The National Women's Soccer League is officially coming to San Diego. The league announced the city will be home to its latest expansion team, set to begin play in the spring of 2022, with former USWNT coach Jill Ellis as president.
The ownership group led by businessman Ron Burkle originally wanted to be based in Sacramento, and NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird announced that intended destination during the draft in January. No additional announcements came after that and reports surfaced that Burkle was looking for approval to change territorial rights to San Diego.
San Diego was previously home to the Spirit of the Women's United Soccer Association. It launched in 2001, but the league folded in 2003.
NWSL adds 12th team for 2022
The San Diego club is the 12th for the NWSL, which began play in 2013 with eight teams. It will enter its 10th season in 2022 with the 10 existing teams and inaugural seasons in Los Angeles (Angel City FC) and San Diego.
The club's name, crest, head coach and venue partner will be announced later, per the NWSL.
The club will begin play at Torero Stadium, the 6,000-seat home to University of San Diego teams, with plans to move to a permanent spot somewhere else in the county "no later than 2023," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The stadium gives priority to the school's football and soccer teams beginning in August. The USL's Loyal and San Diego Legion, a pro rugby team, also play there.
There are plans for a new "world-class" stadium for at least 10,000 spectators, Ellis told the Union-Tribune. A full training facility is reportedly in the works to be put together by January.
World Cup champ Ellis helms expansion club
Ellis, the only two-time FIFA Women's World Cup winning manager, has been connected to both the Sacramento and San Diego expansion talks since January 2021. She was reportedly hired to run soccer operations for both the MLS and NWSL expansion teams, but it was never announced and the MLS team plans collapsed.
“San Diego is filled with an unwavering and fervent fanbase with a wide interest in soccer,” Burkle said in a statement. “We are thrilled to bring women’s professional soccer to San Diego and believe this club will be deeply embedded in this community. We believe in Jill and will provide the necessary investment to build a club that all of San Diego will be proud to support. Jill’s expertise and history within the sport is unrivaled and we are incredibly excited to continue to work with Commissioner Baird to bring a world-class team to San Diego as we continue to grow the sport and women’s soccer.”
Ellis stepped down from the USWNT in 2019 after winning a second consecutive World Cup. She told the Union-Tribune she was approached for and explored other coaching opportunities, but "this just felt right" in San Diego. She called it an "ideal place for women's soccer."
The England native was a TV commentator for the San Diego Spirit broadcasts while she coached at UCLA in the early 2000s.
San Diego, Ellis envision all-female leadership
Ellis told the Union-Tribune she is working to bring in an all-female executive and coaching staff, which is believed to be the first in pro sports history.
“Now I get to go hire a female GM and hire a female head coach and provide opportunities for others, and then there’s a ripple effect from there," Ellis said, via the Union-Tribune. "I just felt that, gosh, I had 30 years on the sideline and it was awesome. But being able to open doors for others, that’s just a really good space to be in — to really help them pursue their dreams and, in doing so, provide role models for the next generation.”
The push for female leadership is part of a growing trend in which women in sports are investing in themselves and taking control of what they want to see. For decades women's sports has tried to fit into the mold set up for men's sports a century ago; now they are forging their own paths and using what works for them. Angel City FC is a trendsetter in that space.
Ellis told the Union-Tribune that by July 1 she hopes to hire a female coach. Gotham FC's Freya Coombe is the only other one currently in the league.
Casey Stoney, the former Manchester United women's team coach, is reportedly the lead candidate, though Ellis would not confirm to the Union-Tribune if Stoney was being considered.
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