LOS ANGELES — America Ferrera has decided to confront her fears.
“I had raging FOMO, which I’m not prone to,” the Emmy-winning actor said, using an acronym for the fear of missing out. “It killed me.”
The first step in conquering a fear is identifying it, and Ferrera has done that. What she missed out on, she said, was Angel City’s inaugural season in the NWSL — which wouldn’t have been so bad, except she is a founding member of the ownership group.
And an owner being absent for 10 of her team’s first 11 home games is a little like a parent missing a son’s first steps or skipping a daughter’s first dance recital. Those are moments you can’t get back.
“That is a very, very sad and sore subject,” she said. “I was working in London and had to watch all of the fun from afar.”
She’s promised to be there in person Sunday when Angel City kicks off its second season, facing Gotham FC at BMO Stadium. But the soccer is only part of the draw. What got Ferrera to sign on with the team before it had a player, a coach or a stadium was the fact it had a purpose, one that was more about impacting the community than it was about winning games.
“That’s exactly the reason I am involved at all,” said Ferrera, a longtime advocate for political and social justice causes. “I had zero intention to be a founding investor in a sports team. Of all the things on my resume, that was not one thing that I felt like I [needed]. For me, it’s the heart and the mission and the intention and the power behind the purpose of Angel City, which has been unabashedly about creating more access and opportunity and quality for female athletes.”
Born to Honduran parents in Los Angeles, Ferrera, 38, graduated from El Camino High in Woodland Hills and studied at USC on a presidential scholarship, majoring in theater and international relations. Those ties to Southern California make her ownership stake in the club even more meaningful.
“Everything from delivering meals to LAUSD kids and their families to donating sports bras to young women so they have the equipment they need to play in sports, it’s truly so profound and fulfilling for me to get to be a founding investor of this organization,” she said.
The club has pledged to donate 10% of its sponsorship earnings to programs dedicated to equity, education and essentials such as food security, redirecting more than $4.5 million into the community so far. Not coincidentally, that has helped attract a number of Hollywood A-listers and activists such as Uzo Aduba, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Garner and Eva Longoria to the team’s investment group, which numbers more than 100.
“It’s always been there. But now more and more people who are thought leaders in their own right, in their own community are stepping up and putting money behind it,” Andrew Dolich, a former team executive in multiple leagues who now runs a sports consultancy in Los Altos, Calif., said of the growing desire of club owners to use their sports to give back. “You know, it’s great to just say something. But it’s much more important to go ‘here’s the entity that we have.’ And these teams, they also become leaders in local philanthropy, education.”
Angel City’s fans are certainly supporting the mission. During its first season, the team led the NWSL in attendance, averaging 19,105 fans per game and selling out four times. But injuries that limited standout defender Sarah Gorden and World Cup champions Christen Press and Sydney Leroux to 10 starts combined hobbled the team, which finished in the bottom half of the 12-team table, missing the playoffs by five points.
Gorden has recovered from her ACL injury and is expected to start Sunday, while there is no timetable for the return of Leroux (ankle) or Press (ACL). Their absences guarantee playing time for teenage sensation Alyssa Thompson, a senior at the Harvard Westlake School with sprinter’s speed and a knack for scoring goals.
Keeping everyone healthy this season will be key to the team’s success. A lack of depth wore Angel City down last year, with the team conceding twice as many goals as it scored in the second half of games while losing four of its last five to finish eighth. Thompson is the biggest offseason acquisition, although coach Freya Coombe said the return of Gorden will be like adding another player.
Meanwhile, a capable midfield of fan favorite Jun Endo, Dani Weatherholt and Savannah McCaskill, last season’s leading scorer with seven goals, returns intact; the defense will be anchored by Gorden, captain Ali Riley and center back Megan Reid, who didn’t miss a minute last season.
DiDi Haracic, who was third in the league in saves in her first season as a starter, is back in goal.
“There has been some turnover and some change. But what’s great is going into a second season just having a foundation and a core,” Coombe continued. “We can build upon our core principles.
“Last year we were having to establish (principles) and this year they’re already established and now it’s about building and perfecting them.”
Five Angel City players to watch this season
— Alyssa Thompson: Angel City paid a heavy price, surrendering two top draft picks and $450,000 to move up in January’s NWSL draft and select Thompson, an 18-year-old senior at Harvard Westlake. That may prove to be a bargain. Thompson’s sprinter’s speed, dribbling ability and soccer IQ has led general manager Angela Hucles Mangano to dub her a “generational talent.”
— Christen Press/Sydney Leroux: Both players, teammates on the World Cup-winning national team in 2015, will begin the year on the sidelines while rehabbing injuries that cut short their 2022 seasons. Press, 34, has reportedly undergone three surgeries on her right knee and isn’t expected back anytime soon. Leroux, 32, who injured an ankle shortly after being acquired from Orlando as Press’ replacement, is closer to returning though not date has been set. Angel City averaged just a goal a game last season so getting both women healthy will provide a boost both to the team’s attack and its depth.
— DiDi Haracic: The Bosnian international missed just one regular-season start last season, her first as a starter, and was rewarded with a contract extension that could keep her in L.A. through the 2025 season. She was also named the team’s most valuable player and the supporters’ player of the year.
— Savannah McCaskill: With Press then Leroux sidelined by injury, McCaskill became the focus of the offense, scoring a team-best and career-high seven goals and assisting on two others.
— Jun Endo: The colorfully coiffed Endo’s relentless work rate and unselfishness made her a fan favorite last season, when she started all 22 NWSL games.