As the drum line marched through the crowd traveling into Titan Stadium at Cal State Fullerton, with various flags from different countries and supporter groups waving through the black and pink smoke, it established a new chapter in the National Women’s Soccer League.
The entrances into Saturday’s inaugural match between San Diego Wave and Angel City in the NWSL Challenge Cup was a sea of pink T-shirts and sweatshirts, with U.S. women’s national team kits sprinkled throughout.
The preseason match ended in a tie as Savannah McCaskill opened the scoring when she put Angel City ahead in the 49th minute, until San Diego’s Kaleigh Riehl tied it in the 81st minute.
Though neither club was in its home stadium, it was clear that Angel City had the advantage of a home crowd before the gates opened.
“We were talking about it before we came out for the actual kickoff, during warmups, we couldn't hear each other speak, which is amazing,” McCaskill said of the crowd’s energy. “For a Challenge Cup game, a preseason game that's not even in our home stadium yet, it's an incredible atmosphere.”
Heather Borjon, a middle school teacher in Moreno Valley, has been waiting for the moment that a women’s professional soccer club would arrive in Southern California.
For her honeymoon in 2019, Borjon and her husband followed the U.S. women’s national team to each city in France during its quest to win the World Cup.
It was on that trip when Borjon learned that an expansion team was going to be rooted in her home state. That’s when the idea to start a supporters group blossomed.
“We’re just pumped. We’ve been supporting the U.S. women’s national team for so long that we wanted a team here,” Borjon said. “Unfortunately, I missed when the L.A. Sol was here, but it’s cool that now I have a chance to support women’s sports and just watch my students have a place to go, who want these girls as role models.”
Now, she is the vice president of the Angel City Valkyries, which is one of six supporter groups dedicated to Angel City. As the Rebellion 99 and Angel City PodeRosas commanded one section, the San Diego Sirens kept a few rows to their growing group on the opposite side.
Googie Daniels, a San Diego native and president of the San Diego Sirens supporters group, carpooled to Orange County with other San Diego Wave fans to bear witness to the inception of a budding rivalry between the two clubs.
“I think new teams and more teams in the NWSL is only a good thing for everyone. We’re obviously going to have this great camaraderie and relationship,” Daniels said.
She has collaborated with several Angel City ACFC supporter groups since the San Diego Wave was announced in November.
“We want to support the players,” Daniels said. “We can have fun rivalries, but no one’s ever gonna take it too far. Just knowing you can go to an environment where everyone just wants to support professional women’s soccer, that’s it.”
Justin Kennally was invited to Saturday’s game by some friends. The national team jersey he was sporting with Angel City forward Christen Press’ name belonged to a friend, but he was all-in for the newest L.A. team.
“I think it’s great for the city and I think it’s great for women’s sports,” Kennally said. “I’ve seen a lot of young girls out here today and they’re obviously super excited; just to have someone to look up to and a team to look up to in their hometown is really important.”
A new movement in women’s sports was sparked by inspiration after Academy Award winner Natalie Portman watched the U.S. women’s soccer team in the 2019 World Cup, only to be fueled by generations of fans who want to see more women’s sports under the spotlight.
As the two clubs continue to establish themselves in their respective cities, the fan support that filled the stadium provided even more yearning for the players and coaches to start their new path.
“It definitely helps the team,” Angel City head coach Freya Coombe said. “We want to have the city get behind us and it was great that we had the home support that we did, very vocal and brilliant."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.