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Bay FC has finally arrived. It should’ve been here all along

The inside story on how the region’s record-breaking bet on professional women’s sports is already paying off

A group of female soccer players in white kits joyfully walk on a field, celebrating with raised arms and smiles.
Bay FC, led by the likes of Rachel Hill, center left, and Asisat Oshoala, center right, are already taking the National Women’s Soccer League by storm in its first season. | Source: Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

Bay FC has finally arrived. It should’ve been here all along

The inside story on how the region’s record-breaking bet on professional women’s sports is already paying off

Remember the sports bra celebration seen around the world? 

Twenty-five years ago, when U.S. women’s national team legend and Bay Area native Brandi Chastain scored the deciding penalty at the Rose Bowl to clinch the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup title, she ripped off her jersey, dropped to her knees and roared in triumph. 

It remains a pantheon-level image—up there with Michael Jordan’s flying fist pump and Muhammad Ali looming over Sonny Liston. Yet, for how the moment has come to embody women’s empowerment, Chastain and her teammates returned home after the tournament to a barren landscape for women’s soccer. They were the best in the world, but most couldn’t make a living just by playing.

“Back then, if you weren’t in that elite group of 30 or so players that played for the national team, your playing career was done,” said Danielle Slaton, who had a four-year stint as a defender on the national team in the early 2000s. 

A joyful athlete on her knees on a soccer field, shouting in triumph, with a jersey in hand.
Brandi Chastain celebrates her World Cup title-winning penalty kick against China in 1999. | Source: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

Now, a quarter-century later, Chastain, Slaton and fellow national team members and Santa Clara University alums Aly Wagner and Leslie Osborne have come together to try to change that equation in the Bay Area.

Their brainchild? Bay FC, a full-fledged National Women’s Soccer League team set to play its first-ever home game against the Houston Dash on Saturday at PayPal Park in San Jose. 

Its arrival is overdue and a long time coming. After a series of stops and starts for Bay Area women’s professional soccer, Bay FC represents a nine-figure wager on whether a world-class team and fan base can be forged from scratch. 

The team has assembled an Avengers-like squad on and off the field to make its case, silence the doubters and fulfill the potential posed by Chastain’s indelible moment of victory. 

Off the pitch

The “founding four,” as Chastain, Osborne, Slaton and Wagner are called, serve as minority owners and the public face of Bay FC. The enterprise itself is fueled by the largest-ever investment into a women’s pro team by Sixth Street Partners, which owns a majority stake.

Former player Wagner and Sixth Street CEO Alan Waxman co-chair the club’s board, which includes local tech and sports luminaries like former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, former Warriors president Rick Welts and former Giants executive Staci Slaughter.

Last spring, the San Francisco-based private equity firm poured $125 million into the team, which included a $53 million expansion fee—10 times the fees charged for a NWSL team in 2020. 

Bay FC’s debut coincides with an unprecedented wave of commercial investment in women’s sports due to new broadcast deals, league expansion and the involvement of major financial players and celebrities

Leading the club’s all-women executive team in the front office is CEO Brady Stewart, the former head of the direct-to-consumer business at Levi Strauss & Co. 

Five women stand smiling against a patterned backdrop, dressed in professional attire.
From left to right, Bay FC COO Jen Millet, co-founder Danielle Slaton, CFO Jessica Jackson, CEO Brady Stewart, and EVP of Communications Lisa Goodwin-Scharff at the club's headquarters in San Francisco. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

“The average time to bring a new team to market is usually at least 18 months,” Stewart told The Standard at Bay FC’s offices in San Francisco, a block away from the Salesforce Tower. “We did it in eight, which is crazy.” 

When she started last June, all Bay FC had was a logo. In the following months, Stewart helped build out an entire startup from scratch—filling out the ticket sales department, signing leases for training fields and negotiating broadcast rights.

Jen Millet and Lisa Goodwin-Scharff, both former Golden State Warriors execs, soon came on board as COO and executive vice president of communications, respectively. 

