Angela Hucles: Proud owner, Angel City
Former member of the U.S. women’s national team discusses her role with the NWSL expansion franchise in Los Angeles
Angela Hucles never thought she’d have the chance to own a professional women’s soccer team.
During her playing days, in which she was a four-time ACC Player of the Year at the University of Virginia and an eventual two-time Olympic gold medalist with the United States women’s national team (USWNT), the option simply didn’t exist.
As a professional soccer player, Hucles played in both the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) as well as the Women’s Professional Soccer league. After the WUSA folded in 2003 and the Women’s Premier Soccer League met the same fate a few years later, Hucles retired from soccer in 2009.
But about a month ago, Hucles received an email from two of her former U.S. women’s national team teammates, soccer legends Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm, who presented her with an opportunity.
Both former players were a part of what would ultimately become a majority-female investor group, led by actress Natalie Portman, of a recently awarded National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) expansion franchise for Los Angeles. The collective, which also includes Serena Williams and Eva Longoria, among others, was looking to finalize its group by including former members of the women’s national team.
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yesterday — talking about all things @weareangelcity and the importance of giving female athletes the attention they deserve. Who else is watching the @nwsl championship today?? Watch the game on CBS and visit @serena to listen to our full conversation; (please excuse the weird tech glitches :)
On July 22, Hucles posted a graphic to Instagram following the public announcement of the team, which is currently operating under the name “Angel City.” The graphic read: Proud owner, Angel City.
“It’s exciting to be a former player and to be on the other side of this,” Hucles said.
To her knowledge, Hucles, along with former USWNT member Shannon Boxx, are the first women of color to hold the title of owner in the league as former players.
Hucles discusses her experience being a part of the investor group, the need for more representation in ownership in professional sports and the state of Black women in soccer.
How did you get involved with Angel City?
I was brought into the conversation in the later stages for an opportunity as a former USWNT player who is based in the Southern California area. … For me personally, an email coming from Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm, these were the players that I looked up to.
Foudy was my captain on the U.S. team and Mia could have been a captain – she had that leadership role. For me to have tremendous respect for these individuals for what they’ve done — not just on the soccer field but just within their lives — I hold them in very high regard and I trust them implicitly. I definitely wanted to say a very strong verbal yes to them.
What was announcement day like for you?
I’m on the West Coast so … I initially woke up forgetting what was happening and seeing all these text messages and alerts on my phone being in a momentary panic and then was like, ‘Wait, this is a good thing.’ I think it just validated every reason in which the group wanted to involve the former U.S. players in SoCal.
And not just that — I think just seeing the ownership group, seeing that finally we had a Los Angeles-based team again for the NWSL. I played in the first two leagues before retiring before the NWSL came about. There was a presence in California in both of those leagues, and not to have it here for so long — it’s such a vibrant city, a city of entertainment and excitement and sports — I think it just was something missing in this league.
What’s the state of women’s soccer in the U.S.?
I feel like it’s gotten stronger even within these last few months during this COVID period watching the NWSL, what they’ve been able to do with the championship tournament. I’ve been extremely impressed with Lisa Baird and how she took the leadership position as the commissioner right before they pretty much had to make an announcement of suspending league play. I really feel like it’s evident she’s done a tremendous job because, one, you see an expansion happening, you see new sponsors being attracted to the NWSL. There’s a lot of excitement even after this announcement, I think especially now of new potential owners wanting to start teams in other markets from what I’ve been hearing and been told.
To see what they did as the very first professional sports league in our country to come back to play, to do it safely, to have no cases once they were in that bubble — they were the first league to do it and they did it exceptionally well. I think to see how they just went through this time, to complete their championship, to see the excitement, to see the quality of play on the pitch — it just shows the strength of women’s soccer in our country right now.
What responsibilities do you have between now and 2022 when Angel City debuts?
Obviously, there are a lot of things that still need to be done just since the announcement on the business side. In terms of my responsibilities, and just in conversations, what I’ve been told is that I will have an opportunity to be as involved as I want to — to a certain extent. Potentially even having some committees being formed to help with certain aspects of the business. Whether it’s more technically and tactically related on the playing side, to the business side — I’ve already had an outpouring of outreach and support, people wanting to invest even now, people wanting to search for opportunities, career opportunities with the team right now.
