Scu Soccer Featurepic

A Team of Their Own

How four Bronco champions channeled their penchant for winning amid changing national perception of women’s sports to create the latest NWSL team.


There must have been something in the pressurized air on the flight back from the Broncos’ NCAA women’s soccer championship win in May 2021.

The day before, the No. 11 Santa Clara University team had clinched the national title in a thrilling overtime shootout against top-seeded Florida State. It was a fairytale victory after a season full of hurdles: pandemic delays, wildfires, precious little practice.

In the crowded stands for that final match were four former SCU champions—Brandi Chastain ’91, Danielle Slaton ’02, Aly Wagner ’02, and Leslie Osborne ’05—cheering their faces off.

This group snagged seats on the Broncos’ flight to the Bay Area. On board, they could practically smell victory. Surrounded by accomplishment and unbridled female joy, they got contact high from the winner’s high. You get the point.

So they decided to do something a little crazy. They would start a professional women’s team of their own.

This spring, that dream became a reality. Their plan for an expansion team was officially selected by the National Women’s Soccer League out of 82 bids from cities across the country. Bay Football Club is the NWSL’s 14th team, with a record-setting investment of $125 million. It starts play in the 2024 season.

While the spark for Bay FC fully ignited on that plane ride, its foundation was laid long ago. Back when Chastain, Slaton, Wagner, and Osborne were little girls, swimming in their children’s rec league jerseys, barely bigger than the black and white ball they attempted to dribble. Because, like so many little girls who play sports, they were told to temper their expectations of what’s possible.

That sentiment might seem trite today. But think of Brandi Chastain, she of the six-pack abs and black sports bra, pumping her arms in triumph, immortalized on Wheaties boxes and magazine covers in one of the most famous sports photos of all time. That person was told she might want to rethink trying out for her middle school soccer team that was co-ed in name only. “The coach said, ‘This isn’t really for you,’” Chastain recalls. It wasn’t until another player—a boy—stepped up, “and said, ‘Coach, I think you need to watch these girls play,’” that she got on the field.

What might’ve become of her had she accepted that coach’s words, had she believed that she wasn’t meant to be one of the greatest athletes of her generation? Or Wagner or Osborne had they gone to University of North Carolina or Notre Dame, respectively, to win those schools’ umpteenth national championships instead of SCU’s first in 2001, because they know where real glory lies? Or Slaton had athletic scholarships not been opened up to women soccer players at SCU just before she arrived? What would’ve happened to those girls had they acquiesced, had they been content to simply play and not admit that what they really wanted was to win?

All four came to Santa Clara knowing there weren’t many options for women to play soccer after college. Maybe they could move abroad and play pro in Europe. Maybe they’d be one of the lucky few selected for the U.S. National Team. Maybe they could play for barely any money in either of the two previous, short-lived iterations of a women’s professional league in America. All of them found a way to continue playing after graduation, but they forged those paths for the most part on their own.

But things are changing, albeit slowly, as progress always comes in fits and starts. There’s been a national wave of changing sentiment about who gets to be a celebrated—and properly compensated—professional athlete. The NWSL is riding on that and the successes of women like the champion Broncos and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. And now these four women are building something bigger for the girls who come next, together.


Aly Wagner says her initial reaction to founding a professional women’s team wasn’t so rah-rah. She was apprehensive, in part, because she could see the uphill battle the U.S. league faced—and still faces—in the global game.

But the more the women talked, Wagner realized that they could play a real role in shaping the future of women’s professional soccer, that they could be architects from the ground up. “What I’ve always been attracted to is doing something differently, and rewriting conceptions about the norm, rewriting what we accept,” she says. “There were just so many things that I was excited to potentially drive change around.”

In interviews, the founders are tight-lipped about the exact steps they took to craft a successful bid. But it’s clear that they put in a hell of a lot of work. As athletes, they are used to constant training. As teammates, they are used to playing to their strengths.

Just look at their years of shared experiences, Chastain says. “All the blood, sweat and tears and crying and like the highest highs, the lowest lows, the biggest fights, the biggest celebrations, all of that builds a really deep reservoir of relationship. I think that’s important when you’re building something.”

“And we’re competitive,” Danielle Slaton chimes in.

