Bay FC bring the sizzle in inaugural home opener

Bay FC bring the sizzle in inaugural home opener

Courtesy of Bay FC

There’s a new buzz around the South Bay, and it’s growing fast. It has nothing to do with a new tech startup in Silicon Valley. It has everything to do with the newest professional sports team in the Bay Area taking the pitch on a weekly basis.

Bay FC, one of the two expansion teams to begin play this year in the National Women’s Soccer League (along with the Utah Royals FC), kicked off its inaugural season back on March 16th when they beat Angel City 1-0 on the road at BMO Stadium.

The team is the creation of the “Founding Four” that consists of former US Women’s National Team players with South Bay ties: Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne, and Danielle Slaton. Chastain, Wagner, and Slaton are San Jose natives, while Osborne played collegiately at Santa Clara University.

The NWSL granted the ownership led by Sixth Street Partners and the Founding Four a year ago back on April 4th, 2023. The actual dream of bringing a professional women’s soccer team to the Bay Area began back in 2020 when Angel City, the NWSL team in Los Angeles, was founded by some of the Founding Four’s teammates from their national team days. Two years later on June 21, 2022, the Founding Four announced their group “NWSL to the Bay” to campaign the league for an expansion team.

The San Jose market had two previous professional women’s soccer teams, the San Jose CyberRays (2001-03) of the WUSA and FC Gold Pride (2009-10) of the Women’s Professional Soccer league, where Osborne was the captain. Neither league had the fandom or corporate support to sustain themselves and eventually folded up shop.

The NWSL launched in 2013 with just eight teams. It has expanded to 14 teams in 11 years and has planned for two more expansion teams to come into the league in the next two years. With the success of the US National Women’s Team winning back-to-back Women’s World Cups in 2015 and 2019, the league has gained momentum not only from its national team stars playing in the league but also from the international players who have made a name for themselves during the World Cups as well as starring overseas in the European women’s leagues.

Bay FC brought back a familiar face to coach the team in Albertin Montoya. As the former head coach of FC Gold Pride, he led the 2010 squad that won the WPS championship. Montoya began his coaching career in 1999 with the California Storm after his playing career ended in 1998 while playing for the then San Jose Clash of MLS. Montoya is regarded as one of the best coaches not just in the Bay Area but in all of women’s soccer.

With the Bay Area being a big melting pot of cultures, Bay FC general manager Lucy Rushton and her staff put together a roster full of talented international flair that includes Venezuela’s Deyna Castellanos, Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala, Zambia’s Racheal Kudananji, Ghana’s Princess, Scotland’s Jen Beattie, and Canada’s Lysianne Proulx.

On the domestic side, they traded for Emily Menges, Alex Loera, and Dorian Bailey at the expansion draft. They added defender Savy King from North Carolina and midfielder Maya Doms out of Stanford in the first round of this year’s NWSL Entry Draft.

After playing their first two games on the road, where they started out the season 1-1, losing to the Washington Spirit 2-1 in the second match, the anticipation for their inaugural home opener against the Houston Dash was off the charts.

It was the moment the Founding Four had been waiting for the past four years when they got together to envision the South Bay’s first professional women’s soccer franchise since 2010.

“Honestly, I don’t know if it’s measurable,” said Chastain regarding how excited she was right before kickoff as the Founding Four spoke to the media during a pregame press conference. “It’s exponentially more exciting than I ever thought it would be. I think it’s bigger and better than we ever thought it could be. And that’s a tribute to every single person who put effort and energy into the project. But to every single fan that shows up tonight (3/30) and every game going forward.”

The fans not only showed up as they sold out the 18,000-seat Pay Pal Park venue, where Bay FC will play all their home matches, but were also lined up more than three hours before kickoff outside the gates, lines of people hundreds, if not thousands deep, waiting to get in to experience the new phenomenon as Bay FC.

“This was the dream. Lines of people before we even opened our gates, going down the streets and a sold-out crowd. The vibe in this building and it’s only going to crescendo as we get closer to game time and then our actual product will get out on the field. That is the beautiful football game that we hope our team will play tonight,” Wagner said.

