SAN DIEGO – Women’s professional soccer returns to San Diego next spring for the first time in nearly 20 years with one of the sport’s most notable figures at the helm.
This week, the National Women’s Soccer League announced two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup winning manager Jill Ellis will serve as president of a new expansion franchise in San Diego. The club, which has yet to be named and does not have a head coach or associated venue, is owned by investor and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle.
Shannon MacMillan, an Olympic gold medalist and former San Diego Spirit player, expects that Ellis will have “a great impact” on the franchise.
“Having the success that she’s had at the national team level, she’s a name out there,” MacMillan said, “and she’s got, like I said, such a great knowledge and understanding of the game but the pride and passion that she brings to the game is what’s going to be the difference maker.”
In a statement released by the league, Ellis called it “a proud and historic moment for soccer in San Diego, Southern California and the United States.”
“The NWSL continues to grow immensely and bringing women’s professional soccer back to San Diego, an area with a rich soccer history and passionate fan base, will have a deep and positive impact on this community,” Ellis said. “I’m incredibly honored to lead this club forward as we prepare for play in this league next year.”
She adds that the club expects to be a “significant team globally, led by influential women.”
The San Diego Spirit were launched in 2001 and competed until the eight-team Women’s United Soccer Association folded in 2003 after three full seasons of play.
MacMillan hopes this new team lasts a lot longer.
“When the news broke this week of NWSL coming back, I sent a text (to my thread of former players) of like, ‘It’s time for a reunion,'” she said. “How fun would it be to have the team and all the office staff to the home opener for the NWSL San Diego team?”
MacMillan said the NWSL is a proven entity that has been around for years. She says there’s no better place for them to come than San Diego.
Above all else, MacMillan she is hopeful the team will serve as another example of strong females on a big stage, and not just for the younger generation of girls but for her teen son, too.
“It’s going to be about having these tangible role models close,” she said. “They can see them training, they can see them live playing against all the players that are going to come in, so it’s a great opportunity to inspire that next generation, for sure.”