If there was a competition for doing the most to win a team, by the way, Slaton would likely come in first place. “The application was due on November 4th [2022]. And I will always remember that day because that is also the day my son was born,” she says. After a four-way, late-night phone call to hash out final details before pressing send on their team proposal, “I’m laying in bed, finally falling asleep, and at 3:30 in the morning my water breaks and I am like, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’”

Being based in Silicon Valley certainly didn’t hurt. Leslie Osborne says early on they were put in touch with a venture capitalist who discussed the connections and investments they’d need to make their application shine. “We know it hadn’t worked in the past,” she says of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), which ran from 2001 to 2003, and Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), from 2009 to 2012. “But with the right resources we knew it would be possible and it would thrive here.”

Go Forth From Here
SCU Alumni Q&A


“The seeds of their efforts were sewn here at Santa Clara, where they played and graduated, albeit in different years. Santa Clara was an inflection point for each of them—a time when education, soccer, coaching, and community (not necessarily in that order) came together to put them on a path forward. A path that would eventually lead to this moment and to the birth of Bay FC.”

Read more from the Core Four and SCU Alumni.

The right resources meant, mainly, investors who were willing to bet on the cliché that the third time’s the charm.

Wagner was the one to bring Sixth Street to the table as the majority investor. Headquartered in San Francisco, the global investment firm has a seriously stacked portfolio with major investments in tech behemoths like Airbnb and Spotify, and plenty of athletic institutions, including the San Antonio Spurs, as well as FC Barcelona and Real Madrid—two of the most valuable sports teams in the world. Bay FC is its first foray into women’s professional sports. Other big-name investors include four-time NBA champion Andre Iguodala, former San Francisco Giants executive vice president Staci Slaughter, and former Meta executive Sheryl Sandberg.

From infancy, women are taught to be coy rather than eager. To be humble when they’re victorious rather than exuberant. To not let on about just how long it takes to appear effortlessly perfect. Be mysterious, we’re told, make them come to you. Well, screw that.

The team’s $125 million price tag covers the $53 million expansion fee for the NWSL—a 960 percent increase from the $5 million last paid for an expansion team in Kansas City in 2021—while the rest goes toward a new training facility, branding and marketing, and operations.

“Let’s be clear, Sixth Street is not in this for charity,” Slaton says when asked why their pitch attracted such a big swing of support. “It’s folks who want to be part of something and support the vision, yes, but they also understand that it’s a really good financial decision and [women’s pro soccer] is under-resourced, or an undervalued asset … and they want to get in on it.”

Besides the massive investment, though, there’s a compelling argument to be made that one of the biggest reasons they were successful is because they’re players themselves. Between the four of them, they share several Olympic medals and FIFA World Cup wins, years of playing professionally in the U.S. and abroad, and loads of coaching experience. They know what it’s like to both play for and lead a winning team.

Jeff Kassouf, founder of The Equalizer, one of the few news sites exclusively covering women’s soccer in North America, says the name recognition of the group in the world of soccer was likely part of their team’s appeal to the NWSL. “Angel City [FC in Los Angeles] has ex-players who are involved as investors, but they weren’t there at ground zero [like they are in the Bay].”

In the Bay Area, Kassouf says, the founders have a top media market, they have investors with deep pockets around every corner, and they have their pick of places to play. In July, Bay FC officially confirmed longstanding rumors that it would share PayPal Stadium in San Jose with Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes. You have to check all those boxes to be successful, Kassouf says: “Ownership plus investment plus infrastructure.” And the so-called Core Four have all three.

The most striking thing Kassouf says, though, is that until Bay FC, he hadn’t seen anyone in women’s pro soccer be so public about their intentions. “They were the only people I can recall that came out and said ‘We want a team. Here’s what we’re doing to get one.’”

From infancy, women are taught to be coy rather than eager. To be humble when they’re victorious rather than exuberant. To not let on about just how long it takes to appear effortlessly perfect. Be mysterious, we’re told, make them come to you.

Well, screw that. As Slaton says of turning in their bid, “We just wanted to win.”


Back when Chastain was playing for the San Jose Cyber- Rays of the WUSA and, later, for the Bay Area FC Gold Pride of the WPS, both leagues struggled mightily. There were minimal sponsors and poor media coverage. WUSA games, for example, were aired on stations like the now-defunct CNN/Sports Illustrated network and ESPN2. Even poker, often an all-male affair, got better airtime.

Games were played in off-beat locations, and as a result, attendance wasn’t great. The games were gatekept so tightly that potential fans just weren’t seeing them. “And we all understand that exposure is necessary for success,” Chastain says. “The landscape wasn’t tilted in favor of women participating.”

