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‘Finally, we have a women’s team’: LA rallies around Angel City in debut

Angel City celebrates Jun Endo’s goal in the first half of their 2-1 win over North Carolina. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — For the first time since 2009, Los Angeles fans watched a women’s professional soccer team play a regular-season match, as Angel City FC defeated the North Carolina Courage 2-1 on Friday night. ACFC announced its NWSL entrance in July 2020, but as the team took the field in front of a sellout crowd of 22,000 at Banc of California Stadium for its home opener, after the anticipation and the build-up of the past year, it all started to feel real.

Thousands of fans arrived as much as four hours before kickoff to revel in the historic moment together, playing games, dancing to a live DJ and chanting “Dalé, Dalé, ACFC” with drumming accompaniment. The on-field pregame festivities included pyrotechnics and a live musical performance replete with a 40-piece marching band.

ACFC defender Vanessa Gilles kept the good times rolling, sending the crowd into a frenzy in the third minute when she headed in a precise centering pass from Jun Endo on the right flank for the first goal in regular-season franchise history. As the fans cheered their team’s 1-0 lead, Gilles’ teammates wrapped her in a swaying group embrace before the Canadian jogged back to midfield, raising her arms triumphantly.

Arturo Gutierrez, his wife and two sons (ages 9 and 11), decked out in matching ACFC scarves and kits, were four of the 22,000 who lost their minds on the Gilles goal. The family from nearby Lynwood has season tickets in the supporters’ section, where Arturo’s son, 11-year-old Arturo Jr., plays the drums.

“We’re super excited,” Arturo Sr. said. “It’s nice being able to see him happy. It makes me happy.”

Arturo Sr. said he and his wife speak to their sons “all the time” about the importance of supporting women.

“I’m a real soccer fan,” he said, “and it’s important to support the women. They need that from us. Not having a women’s team is not right. We finally got one, and we’re here to make history, bro.”

Ten minutes after Gilles made history with the franchise’s first goal, ACFC struck again. Receiving a pass from Savannah McCaskill, Endo met the ball with her left foot and directed it across her body and into the bottom right corner of the goal.

In Endo’s first 13-plus minutes of NWSL regular-season play, the 21-year-old — who before tonight had never played for a team outside of Japan — factored in both goals to give ACFC a 2-0 advantage. Meanwhile, in the stands behind the opposite goal, an ACFC supporter waved Endo’s native flag of Japan.

Twelve-year-old Farrah Pulido of El Monte soaked in every moment of the match with her mom, Ivette, who received two tickets from her boss, a season-ticket holder who could not attend Friday’s match.

“We’re both big soccer fans,” Ivette said. “I grew up watching it, and now so does Farrah, and it’s always been all about the men. Finally, we have a women’s team.”

Farrah, who is a goalkeeper for the SC Blues club soccer team based in Irvine, naturally loves watching fellow goalies.

In the 38th minute, she witnessed ACFC goalkeeper DiDi Haracic dive to her left and deflect a dangerous shot out of play.

“DiDi’s save was absolutely world-class,” ACFC head coach Freya Coombe said after the match. “I’d like to say that we’ve never seen that before, but I think that we all had in the Portland Challenge Cup final where she did exactly the same thing. DiDi’s proven herself in those big moments.”

Haracic saved three of the four shots on goal she faced Friday night.

The Courage dominated possession in the second half but only capitalized on one opportunity. Brazilian national team star Debinha’s score in the 51st minute marked her fifth straight game with a goal.

In the final 10 minutes of the match, the stadium rocked with “Let’s go, City” chants until ACFC officially secured its first regular-season victory, persevering through several Courage rushes, especially during the six minutes of stoppage play.

“The crowd was unreal tonight,” Coombe said. “It was the best environment I’ve ever coached in.” The ACFC manager said she noticed “something special” about the fan support when the players came out for warm-ups.

“The support from the fans has been unwavering,” said Coombe, “It’s definitely having an impact on the players on the field. They’re living off that energy …We’re really grateful to have the number of fans we do, but also the passion and intensity of the fans.”

“I’ve never played in front of a crowd this big. Not on my side,” ACFC midfielder Dani Weatherholt said. “It was an unreal feeling to have all those people backing us … This community loves soccer. It’s very evident.”

Chris Weyant-Forbes and her partner, Al Weyant-Forbes, were among the ACFC backers in the stadium, wearing matching shirts that read, “#EQUALITY IN WOMEN’S SPORTS” on the front, and “WE DESERVE TO BE HERE” on the back. Al works at Riverside City College, where the women’s basketball team has had trouble getting access to the weight room and other college facilities. The women were regularly getting bumped in favor of the men’s teams, which led players on the team and the coach to speak out and later sue the college.

“The coach had these shirts made up, and we are wearing them,” Chris said, “because that’s bulls—t!”

