Angel City loses at San Diego’s new stadium before record crowd

Snapdragon Stadium is located at the east end of Mission Valley in San Diego, surrounded by tree-lined bluffs, two freeways and a shopping mall. It’s a handsome replacement for Qualcomm Stadium, the aging 70,000-seat mausoleum for the city’s sporting past that slowly decayed through neglect before being leveled two years ago.

The NFL preceded Qualcomm, and one of the new stadium’s major tenants is a first-year women’s soccer team, the San Diego Wave, which says a lot about the changing sports landscape in San Diego.

It’s also saying a lot that the Wave came on a picture-perfect Saturday night with fireworks, a Navy parachute team, a military flyover and a sell-out crowd announced of 32,000, a record in the National Women’s Soccer League and the second largest crowd for a women’s club game in the history of the USA.

“Seeing San Diego embrace us so quickly was just a great moment,” said wave forward Alex Morgan. “I love breaking records. It’s really a fun time to be a soccer player.”

Morgan and her teammates took care of the housewarming gift themselves, with a first-half goal from teenager Jaedyn Shaw and a spectacular second-half save from keeper Kailen Sheridan that secured them a 1-0 win over Angel City, their expansion team , led competitor from Los Angeles.

San Diego Wave forward Alex Morgan (13), right, and teammates celebrate a goal by Jaedyn Shaw (11) against Angel City.

The San Diego Wave’s Alex Morgan (right) celebrates a goal by Jaedyn Shaw (11) against Angel City on Saturday night.

(Meg McLaughlin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

But that night was about more than a result.

“It’s just kind of a marker of where we are and where we’re going,” said Jill Ellis, who coached the US women’s national team to back-to-back world titles before becoming Wave 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 isn’t an appetite for women’s football.”

However, it could be a regional appetite. Though The Wave set the single-game attendance record and Angel City attracts 18,755 fans per game, the second-highest average in league history, four other NWSL teams — a third of the league — draw fewer than 5,000 per game. If a rising tide can lift all boats, as Ellis is fond of saying, a heavy anchor can sink them too.

That’s a problem the top-heavy NWSL needs to solve.

“Finding ways to connect the dots where teams may need assistance is certainly an area we’re focusing on from a league perspective to really raise the bar and ensure all of our teams are empowered for success.” positioned,” said NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman.

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

Eleven months ago, the NWSL was on the brink of collapse. Allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior and homophobic comments had forced the resignation or dismissal of former Commissioner Lisa Baird, General Counsel Lisa Levine and eventually five of the league’s 10 coaches.

Today the 10-year-old league is stronger than ever. Angel City is already worth more than $100 million after less than 20 games in their first season, according to sports business website Sportico, making them the most valuable team in NWSL history. And his rivalry with San Diego — on the field, in the stands and in the front offices — bodes well for the future.

“To think there wasn’t a team in California before this year is just insane because it’s incredible to see the fanbase,” Morgan said. “And this rivalry will continue to heat up.”

Julie Uhrman, President and Co-Founder of Angel City, agrees.

“If we look back at it over the next five to 10 years, it’s going to be one of the best rivalries in the sport,” she said. “These are two clubs that are breaking the rules as we go. Seeing the results in attendance, viewership, merchandise sales and ticket sales just proves you are investing in the community, you are investing in your brand, you are investing in your club, you will see results.”

Speaking of results, Saturday’s win saw The Wave (10-6-4) jump to the top of the NWSL standings and move a big step closer to becoming the first expansion team to qualify for the league’s playoffs. Angel City (7-7-5), one spot and four points below the playoff line with three games remaining, has an achingly low margin for error if it hopes to finish second.

Playing at home for the first time, 17-year-old Shaw gave San Diego the only goal it took in the 30th minute, going high in the center of the box to block a Sofia Jakobsson cross from the right wing to steer gate. Shaw has scored in each of her three NWSL appearances. Sheridan made sure the goal stood by correctly guessing Savannah McCaskill’s 74th-minute penalty attempt, diving deep and to the right of her to smother the shot and save her seventh clean sheet of the season.

For Ellis, the real test is yet to come, because a large crowd isn’t necessarily a movement. It could be a mirage.

“The more people come to watch us and have a great experience, the more they will want to come back,” she said. “That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do and I see no reason why we can’t.”

Angel City defense attorney Megan Reid sees no reason to stop at 32,000.

“I expect to start seeing the whole league as the norm. These are exciting games that people want to come to and they’re so much fun,” she said. “In five years, ask me about 60,000.” Angel City loses at San Diego’s new stadium before record crowd

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