Scu Soccer Spot A Final

She thinks we’re ready now. Go to a NWSL game today, and you’re in for an experience. There are legitimate food and drink options, loud music, the wave regularly coursing through stands.

Angel City FC—the L.A. team pop culture likes to credit for really ramping up the popularity of women’s soccer thanks to a bunch of famous actresses investing and an HBO documentary on its making—sold 15,000 season tickets by the time it played its first game in 2022. The first-ever home game of San Diego Wave FC in September 2022 hosted a sellout crowd of 32,000 fans that marveled at the skydivers landing directly on the field of the brand-new, $310 million Snapdragon Stadium before kickoff.

Ceyda Mumcu, associate professor of sports management at University of New Haven, says there are a handful of societal changes that have occurred that set the stage for NWSL success, including the #MeToo movement. “It’s an extension of the women’s movement. Women have had enough, they’re standing up for their rights,” Mumcu says. “And women’s soccer in particular, they’ve carried the fight for equal pay for a very long time. They’re not hesitant to be the poster child for that, we’ve seen that in one court case after another.”

Since 2016, members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team have pursued various legal actions against the U.S. Soccer Federation for unequal treatment and compensation. The team was paid far less than the U.S. men’s team, despite winning four World Cups to the men’s zero. In February 2022, U.S. Soccer and the USWNST reached a settlement of millions of dollars in back pay and a pledge to equalize pay for the men’s and women’s national teams. Winning this long fight “gives current players the courage, reason, strength to fight for what’s right,” says Mumcu.

Women athletes, on the whole, have long been at the forefront of pushing for societal change and challenging gender norms, Mumcu says. And as there’s a shift in fandom “from team to individual athlete,” fans are looking to follow players who embody values they personally admire.

As a Nike ad aired just after the U.S. team won its fourth Women’s World Cup in 2019 put it: “This team wins. Everyone wins.” Who doesn’t want a piece of that?

Look at Megan Rapinoe—one of Time magazine’s most influential people, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, LGBTQ+ and equal opportunity activist, hair dye pioneer, and a professional soccer player who even non-soccer fans know.

A fan-favorite athlete generates huge endorsement deals and drives notoriety for leagues and the sport they play. It’s no wonder that investors are taking notice.

“Not everyone but a lot of people have said, ‘Women’s sports don’t make money so why should I invest?’ But that’s backward thinking. You need to invest upfront and see how that grows returns.”

Venture capitalist Jasmine Robinson certainly has. With Kara Nortman, one of the founders of Angel City FC, Robinson cofounded the Monarch Collective, an investment firm that launched in March 2023 with $100 million to focus on women’s professional sports. “We’ve already seen the growth of the men’s side, what works well and what doesn’t,” Robinson says. “We’re seeing those same signals [in women’s sports] and it gave us the conviction that now we’re at an inflection point.”

Plus, smart investors are seizing on an opportunity to get a big bang for their buck. Shares in women’s teams are still selling at a discount compared with male counterparts. “Not everyone but a lot of people have said, ‘Women’s sports don’t make money so why should I invest?’ But that’s backward thinking. You need to invest upfront and see how that grows returns,” Robinson says.

It takes gumption to be among the first to support a thing; and conviction if that thing doesn’t immediately find success. Establishing Bay FC cost a record amount, and it’ll likely take a beat before the team sees profit. But Sixth Street, et. al., are certainly not going to be alone in shelling out for a women’s team.

Just look at Boston—at the same time the NWSL selected the bid for Bay FC, a Boston expansion team was also approved with play slated to start in 2026. In addition to paying the same steep franchise fee, the all-female Boston Unity Soccer Partners ownership group is proposing a $30 million renovation of the historic White Stadium.

Not only would the project give the women’s team a home, the Boston Herald reported it would also greatly improve playing conditions for athletes at Boston Public Schools who use the long-neglected stadium for competition.

Scu Soccer Spot B Final


As Leslie Osborne was preparing to graduate from Santa Clara, the WUSA officially suspended operations. A bit of panic set in for the self-described “type-A personality,” whose carefully laid plans were demolished. “All of a sudden, [I thought] wait, I’m going to have to get a ‘real job’ or I’m going to Europe to try to play and make no money.”

Fortunately, Osborne says, she was among the tiny percentage of college students recruited to play for the U.S. Women’s National Team. “But I remember vividly thinking I was so lucky that I had a place to continue to play,” she says, “because so many other seniors who thought they’d have an opportunity [to play more], no longer had one.”

