Soccer legend Mia Hamm’s greatest win might be the debut of Angel City FC


Soccer legend Mia Hamm has been an active owner of Angel City FC, the NWSL team that opens its inaugural regular season against North Carolina on Friday at Banc of California Stadium. (Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

Mia Hamm’s soccer resume is full.

She was a two-time women’s world player of the year and the first player of either gender to score 100 international goals. She helped the US to titles in the first women’s World Cup and first women’s Olympic soccer competition — then won a second championship in each tournament eight years later.

She was on the board at Roma when the Italian team made the UEFA Champions League semifinals and in the owners’ suite when LAFC, a team she helped found, made the CONCACAF Champions League final. She’s enshrined in five halls of fame.

It’s a level of accomplishment and success unmatched in American soccer history, yet Hamm isn’t done. In fact, what may prove to be among her most important contribution to the growth of the game in the US will unfold Friday when Angel City, the NWSL team Hamm helped launch, brings professional women’s soccer back to Southern California.

Angel City opens it inaugural regular season against the North Carolina Courage at Banc of California Stadium.

“I’m going to feel so many emotions stepping into that stadium,” said Hamm, who has been an active owner, participating in group meetings and quietly offering input during private phone calls. “Pride is probably the first one, just what this team has built and accomplished. And being able to kind of feel the energy from the supporters because I know it’s going to be amazing.

“I’m so excited for our players to be in that environment because they deserve it [and] to have my daughters and son in that stadium and see what is possible.”

For years Hamm waged a tireless, lonely crusade for the return of women’s professional soccer to Southern California, a hotbed for the sport. That work eventually paid off when entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, venture capitalist Kara Nortman and actress Natalie Portman — backed by a celebrity-driven investor group that has grown to nearly 100 — were awarded an NWSL expansion berth in the summer of 2020.

Twenty-two months later, the team will finally take the field.

“It’s one thing to kind of talk about it. It’s another thing to do it,” Hamm said. So all credit to Julie and Kara and Natalie. They have done all the heavy lifting.”

But there would have been nothing to lift without Hamm, who played her final professional game in Carson in 2004. Five years later the Los Angeles Sol played her final game in the same stadium, folding after one season in the short-lived Women’s Professional Soccer , a league whose logo was a silhouette of a ponytailed Hamm about to kick a ball.

Over the next decade the Rams and Chargers moved to Los Angeles and LAFC joined Major League Soccer, with Hamm as an original owner. Southern California was a Noah’s Ark of professional sports; it had two of everything — two NBA teams, two NFL teams, two NHL teams, two MLB teams and two MLS teams.

Mia Hamm attends a news conference with husband Nomar Garciaparra, left, and Magic Johnson on Oct.  30, 2014.

Mia Hamm attends a news conference with husband Nomar Garciaparra, left, and Magic Johnson on Oct. 30, 2014. All three were part of the original ownership group of the MLS team that became LAFC. (Nick Ut / Associated Press)

But there was a big hole where women’s soccer should have been. It was a hole Hamm campaigned to fill.

“So many kids are playing all across Southern California,” she said. “Some of the best players in the country come out of this area. So it just made sense.”

At first, she used her position with LAFC to advocate for a women’s team — and she almost got one.

“It was close,” she said.

But the fit was never quite right. The LAFC brand had grown bigger and faster than anyone had anticipated, and the club’s owners agreed if they added a women’s team, they would have to be as invested in its growth and success as they were in the men’s team.

“That’s why we pumped the brakes on it initially,” Hamm said. “It wasn’t taking the form that we all thought it needed to be successful. There were opportunities. There were a lot of people who wanted to do it.

“But just because people have money doesn’t mean it’s the right way to go.”

That’s something Hamm, 50, learned from experience. She had played in the Women’s United Soccer Assn. and had supported its replacement, the WPS. But despite seemingly solid ownership groups, both leagues lasted just three years. That left Hamm apprehensive about backing just any proposal to fund a women’s team.

“The lowest part of my career was when we had to close the doors on [the WUSA] because I felt, personally, that we had failed,” she said. “We had failed the game and all those young players who came to watch us play and who had aspirations of playing.”

For Hamm, the Uhrman-Nortman-Portman group dispelled those fears. It had money and star power — initial investors included actresses Eva Longoria, Uzo Aduba, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain plus Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and his wife, tennis star Serena Williams. So she signed on immediately, then convinced more than a dozen former national team players from Southern California to join her.

“I didn’t grow up here. I’m not the foundation of girls/women’s soccer in Southern California,” Hamm said. “It’s the players that have invested when they were younger, whether they were coaches here, players here, played college here.

“It’s really important to say thank you to the players that were the foundation of the game here in Southern California and to be aspirational to the players that don the Angel City kit. But also all the young players that come and watch them play.”

Young soccer players, including Parker Schumacher and Taylor Mendoza, standing from left, attend the NWSL Challenge Cup

Young soccer players, including Parker Schumacher and Taylor Mendoza, standing from left, attend the first game of the NWSL Challenge Cup between Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC on March 19 at Cal State Fullerton. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The group has since grown into what is believed to be the largest majority-female ownership group in professional sports history.

“We felt it was important as players that we give back to the game and that we invest in the game and that we’re showing that we want to be part of it,” said Julie Foudy, a two-time World Cup and Olympic champion and one of the first ex-teammates Hamm recruited. “This is a long play. We want to be in it for a long time.”

And while there have been growing pains — the team is winless heading into the sixth and final game of the preseason NWSL Challenge Cup on Sunday — Hamm is confident Friday’s Angel City opener will mark the start of a new era for women’s soccer, both in Southern California and the rest of the country.

“If you can dream it, you can achieve it. And I think that’s what we’re seeing in the ownership group,” she said. “They’re part of that kind of next generation. The way they’ve been exposed to sports and women’s sports is different, healthy and exciting.

“So I’m looking forward to Friday, yeah.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.



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