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How Angel City, San Diego, took different paths to NWSL success in SoCal

Angel City built a brand while the Wave focused on its roster. Immediately, the 2022 NWSL expansion teams found success. The fan experiences in LA and San Diego are different but equally unique and important.

Photo: Jeff Kassouf

LOS ANGELES and SAN DIEGO — A hippo and two sharks sit in the front row of the supporters’ section at SnapDragon Stadium in San Diego’s Mission Valley, seven miles northeast of downtown. Bubbles blow from a machine into the crisp blue sky on March 25 as the home team, Wave FC, scores three goals and wins on opening night of the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season.

“Since we started here, we wanted fun stuff,” Dai Tran, the person inside the hippo costume, tells The Equalizer before the game. Supporters are gathered around a tent in a parking lot a few hundred feet from a fan festival with a live DJ, food trucks, and a VIP area.

“I was one of the people that came up with the bubbles. For a while, we didn’t have smoke. When people score goals, [teams] usually have smoke, so we were like, ‘OK, what’s a water thing we could do?’ And we were like, ‘Oh, bubbles are fun!’”

A day later and 120 miles up the road, Angel City FC kicks off its season — and there is plenty of smoke. A similar fan gathering takes place ahead of the match at BMO Stadium downtown. The DJ turns up the music as a dance crew takes the stage. As Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” transitions to Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” the wind picks up, and thick, pink-and-black smoke billows from the flares in supporters’ hands.

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