrow.), she’s calling her friends to convince them to attend a game, where she splits her time between her field-side owners’ seats and the supporters’ section.
And when you’re Lilly Singh, those friends include Simu Liu, Janelle Monáe, and Tyra Banks, who all came to support the team when they faced off against the Chicago Red Stars this summer (Angel City won 1-0 that day, all thanks to a very sneaky tap-in goal from midfielder Savannah McCaskill).
“I will support anything and everything women. I want to support a women’s team that is revolutionary and doing great things for female athletes,” she says. “I don’t know what offsides is, but I know the power of women. Sometimes, I’m celebrating a goal for 20 minutes and someone’s like, ‘Hey, that didn’t count,’ and I’m like, ‘What?’ I’m here to support. The audience, the environment, and the crowd is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Everyone’s here for a common cause of love and inclusion.”
Soccer fans can be quick to brush off something associated with the gloss and glamour of Hollywood as inauthentic — read reviews of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney's show Welcome to Wrexham for some of that. But Angel City has been able to ingratiate itself with fans and, amazingly enough, investors. According to sports business website Sportico, the team was valued at over $100 million earlier back in April 2021, setting an NWSL record by doubling the price of the next-closest team, proving that there's quite literally value in women's sports.
ESPN reports that the NWSL is hoping to expand the league, with two new teams coming in 2024 to bring the total number of clubs to 14 (one in Salt Lake City with Utah Royals FC and another open spot that groups in like Austin, Texas, and San Jose, California, are already fighting for). With Angel City as the blueprint for how a team can be set up for success before anything even happens on the pitch, there’s no doubt that the enthusiasm — and, fingers crossed, success, as ACFC fights for a spot in playoffs this year with a 8-5-8 record leading up to the final games of the season — will soon be something fans can be a part of no matter what part of the country they live in.