A new women's soccer team is headed to Los Angeles thanks to a group spearheaded by actress Natalie Portman

By Jason Duaine Hahn
July 21, 2020 08:46 AM
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A new soccer team is headed to the City of Angels, and Natalie Portman is focused on making it like no other in town.

On Tuesday, the National Women's Soccer League awarded a group led by the 39-year-old actress the rights to form a franchise in Los Angeles, home to the second-largest sports market in the country. While the team — set reveal its name later this year, but is currently referred to as WFC LA/Angel City — is still in the early stages of development, there's already an impressive list of names attached.

Along with Portman, the group of majority women founders includes venture capitalist ​Kara Nortman, OUYA founder ​Julie Uhrman, lead investor and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and actresses Uzo Aduba, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, ​Eva Longoria ​and Lilly Singh​. Among others, a collection of more than a dozen former women's soccer players have also invested, including Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Lauren Cheney Holiday.

Portman was initially inspired to take a closer look at the NWSL after she was introduced to players by Becca Roux, the executive director for the USWNT Players Association.

"We started going to games, and we quickly became really passionate fans of the sport," the Oscar-winner tells PEOPLE. "But we slowly started seeing that it wasn't getting the celebration it deserved."

Citing a study that found women's sports only receive four percent of sports media coverage, Portman says she believed there was an opportunity to transform how women's soccer is perceived in America — and she knew she wanted to play a part.

Natalie Portman at a USWNT game in 2019
Natalie Portman/Instagram

"We just started thinking about, what if there was a team in L.A.? We're the center of entertainment in this country for media," Portman recalls. "What can we do to change the way people are paying attention to this sport? Obviously, the players themselves have been incredible and have brought so much attention, but everything hasn't always followed their success and their popularity."

"We started building this group, and then Alexis came on as our lead investor," the Black Swan actress says of Ohanian, new dad and husband to tennis star Serena Williams. "Then we started gathering a group of incredible people, majority women, to be in our ownership group. Now we're going, and it's really, really exciting."

Ahead of its spring 2022 debut, the franchise has partnered with the LA84 Foundation, a nonprofit created following the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The institution has supported sports programs for girls and underserved people around the city — including minority communities, the physically challenged and developmentally disabled — through its Play Equity Fund.

While Portman never imagined she'd one day be at the helm of a professional sports team, she's embraced the role and how her team can inspire the next generation of female athletes.

"I see what an important role sports have in children, in terms of what they spend their time doing and their friendships," she says.

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That's one of the reasons why Portman and the team's founders feel building a new franchise is so important — to inspire Los Angeles area youth with a team of female soccer heroes to call their own, and celebrate them they way they deserve to be.

"[We want to] expand those sports heroes — and those sports modeling behaviors — to have women in those positions, too," Portman says. "To celebrate women at the same level as the way we celebrate male athletes is culture-shifting."