“What struck me the most was how hardcore the fandom that’s existed in the market even with the lack of a team that’s been here,” Millet said. “That just speaks to the passion people have for the sport that they’re willing to buy in based on just a promise.” 

It helps too that the swag is ‎️‍‎️‍🔥. To create its signature look, Bay FC partnered with San Francisco-based advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners and its design director and noted streetwear designer Benny Gold.

“It is the perfect marriage of a classic icon with streetwear flair, and I think that in a lot of ways is the Bay,” Stewart said. “That’s who we are as a region.”

On the pitch

To resonate with fans beyond opening day hype, the front office knows that Bay FC has to win, of course, but also play a style of soccer that is attractive—filled with elaborate pass sequences and lots of shots on goal. 

To execute on that vision—and fast—the team hired General Manager Lucy Rushton in June. Rushton established herself in the men’s game, first with Reading FC in England and then with Atlanta United and D.C. United in Major League Soccer. Less than six months before training camp, she was tasked with hiring a coaching staff and acquiring up to 26 players. 

A smiling woman in a black blazer stands with arms crossed, with bamboo and a brown wall in the background.
Lucy Rushton got her start in professional soccer more than 15 years ago at Reading FC in England. Now, she's the general manager of Bay FC, a record-breaking women's team in its inaugural season. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Rushton said recruiting athletes was difficult since players usually want to gauge who they will play with before coming on board. “You look back now and realize how big of a decision it was for [those first signings] to put their faith in us,” she said. 

In September, Rushton selected Bay Area coach Albertin Montoya to helm the team after he initially came on board as an adviser. Ultimately, his experience coaching women’s teams, including at Santa Clara and Stanford universities, and the youth national teams, endeared him to the Bay FC brass. 

Rushton and Montoya initially brought on domestic players for the defense and midfield, then made a big splash with the signings of three international stars who were playing in Europe to lead the attack. 

The first was Venezuelan creative midfielder Deyna Castellanos, who plied her trade at Atletico Madrid and Manchester City. Then came Nigerian striker Asisat Oshoala from FC Barcelona, one of Africa’s most decorated players in history. And with the signing of Zambian forward Racheal Kundananji from Madrid CFF, Bay FC broke the record for the most money ever spent, $788,000, on a women’s soccer player.    

Two female soccer players in white kits are shown in action on the field.
Deyna Castellanos, left, strikes the ball during a game against Washington Spirit on March 23. Asisat Oshoala, right, controls the ball during Bay FC's first regular season game against Angel City FC in Los Angeles on March 17. | Source: Getty Images

As opposed to the men’s game, which regularly sees more players move freely across the globe, women’s leagues are still mostly composed of domestic players, Rushton said. Investing the team’s transfer budget heavily toward non-American players has differentiated Bay FC from the rest of the league and plays to the squad’s global ambitions. 

“I’m not going to lie, I was a little worried about our roster heading into January,” said former NWSL defender of the year Caprice Dydasco, who signed with Bay FC last fall. “But speaking to Lucy and Albertin, I was just totally on board with their vision and before you know it, they put together a wonderful team.”

Paving the way

Before he landed with Bay FC, Montoya helped steer the previous two women’s professional teams in the region, the San Jose CyberRays (2003) and FC Gold Pride (2010), to championships. But both titles were sullied when financial issues forced each of the teams to fold soon after. 

“The fact that we’re going to be playing at a world-class venue like PayPal Park in front of a sold-out crowd just says it all,” Montoya said. “We never got those sorts of numbers even during my time at Gold Pride when we went on a [winning] run.”

A man stands with arms crossed watching blurred figures of athletes training on a field.
Like the club's co-founders, Bay FC head coach Albertin Montoya also starred as a player at Santa Clara University. After an injury derailed his playing career, he moved into coaching women's and youth soccer. | Source: Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

Thanks in part to social media and streaming making their games more accessible, professional women’s sports aren’t just surviving—they’re thriving. This season, the Kansas City Current opened the world’s first-ever soccer stadium built specifically for a women’s team

Sponsors are starting to catch wind. Earlier this year, Bay FC announced a five-year $13 million deal to place Sutter Health’s logo on its uniforms, the largest agreement of its type in league history.

