All Scores

What Angel City FC Means for the Future of the NWSL

Apu Gomes/Getty Images

As the NWSL calls it a wrap on a record-breaking 2020 season, all eyes now turn to those stars who are working to increase the visibility and support of the league and its world-class talent. But no, we’re not talking about the players.

For decades, fans of women’s soccer have emerged en masse in four-year cycles to cheer on the U.S. women’s national team as they battle it out for Olympic golds and World Cup Championships. But despite the adulation and fanfare that accompanies each triumph, professional female soccer players have routinely returned home to leagues fighting for survival and clubs that are wildly underfunded.

Despite monumental victories on the world’s stage, funding for the NWSL and the U.S. leagues which preceded it has often floundered due to a host of factors, many of which can be pinned on the unending fight for more air time and sponsorships.

That stops now.

The launch of Angel City FC, the first majority-women founded NWSL team, and one that is backed by a platoon of Hollywood stars, athletes, and influencers, marks a turning point for the longest-running women’s soccer league in U.S. history.

Over the next two years, the NWSL will add two new expansion teams, with Racing Louisville FC suiting up next year before the celebrity-backed LA squad hits the turf in 2022. Growth is a positive sign regardless of who is signing the checks, but the derivation and mission of Angel City FC represents a new model for growing professional women’s soccer. It’s a moment that’s turning inspiration into action, one that acknowledges that parades and morning television interviews aren’t enough to keep a business going year-after-year.

 As reported by the New York Times, in a revolutionary shift from traditional protocol, the team owners worked together to implement a foundation of values for Angel City FC that were drafted in consultation with the U.S. women’s national team to ensure that the mission embodied the needs of professional female players. And unlike expansion teams in other sports battling to be the best, Angel City is gearing up to change the game for the entire NWSL by putting pay equity front and center while setting up the necessary infrastructures to make it a reality. It also marks the first time that former players themselves — Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Joy Fawcett to name a few — are sitting in the front office.

The founding group, led by Natalie Portman, Kara Nortman, Julie Uhrman, and Alexis Ohanian, will launch the new team at a time when the NWSL is shattering ratings records, pulling in 653,000 viewers for the CBS network broadcast of the Challenge Cup final between the Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars — a 293% increase compared to last year’s final, which garnered 166,000 viewers. All in all, the league increased its viewership by over 500% this year compared to last.

The LA team is also getting off the ground in the midst of a larger racial reckoning and cultural paradigm shift in the United States. As Olympian and world-champion defender Kelley O’Hara noted on the Just Women’s Sports podcast with Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks, “sports can drive culture.”

2020 has proven that point in a number tangible ways, from the fight for gender equality to athlete-led protests against racial injustice and police brutality. The diversity exhibited by the founders and founding investors of Angel City FC embodies the notion that pushing the ball forward shouldn’t be the burden of the players alone.

Nearly 30 years ago, a squad of girls set out to revolutionize soccer and change the archaic narratives that were holding back the potential of professional women’s sports in America. Today, thanks in large part to those early USWNT squads, the dream has been realized, and girls around the world can turn on the TV and see themselves chasing victory.

The implementation of Angel City FC  is a manifestation of years of imagining and re-imagining the potential of a professional women’s soccer league. It harkens back to the driving ethos behind the 1991 and 1999 U.S. teams, that no single player was out there for themselves, but they were all playing for each other — and for those who would follow.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.