San Diego’s new stadium is newest signal of hope for the NWSL

Snapdragon Stadium is nestled within the east finish of San Diego’s Mission Valley, surrounded by tree-lined bluffs, two freeways and a shopping mall. It’s a good-looking alternative for Qualcomm Stadium, the getting old 70,000-seat mausoleum to town’s sporting previous that slowly disintegrated via neglect earlier than being razed two years in the past.

The NFL left earlier than Qualcomm did, and one of many new stadium’s foremost tenants is a first-year ladies’s soccer group, the San Diego Wave, which says loads in regards to the altering sports activities panorama in San Diego.

It additionally says loads that the Wave had been welcomed to their new residence on a picture-perfect Saturday night with fireworks, a Navy parachute group, a army flyover and a sellout crowd introduced at 32,000, a Nationwide Girls’s Soccer League file and the second-largest crowd for a ladies’s membership sport in U.S. historical past.

“To see San Diego embracing us so quickly in the way that they did, it was just a great moment,” Wave ahead Alex Morgan mentioned. “I love breaking records. It’s really a fun time to be a soccer player.”

Morgan and her teammates took care of the housewarming present themselves, with a first-half objective from teenager Jaedyn Shaw and a spectacular second-half save from goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan lifting them to a 1-0 win over Angel Metropolis, their fellow expansion-team rival from Los Angeles.

The San Diego Wave’s Alex Morgan, proper, and teammates have fun a objective by Jaedyn Shaw (11) in opposition to Angel Metropolis on Saturday evening.

(Meg McLaughlin/ San Diego Union-Tribune)

However this evening was about multiple consequence.

“It’s just kind of a sign or where we are and where we’re headed,” mentioned Jill Ellis, who coached the U.S. ladies’s nationwide group to back-to-back World Cup titles earlier than changing into the Wave’s president. “We wanted to break the record. We wanted to make history. That’s part of our intention with this club.

“So don’t tell me there’s not an appetite for women’s soccer.”

It is likely to be a regional urge for food although. Though the Wave set the single-game attendance file and Angel Metropolis is drawing 18,755 followers per sport, the second-highest common in league historical past, 4 different NWSL groups — a 3rd of the league — are drawing fewer than 5,000 per match. If a rising tide can carry all boats, as Ellis likes to say, a heavy anchor may also sink them.

That’s an issue the top-heavy NWSL should clear up.

“Finding ways to connect the dots where teams might need support, that is certainly an area that, from a league perspective, we are focused on building out so that we can really raise the bar and ensure that all of our teams are positioned for success,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman mentioned.

“I think we’ve definitely reached an inflection point,” she added. “The league has created sustainable growth and sustainable metrics. It’s not a one-time pop in terms of success and connectivity with their communities.”

Eleven months in the past, the NWSL was on the point of folding. Allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate conduct and homophobic feedback had pressured the resignation or elimination of former commissioner Lisa Baird, common counsel Lisa Levine and, finally, 5 of the league’s 10 coaches.

Right this moment, the 10-year-old league is stronger than ever. Angel Metropolis, fewer than 20 video games into its first season, is already value greater than $100 million, in line with the sports activities enterprise web site Sportico, making it essentially the most helpful group in NWSL historical past. And its rivalry with San Diego — on the sphere, within the stands and within the entrance workplaces — bodes nicely for the long run.

“To think that there wasn’t a team in California before this year is just crazy because seeing the fan bases, it’s incredible,” Morgan mentioned. “And this rivalry is just going to keep heating up.”

Julie Uhrman, Angel Metropolis’s president and co-founder, agrees.

“It’s going to be one of the best rivalries in sports when we look back on this in the next five to 10 years,” she mentioned. “These are two clubs that are breaking the rules as we go. Seeing the results in attendance, viewership, merchandise sales, ticket sales, it just proves you invest in the community, you invest in your brand, you invest in your club, you’re going to see results.”

Talking of outcomes, with Saturday’s win the Wave (10-6-4) jumped to the highest of the NWSL standings and moved an enormous step nearer to changing into the primary growth group to qualify for the league’s playoffs. Angel Metropolis (7-7-5), one place and 4 factors beneath the playoff line with three video games left, has a painfully skinny margin of error if it hopes to be the second.

Shaw, 17, taking part in for the primary time at residence, gave San Diego the one objective it will want within the thirtieth minute, going excessive within the middle of the field to go residence a cross from Sofia Jakobsson from the appropriate wing. Shaw has scored in every of her three NWSL appearances. Sheridan made the objective arise by guessing appropriately on Savannah McCaskill’s penalty attempt within the 74th minute, diving low and to her proper to smother the shot and protect her seventh clear sheet of the season.

For Ellis, the true check remains to be to come back as a result of one large crowd isn’t essentially a motion. It could possibly be a mirage.

“The more people that can come and watch us and have a great experience, they’re going to want to come back,” she mentioned. “That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t.”

Angel Metropolis defender Megan Reid sees no cause to cease at 32,000.

“I’m expecting to start to see all over the league as the norm. These are exciting matches that people want to come to, and they’re so much fun,” she mentioned. “In five years, you’ll be asking me about 60,000.”