Eight new women’s soccer teams are coming to Northern California, sources with knowledge of United Soccer League’s expansion plans told The Standard.
The new teams will compete in the USL W League’s newly formed NorCal Division, starting May 2023.
In a region that has long brimmed with youth and college talent, the W League’s arrival will provide a professional pathway to compete at the highest level of women’s soccer available locally.
The closest pro women’s team in the state is Angel City FC of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in Los Angeles.
The Standard obtained the final list of teams ahead of USL’s Dec. 1 announcement: SF Glens and Olympic Club (San Francisco), Oakland Soul, California Storm (Sacramento), Stockton Cargo, Marin FC, Pleasanton Rage and Academica SC (Turlock).
“California has a rich history in women’s soccer, and the W League’s California expansion will tap into the vast pool of potential players from the state and provide fans more opportunities to enjoy the women’s game,” said Amanda Vandervort, USL Super League and W League President.
Soul and Cargo are brand-new teams just founded this year, while the other six are historic amateur clubs that will be forming new senior squads to compete in the USL W League.
But top-flight professional women’s soccer hasn’t arrived in the Bay Area just yet. The NWSL, where stars such as Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan play, is an enclosed competition that has just 12 teams.
In June, a Bay Area ownership group featuring four former players—Brandi Chastain, Leslie Osborne, Danielle Slaton and Aly Wagner—announced their intent to launch an expansion NWSL team in the area, but details surrounding timeline, financing and stadium plans remain unclear. Although, the group did participate in a photoshoot at PayPal Park in San Jose at the time of their announcement.
As the NWSL plans remain up in the air, the USL is pressing ahead with its plans to launch its own professional league for women. In September 2021, the league announced the launch of the USL Super League, which is similarly named to the top-flight competition in England, and tabbed former FIFPRO and Major League Soccer executive Vandervort as president.
The Super League, which is applying for second-division status underneath NWSL, is expected to begin play in August 2023. Its schedule will also align with the international women’s soccer calendar.
Underneath the Super League will be the W League, which USL has dubbed a “pre-professional” competition. Rosters will be made up of out-of-season student athletes, aspiring professionals and former professionals.
While the national team has flourished since the '90s, professional women’s leagues have stopped and started for decades, leaving players with limited professional pathways compared with their male counterparts. For reference, the NWSL is just 10 years old.
By creating more formal pathways outside of the collegiate system, the USL has said that it aims to “fill a void in the women’s soccer pipeline.” A USL academy dedicated to developing professional female players opened last year.
Perhaps the most notable team joining the new W League NorCal division will be the California Storm, based near Sacramento. The amateur club is one of the most storied women’s teams in the nation and boasts former notable players such as Morgan, Chastain, Julie Foudy and Brazilian legend Sissi.
Since 1998, they have been competing in another amateur competition known as the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) and won the national championship last season.
A source at the Storm told The Standard the team intends to maintain squads in both the WPSL and USL W League in order to provide more competitive game time for its players.
Storm owner Jamie Levoy is also an advisor and minority stakeholder in the NWSL Bay Area expansion group.
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