As the drum line marched through the crowd marching into Titan Stadium at Cal State Fullerton, with various flags from different countries and supporter groups billowing through the black and pink smoke, it opened a new chapter in the National Women’s Soccer League.
The entrance to Saturday’s opening game between San Diego Wave and Angel City in the NWSL Challenge Cup was a sea of pink T-shirts and sweatshirts sprinkled with US women’s national team jerseys.
The preseason match ended in a tie when Savannah McCaskill scored the opening goal in the 49th minute as she put Angel City ahead until San Diego’s Kaleigh Riehl equalized in the 81st minute.
Although neither club was at their home ground, it was clear Angel City had the advantage of a home crowd before the gates opened.
“We talked about it before we came out for the actual kick-off, during the warm-up we couldn’t hear each other talking, which is amazing,” McCaskill said of the crowd’s energy. “For a Challenge Cup game, a pre-season game that’s not even taking place at our home stadium, it’s an unbelievable atmosphere.”
Heather Borjon, a middle school teacher in Moreno Valley, has been waiting for the moment when a women’s professional soccer club arrives in Southern California.
For their honeymoon in 2019, Borjon and her husband followed the United States women’s national team to every city in France as they competed to win the World Cup.
It was on this trip that Borjon learned that an expansion team would be rooted in their home state. This is how the idea of starting a support group came about.
“We’re just pumped. We’ve supported the US women’s national team for so long that we wanted a team here,” Borjon said. “Sorry, I missed out when the LA Sol was here, but it’s cool that now I have the chance to support women’s sports and just watch my students have a resource that these girls want as role models.”
She is now the Vice President of the Angel City Valkyries, one of six support groups dedicated to Angel City. While Rebellion 99 and Angel City PodeRosas commanded one section, the San Diego Sirens held a few rows to their growing group on the opposite side.
Googie Daniels, a San Diego native and president of the San Diego Sirens fan group, traveled to Orange County with fellow San Diego Wave fans to witness the beginning of a budding rivalry between the two clubs.
“I think new teams and more teams in the NWSL is just a good thing for everyone. We’re obviously going to have this great camaraderie and relationship,” Daniels said.
She has worked with several Angel City ACFC support groups since the San Diego Wave was announced in November.
“We want to support the players,” said Daniels. “We can have fun rivalries, but no one will ever take it too far. Just knowing that you can go into an environment where everyone just wants to support women’s professional football, that’s it.”
Justin Kennally was invited to Saturday’s game by some friends. The national team jersey he wore with the name of Angel City forward Christen Press belonged to a friend, but he was all-in for the newest LA team.
“I think it’s great for the city and I think it’s great for women’s sport,” Kennally said. “I saw a lot of young girls out here today and they’re obviously super excited; It’s really important to have someone to look up to and a team to look up to in your hometown.”
A new movement in women’s sports was sparked by inspiration after Oscar winner Natalie Portman watched the US women’s soccer team at the 2019 World Cup, only to be fueled by generations of fans who wanted to see more women’s sports in the spotlight.
As the two clubs continue to establish themselves in their respective cities, the fan support that filled the stadium made the players and coaches even more eager to begin their new journey.
“It definitely helps the team,” said Freya Coombe, Angel City head coach. “We want City to have our back and it was great that we had the home support that we had, very vocal and brilliant.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-03-19/angel-city-first-exhibition-match-fans-scene-san-diego-wave-nwsl Angel City creates an unforgettable spectacle in the debut of the franchise