The NWSL and teams like Bay FC are changing that for today’s players. Midfielder Annie Karich ’26 has a few years left at SCU, but if her stats are any indication, she’s plotting a path toward going pro. During her first season, she was named the West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year for women’s soccer and called up to the U.S. Women’s Youth National Team, an important development partner for the National Women’s Soccer League.

Karich says she’s impressed with how far pro soccer has come for women. Growing up in the competitive soccer circuit, she knew of girls who went pro and struggled to afford basic housing, or had to work side hustles. “It wasn’t a good lifestyle, it wasn’t a job. They played because they love the game, now people can make it a lifestyle,” she says.

It feels like people care about them—girls who play sports—Karich says. Finally. And having a pro team in Santa Clara’s backyard only validates that feeling. “It will be good for the young players coming up to have that access,” she says. Also, “having a team from your hometown, it’s cool, it gives you a goal, a dream to one day play in front of your family and friends.”

It’s a sentiment nearly identical to one uttered by another Bronco soccer star, Jordan Angeli ’07, who’s working to establish a pro team in her hometown of Denver. Despite being a stronghold for men’s sports, Colorado doesn’t have a presence in the largest women’s sports leagues in the U.S., the WNBA or the NWSL. “When I was a player, I never got to play in front of my home squad,” Angeli told The Athletic. “I never got to have my extended family, my friends from high school, everyone that knows me and helped me get to where I got to come and watch me play on a professional level. I want others to be able to experience that.” Angeli is part of a coalition, For Denver FC, working to drum up investors and submit a bid this fall.

This kind of exposure—real, tangible opportunity literally within kicking distance—is so necessary to breaking the glass ceilings of sports. Ask assistant professor of management Hooria Jazaieri M.A. ’10, who played and watched a lot of sports growing up. “In fact, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a sportscaster, but in first grade I remember one of the boys in my class said that girls couldn’t be sportscasters,” she says. “Luckily that’s not true today. But it highlights the importance of having representation at all levels of sports so that children (regardless of gender) know that their gender does not define what they can do with their lives.”

Of course, just increasing the number of teams in the U.S. isn’t a silver bullet. Remember, we’re in America, where pro soccer has historically struggled to gain fans, sponsors, and TV time compared with, say, football and basketball, Jazaieri says. “In terms of NWSL, it is important that the league, their sponsors, networks, etc., are patient and play the long game rather than the short game.”

Being confident in yourself and your abilities is a necessary yet risky strategy for women who are actively playing the game: Too much confidence, you’re conceited; too little, you’re not taken seriously.

Luckily for the women behind Bay FC, they’re used to playing the long game. They’re used to fighting—even among themselves—for what they want.

“That’s what you do in sports,” says Slaton. “Like how many times did we fight [among ourselves] during scrimmage? … You learn how to be competitive, you learn how to fight on the field, but you do it in a respectful way that doesn’t damage the relationship.”

It’s what women have been doing on the field—and in boardrooms and courtrooms and so many other places of power—for so, so long. Gender equality itself is one big long game. And being confident in yourself and your abilities is a necessary yet risky strategy for women who are actively playing: Too much confidence, you’re conceited; too little, you’re not taken seriously.

It’s a tightrope the Core Four are very used to walking. Asked why they stuck around to build Bay FC after that initial buzz from SCU’s 2021 championship win wore off and years, literal years, of fundraising, networking, and dear-god-the-paperwork unspooled before them, they say they didn’t see it as a choice.

“Soccer has always been something I knew I’d be involved in. It kind of chose me,” says Chastain.

Wagner says she’s most excited about the potential to help future players beyond just developing their athletic capabilities: “We’ll also be thinking about how they can utilize the skills they learn on the field as they transition into the real world. We want our players to maximize their potential as humans.”

Slaton says, “Personally, it’s a really big responsibility to be a positive face for women of color. And if we had an opportunity to do something, then I needed to step up. It matters that my face is a part of it.”

Osborne talks about her three daughters. “There’s no bigger ‘why’ for me in my life than to be a business owner and have them grow up in an environment where they are surrounded by role models. That’s the biggest gift I can give my girls.”

All four are focused on the ones who come next.

“We’re in the Bay Area, in Silicon Valley—people start up stuff here all the time,” Slaton says. “But the fact that there could be a women’s soccer team here in a hundred years? That blows my mind.”

And if she and her partners get their way (and they usually do), they’re building something that will last.

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