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Angel City FC partners with Ritual as club continues to drive paradigm shift

Christen Press is Angel City’s first official signing (Photo courtesy of Angel City FC)

Angel City Football Club is teaming up with Ritual, the Los Angeles-based personal health brand which will serve as the club’s official protein through the 2024 season. 

The sponsorship is the first-ever for Ritual. For Angel City, it’s another unique partnership the expansion club has secured ahead of its debut NWSL season in 2022. 

According to Jess Smith, Angel City’s Head of Revenue, it all started with a phone call between the two California neighbors earlier this year.

“We had reached out as a LA-based company and just said, ‘Hey, we just want to get to know you,’” Smith says. “Then they were the ones that said, ‘Hey… we’re actually coming out with a protein product.’ That’s when it got super interesting.”

Launched in 2016, Ritual first made a name for itself as an online retailer of multivitamins and nutritional supplements for women. Earlier this year, the company announced a new protein powder called Ritual Essential Protein. 

Because Angel City won’t just be repping the brand but also using Ritual’s products in their training and recovery, an extra level of diligence was needed to ensure that the protein would positively impact player performance. 

“Anytime you can find high-quality products that are going to help serve our players, that’s very exciting,” says Angela Hucles Mangano, Angel City’s Vice President of Player Development and Operations.

“[It was important] from a brand and business perspective to have alignment there, but ultimately this is something that we want to be able to put in our locker rooms and be something that’s utilized by high-performing athletes.”

Angel City players will be using Ritual’s Essential Protein Daily Shake as part of their everyday training. The plant-based shake contains 20 grams of sustainably-sourced pea protein, as well as key essential micro and macro nutrients. 

“With the launch of our new traceable plant-based protein, we set out to challenge an industry and create a product that could both hold up to the standards that a professional athlete demands while also supporting people in their everyday routine,” says Katarina Schneider, Ritual’s Founder and CEO, in a release. 

“This partnership brings that mission to life.”

As with all Angel City partnerships, 10 percent of the sponsorship revenue will go toward a local cause. In this case, the recipient is Food Forward, a nonprofit organization bringing fresh surplus fruits and vegetables to people experiencing food insecurity in South California and tribal lands in Arizona and New Mexico. 

According to Smith: “[We asked ourselves], how do we focus on food recovery and how do we focus on making sure we’re utilizing the food that’s available in our local community?”

“Wanting to give back and serve has always been a part of our DNA at Angel City,” adds Hucles Mangano.

Angel City previously announced DoorDash as its front-of-kit sponsor in a partnership that will bring an estimated 250,000 meals to those in need. Another deal with Heineken likewise funneled 10 percent of revenue to the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

The club’s unique approach to partnerships is part of a broader mission to both re-define what it means to be a sports franchise and set the standard for a women’s soccer club. 

Because of its outspoken ambitions and aspirational vision — as well its various high-profile investors (including Natalie Portman, Serena Williams, Mia Hamm and many others) — Angel City FC finds itself in a unique and perhaps unprecedented position: Despite having yet to play a game in the NWSL, the club is already being considered a model franchise for its community engagement and big-picture mindset. 

It’s a position Smith embraces, acknowledging that Angel City is “not just another sports property.” 

“We’re a brand built on purpose,” she says. “We were derived from Natalie Portman having really honest conversations in the marketplace about how to make sure we’re doing our part to push [women’s soccer] forward for the athletes, teams and leagues.”

To Smith, part of pushing the sport forward means signing big-name sponsors to bring them into the space. Smith knows the interest (and money) is there. Now it’s about showing the rest of the world.

“Us generating this type of revenue, us having this type of partner portfolio that competes with the men’s teams — it shows leagues across the world, regardless of sport, that with the right plan and the right vision and purpose, the brand support is there. The consumers are there,” she says.

“People are watching and paying attention, and then we are actually able to make it actionable.”

The flurry of sponsorship activity speaks to the strength of the Angel City brand, its backers and its location in L.A., and comes even as the club has only one official player: USWNT star Christen Press, who was acquired from Racing Louisville FC in August.

Angel City will add more players in December during the expansion draft alongside fellow upstart San Diego NWSL. In the meantime, Freya Coombe has signed on to be the club’s first head coach. 

Hucles Mangano says it’s been “fast and furious” since she arrived in June with the draft on the horizon. A former professional player herself, Hucles Mangano won two Olympic gold medals with the USWNT and was also a founding investor with Angel City before stepping into the front office. Her focus, at the moment, is getting training facilities and equipment prepared while also ironing out internal processes and building club chemistry with the coaches and staff who are already in L.A.

Both Hucles Mangano and Smith know it’s a whole new era once the team takes the pitch. But that hasn’t stopped them or Angel City from wanting to change the game now.

In her role overseeing player development, Hucles Mangano is determined to create a holistic program that addresses players’ health both on and off the field. This involves not only partnering with nutrition companies like Ritual, but also building career development initiatives to help players capitalize on their platform. 

As proof of just how comprehensive her approach is, Hucles Mangano is already creating processes to help players transition out of the sport when they decide to retire.

All of it, Hucles Mangano says, is geared toward equipping players with the necessary tool box for them and the club to succeed.

“I liken it to when one part of the spoke is a little bit broken, or a little bit off — it affects the turning of that wheel,” Hucles Mangano says.

For Smith, the focus remains on creating innovative partnerships with big-name brands who are looking to invest in women’s sports. Angel City may currently be making a name for itself with its forward-thinking sponsorships, but Smith knows that fans’ attention will soon shift to the pitch. 

“Nobody even knew what our brand was two months ago,” she says. “Now we’re like, oh yeah, by the way, here’s Christen Press. And we’re also going to play incredible soccer. But in the meantime, here’s all the other things we’ve done.”

Smith believes those other things, including this Ritual partnership, will not only benefit Angel City but also open the door to greater investment across the NWSL. 

“Until someone’s done it, unfortunately, people don’t know it can be done,” Smith says. “The ‘see it, be it’ [idea] is at a different level with our organization. And I know a lot of us take pride in continuing that everyday.”

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

One former player contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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