The proof is also in rising valuations. Before the 2024 NWSL season even kicked off, the Portland Thorns and San Diego Wave teams were sold to new owners at $63 million and $120 million, respectively, each setting successively higher record prices for the league. 

It’s all somewhat stunning for Dydasco, who made a mere $6,000 her rookie season in 2015 and lived with a host family to save cash. Now, teams provide housing for players. 

“The rookies these days have no idea how good they have it,” she said. “But this is what the previous generations fought for.” 

A smiling woman with sunglasses, a colorful scarf, and a soccer ball, with people wearing branded attire in the background.
In the 10 years she's played in the NWSL, Caprice Dydasco has seen it all. The free agent defender signed with Bay FC in November after meeting with General Manager Lucy Rushton. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Dydasco plays on the backline with Savannah “Savy” King, who was drafted second overall this year from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The 19-year-old decided to leave college after her freshman year to go pro. Not that long ago, very few women’s soccer players would have been able to bet on themselves in that manner. 

“I didn’t think [coming out early] was possible until I saw other people do it,” King said. “It’s exciting to start paving the way for other younger players to potentially make the same decision for themselves.” 

For the Bay?

In the 16th minute of its first-ever league game on March 17, Bay FC forced a turnover against Angel City FC in front of a sold-out crowd at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles. 

Winger Tess Boade intercepted a backward pass and slipped it to a wide-open Oshoala, who squared her hips and slammed home a banger of a goal with the side of her foot. 1-0 Bay FC.

The Nigerian international, unmissable with her shock of hot pink hair, immediately ran to the left corner and mimed a golf swing—mirroring a Steph Curry celebration she witnessed after he hit a big three against the Milwaukee Bucks at Chase Center a few nights earlier. Oshoala and Castellanos were in the house for that performance and exchanged jerseys with the Warriors superstar after the game. 

A person with pink hair is smiling and signing a white shoe for a fan outdoors, in a sunny, crowded setting.
Asisat Oshoala signs a shoe for a young fan at the team’s inaugural season kickoff event at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

“The other teams in the region have been really supportive of us,” Oshoala said during a recent practice. “I’ve been totally surprised by how many people know us already. It’s exciting.” 

Bay Area sports fandom can feel simultaneously super-regional and hyper-local. The Warriors and Giants are based in San Francisco but are widely supported across Northern California. Same for the 49ers even though they’ve played in Santa Clara since 2014. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks and Earthquakes have had difficulty breaking out of the South Bay. And then there’s the Oakland A’s.

Bay FC, which has aspirations to be a team for the whole Bay, will have to thread this needle as they play at San Jose’s PayPal Park for at least the next five years. “We are a team for all nine Bay Area counties,” Stewart said. 

The club’s official stance is it’s still keeping its options open and looking for a permanent home. 

That job falls on team co-founder Slaton, who also holds the title of senior vice president of strategic projects. Slaton declined to list what sites the team is considering for a new stadium, but said the team hopes to decide by this year. 

A smiling woman with a checkered top and light pants stands by a bookshelf and a plant.
Bay FC co-founder Danielle Slaton, who is also the senior vice president of strategic projects, is leading the club's search for a permanent home. While the club has made real estate investments in San Jose, it hasn't ruled out a move. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

For her part, San Francisco Mayor London Breed is adamant that Bay FC belongs in the city. “Don’t get too comfortable down there [in San Jose],” she said to the team at a season kickoff event in front of City Hall on Tuesday. 

In an interview after the event, Breed pitched several potential stadium sites, including the former Westfield mall, Candlestick Point or just about “anywhere downtown.”

“Where Moscone is now, that used to be just parking lots, but now it’s vibrant,” Breed said. “I believe we will make room if they decide they want to be here.”

Until then, San Jose checks a lot of boxes. 

The stadium and its facilities are the newest in the region—and with a sold-out PayPal Park for the home opener—that’s 18,000 reasons to believe that Chastain’s promise 25 years ago has finally been delivered. 

Kevin V. Nguyen can be reached at