Wagner continued that women’s sports, in general, have stormed up in popularity and that Bay FC is providing the new normal in fan entertainment.

“When we started (out) on this journey, it was literally to be able to provide this environment for these athletes. This is the new normal,” Wagner said.

The match itself was filled with excitement and plenty of drama, especially at the end of the match. Castellanos scored the first home goal for Bay FC in the 19th minute after her left-footed shot pierced off the left post into the back of the net, sending the hometown crowd into a frenzy.

The Dash’s Diana Ordonez scored two goals in the second half, including a controversial penalty kick in the 87th minute after her initial shot was saved by Proulx, but Ordonez cashed in on her own rebound to give the visitors a lead late in the match.

Not to be outdone, Kundananji, who subbed into the match for Oshoala, made a brilliant offensive display by dribbling down the right wing, deking out a defender back into the middle of the box before floating a perfect ball into the upper left corner of the goal for the equalizer in the third minute of stoppage time. The roar from the sold-out crowd was the loudest Pay Pal Park had heard since its opening in 2014.

However, it would not be a Cinderella ending for the home team as Havana Solaun kicked in the game-winning goal from 20 yards out to give the Dash the 3-2 win.

It didn’t matter what the score was at the end of the match, as the fans were into the match from the first minute to the final one, chanting, waving flags, cheering with excitement whenever Bay FC looked to counterattack when they gained possession.

Andrew Tryforos of Morgan Hill bought season tickets so he could take his 13-year-old daughter Alexia, who herself is an aspiring soccer player, to watch her heroes like Oshoala and Castellanos star on the pitch. He was in awe of the excitement the night generated for him and Alexia.

“The night meant everything to both of us. It was the beginning of a generation’s opportunity for her. The feeling I had watching her watch Bay FC was unimaginable,” Tryforos said.

When asked who her favorite player on Bay FC was, Alexia didn’t hesitate when she mentioned Kundananji. “She inspires me to have that much talent one day and become pro one day playing her position. And when I turn 18 years old, I wanna sign a professional contract like she did.”

Tryforos is glad there is a local team his daughter can look up to and be inspired to want to make playing soccer not just a hobby but having the opportunity to make a career of playing sports professionally. Something that couldn’t have been said just a generation ago.

“I think the best part of having Bay FC is that my daughter now has female athletes that she can look up to. My daughter Alexia plays competitive soccer and aspires to become professional. It’s refreshing to see how she lights up and gets excited to see those she wants to become. I couldn’t be happier or prouder to have Bay FC in our backyard to inspire young girls!”

Montoya echoed that sentiment after the game during his postgame presser.

“It felt like a win before the game, during the game because of the fans. I mean 18,000 plus! I hadn’t seen that in the Bay Area ever. The last time we had a team here and I was coaching…I was just talking to the owner (of the team) as they came to watch this game, and I think we had probably 2000, 3000 fans (attending). It’s just surreal. The energy, the excitement, all these young (soccer) players watching some of our stars. Our players are going to be pretty special. It’s going to be a fun team to watch and evolve. I think you’re going to see a lot of young (soccer) players be excited about this beautiful game and they’re going to be inspired like their heroes here,” Montoya said.

Even after the match was over, the enthusiasm of the fans continued to generate as the players walked over the player’s bridge back to the locker room, screaming and cheering for their local heroes they just witnessed for the past two hours was still not enough. Many fans waited outside the stadium for a chance at autographs and pictures with the players.

“We knew our fans were going to be the best in the league,” said Castellanos regarding the passionate fanbase. “They showed it today. They were right there with us even in the tough moments. We are very honored to play for them and try to make them happy.”

It was the inaugural home match was a foreshadow of what the rest of the season is going to be like at Triple P this season when Bay FC takes to the pitch, fans of women’s professional soccer are in for a treat when they experience the Bay Area’s latest sensation to the sports landscape.

Bay FC returns to the pitch on Sunday, April 14th at 5:00pm when they host the Seattle Reign at Pay Pal Park.

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