- Yuki Nagasato is set to make history as the first women's soccer star to play professionally for a men's club.
- The 2011 World Cup champion and NWSL's 2019 assists leader signed with Hayabusa Eleven, which plays in Kanagawa Prefecture League’s second division.
- Nagasato will play with the Japanese club on loan from the Chicago Red Stars until the 2021 NWSL preseason begins.
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Yuki Nagasato is breaking barriers in professional soccer.
The 2011 World Cup champion and the National Women's Soccer League's 2019 assists leader has signed with Hayabusa Eleven, setting the stage for Nagasato to become the first woman ever to play professionally for a men's club, according to The Japan Times.
"Honestly, how much I can contribute among men is unknown," Nagasato said during a press conference, per The Times. "But I was really inspired by messages on the gender gap by [Megan] Rapinoe at the World Cup, and I was wondering if I could also send a message to the society."
Nagasato has already enjoyed quite an impressive career on the women's side. She has represented Japan in three World Cups and two Olympic games, accumulating 132 caps and 58 goals for her home country since 2004. The 33-year-old has also shined for her NWSL club, the Chicago Red Stars, recording eight goals and eight assists to help the franchise to its first-ever championship game last season.
"My performance and condition are improving as I get older," Nagasato said. "I'm looking forward to taking on the challenge."
Hayabusa Eleven plays in the Kanagawa Prefecture League's second division. The star striker's decision to join the club — which ranks several levels below teams in Japan's premier soccer league, the J-League — may have been influenced by her older brother, Genki, who currently plays midfield for Hayabusa Eleven.
Nagasato won't suit up for Hayabusa Eleven until October, and since she's with the Japanese club on loan from the Red Stars until the 2021 NWSL preseason begins, she'll only have a few months to make her mark. Still, merely stepping on the pitch will constitute a landmark feat — something Nagasato doesn't take for granted.
"I thought I could show that women can also play in a men's team," she said. "I want to help create a community where there is no boundary regarding gender or race."
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