Chris and Al discovered ACFC through a Los Angeles Times article, prompting them to attend their first game last Sunday, a Challenge Cup match in Fullerton. They had such a good time that they decided to come to opening night all the way from their Riverside home, a nearly two-hour drive from the stadium without traffic.

“I think it’s really cool that the team is predominantly women-owned and -operated,” Al said. “I love that they’re doing programs for girls to get into sports, and I’ve read that they do programming for women who retire from professional sports and give them career development so they can still work in sports. I just think it’s rad what Angel City Football Club is doing.”

ACFC captain and L.A. native Ali Riley feels just as strongly about the team’s mission as the fans.

“I saw a lot of families,” Riley said. “I saw a lot of men, women. The point is that women’s soccer belongs, and it belongs in this city. And I think for this club to do it is perfect, because it’s not just about inspiring young girls. It’s also about impacting the community and helping underserved communities. That’s really a big part of what motivates this team. For us to get that win tonight, with 22,000 people, I hope we really sent a message.”

Message received.

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

Cameron Brink Suffers Season-Ending ACL Tear

la sparks rookie cameron brink being helped off the court after an injury
Brink had to be helped off the court after taking a fall during the Sparks' loss to Connecticut on Tuesday. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sparks rookie Cameron Brink will miss the remainder of the WNBA season after suffering a torn ACL in her left knee during Tuesday’s game against Connecticut. 

Brink will also miss the Paris Olympics after having been named to the USA Basketball's 3×3 Olympic roster earlier this month. 

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, Brink started in all 15 games for the Sparks this season. She entered Tuesday averaging 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks, while her blocks ranked her third in the league behind Seattle's Ezi Magbegor and Las Vegas's A’ja Wilson.

During Tuesday’s game, Brink appeared to slip on the hardwood while driving to the basket. After standing up with assistance, she then had to be helped off the court before being carried back to the locker room

"You never think it will happen to you," Brink wrote in an Instagram post on Wednesday. "And despite all the hard work sometimes it does. This is hard to fathom but I know it will only make me stronger. I will not be derailed and I will continue to love this life — I'm not defined by basketball, but it is something that I love deeply and I will work everyday to get back to it. It's not goodbye basketball it's just a see you later. I'm always so thankful for your thoughts and prayers."

In a statement, USA Basketball wished Brink a "speedy recovery" and noted that they will be looking for someone to fill her spot on the 3×3 team. Brink's 3×3 teammate Rhyne Howard also took a knock on Wednesday, although the severity of that injury has yet to be announced. 

After the confirmation, Brink's fellow rookies took to social media to offer up words of support, with Angel Reese writing “\"prayers for my sweet girl!" Aaliyah Edwards also sent prayers, as well as "positive thoughts your way, Cam."

"It just breaks your heart," Caitlin Clark told reporters Wednesday.

"You don’t want to see anybody deal with any sort of injury, obviously an injury of that magnitude," she continued. "I know she’s the type of person that will be able to get through it and come through it stronger."

Veteran Swimmer Simone Manuel Makes 3rd Olympic Team

us olympic swimming team's simone manuel rests in a pool
Simone Manuel returns to the US Olympic Swimming Team after battling health concerns ahead of the Tokyo Games. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Decorated swimmer Simone Manuel made her third US Olympic team on Wednesday, touching fourth in the 100-meter freestyle to secure a spot in the relay event in front of a record crowd inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

With her gold medal win at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, Manuel became the first Black woman to win gold in an individual Olympic swimming event. But the former champion in the 100-meter freestyle endured a long road after being diagnosed with overtraining syndrome ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"I think Paris is going to be a blast," Manuel said after qualifying. "It's a different spot than I'm used to right now with only being a relay swimmer. But it's my third Olympic team, and that's something that's really hard to accomplish.

"It's a miracle that I'm even able to stand up here and be able to race again. The people close to me know the journey it took to get here. I'm really proud of myself and proud of Team USA."

Kate Douglass and Torri Huske will advance as the two individual swimmers in the event. They'll be joined by Gretchen Walsh and Manuel. 

Elsewhere, Katie Ledecky added to her long list of accolades by winning the 1500-meter freestyle in a time that she wasn’t entirely happy with — despite finishing well ahead of the rest of the heat.

"I was expecting to go a lot faster," she said afterwards. "I know I have a lot more in me than the end result today. I just didn't have that next gear."

One day prior, Regan Smith reclaimed the World Record in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of record time of 57.33 seconds. Smith had previously set the record in 2019, before Australia’s Kaylee McKeown broke it soon after. The feat marked the second World Record broken at the US Olympic Swimming Trials.

"There were many years that went by after 2019 where I thought that I would never do that ever again," Smith said Tuesday, before adding that she’d love to set a new record in Paris. "I think 56 is a possibility, for sure."

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

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