A lot of what I’m trying to do right now is just facilitate, in terms of providing the Angel City group with people who have an interest or are expressing interest in becoming involved and just being one of the best supporters I can to help grow the game. I think that’s why we had so much support when we received the opportunity, from the former U.S. players’ standpoint. We’re all in this because we were a part of women’s soccer when it wasn’t this large. We’ve all seen it at different stages. Ultimately, we all still love this sport, love this game, and want to see it grow and we want to see it maximized to its potential both for the players and for the game itself in every capacity and facet of it.
In professional sports, decision-makers and owners are typically white. As a woman of color, was that something on your mind when you accepted the role with Angel City?
It is rare, especially on the women’s side and especially being a female. I think it wasn’t necessarily at the front of my mind because I feel like it’s just always there, it’s just always present and that makes sense. I’m Black, I’m Cuban, I’m a woman, I’m a part of the LGBT family and so for me, I think there’s a part of me that represents so many different groups. I try to live my life, especially with some of these unique opportunities to carry some of that responsibility.
There isn’t a whole lot of representation, so I want to help show that that’s a possibility. I think that’s the power that I see in this investor group because we all have different backgrounds, we all have different experiences. When you get that into the same room together, that’s powerful.
Did you ever want to be an owner during your playing days?
It didn’t cross my mind during my playing days in this respect. It did after I was done playing. I think that’s what makes this again so incredibly special because it wasn’t a thing. To be honest, much like the dream I had to play on the U.S. team one day, I had no idea what it took to get to that level, to work my way up there, to be a part of a team when I was 12, 13 years old when I first had that thought. Much like that, the same thing in terms of being an owner of a pro sports team. I had no idea when or how that could happen. To be able to join such a fun, special ownership group and to do it in my hometown, I think it’s pretty much a dream that I had that I didn’t realize was going to happen this way.
When you played on the USWNT, there were few Black players. What is the state of Black women in soccer today?
I would say there is more attention on that issue. Obviously, I think a lot of it is culturally, where we are in society about Black people and the experiences and where the representation is. I think we see one of the best female soccer players in the world in a Black female soccer player in Crystal Dunn. I think we see other players coming along and making a mark. There are other Black females who are not only just receiving that recognition but are having those opportunities and really showcasing their skills on a large stage.
I’d still like to see even at the youth levels more opportunities being provided to Black children to play the sport and be introduced to the sport. A lot of that has to do with the access that’s provided or not for a lot of the Black community. While I do see some progress and some more representation, I do think there’s still a lot more to be done, just like there is in any case where you’re trying to make systemic change.
Angel City announced a partnership with LA84 Foundation, which works to provide access to sports for underserved communities. What is the significance of such a partnership for a new team?
I think it’s huge. I think it shows where this club and organization is stressing importance. It’s not just saying community is important to us, they’re taking action on it by partnering with one of the city’s greatest nonprofit organizations that directly helps youth and supporting communities in sport. There will be some other initiatives that we’ll see through LA84, and some other community-based initiatives that will also support those statements as well.
I think we’ve seen this historically on the women’s side, the way that female pro soccer players are able to do a lot of the grassroots efforts and also stay connected to the community. That builds support, builds connections, but also helps to provide opportunities potentially and other ways of thinking that things can exist in ways that maybe didn’t exist before for these young people.
Do you think the model that this ownership group has created can be replicated within other women’s sports leagues?
I do and I hope we see it. I actually anticipate seeing it sooner rather than later. It’s exciting to be a former player and to be on the other side of this and come full circle from when I was a 7-year-old with pigtails and having orange slices at halftime playing in my neighborhood league to now becoming an owner of a professional women’s soccer team.
I think this is definitely a model that can be replicated and to get more people involved in the game. For me, I enjoyed coaching when I did it, but I was definitely more excited about the business side of things. To be able to actually have an opportunity to be on that side again shows that there’s so much more that we can do within the sport after we’re done playing with it. To get some of the former athletes involved on the business side of things will create more opportunities. It will create a different skill set for athletes to come out of the game. It will provide a different look to professional sports as a whole to have former athletes being able to voice their thoughts and opinions and provide guidance where sometimes with pro teams, especially when you talk about women’s sports, it is more of a business side of things and a little less on that athletic or sports side of someone who has actually played the game. I think it can definitely be replicated.