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Angel City signs 16-year-old Casey Phair: Who she is and why it’s a big deal

The 16-year-old U.S.-based South Korea international is going pro in the NWSL

Casey Phair looks on in Angel City gear after signing with team
(Photo courtesy of Angel City FC)

Angel City FC has signed 16-year-old South Korea international Casey Phair to a three-year contract. Last July, Phair became the youngest player to ever appear in a Women’s World Cup match when she took the field in the final minutes of South Korea’s opening match of the tournament.

Phair went on trial with NJ/NY Gotham FC, the Kansas City Current and Angel City FC after the World Cup. Despite living in New Jersey — close to Gotham’s home grounds and training facility — Phair felt the most comfortable in the Angel City training environment.

“One of the biggest things I liked about LA was that it was similar to Korea, where I felt very comfortable in the environment and just meeting the staff and all the coaches and the other players,” Phair told (this author for) ESPN. “They were just so welcoming. They gave off the vibe that they wanted me there and that they wanted to help me. I thought Angel City had the best plan for me.”


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Who is Casey Phair?

Phair burst onto the scene last year when she was called up to South Korea’s senior team for the World Cup. Her first cap came in that opening match against Colombia in Sydney on July 25, 2023.

She made history because of how young she was and because she was the first mixed-race player to play in a World Cup game for South Korea at either the men’s or women’s senior level. Phair was born to an American father and Korean mother in South Korea in 2007. Her family moved to the United States a few weeks later, first living in New Hampshire and most recently in New Jersey.

Phair was in one camp with the United States U-17 national team before joining South Korea’s youth squads.

“It just felt right to me,” she said of playing for South Korea.

Phair grew up writing in Korean before even entering American grade school, and she has long spoken in Korean with her mom at home.

Phair began her youth career as a centerback in New Hampshire but eventually transitioned to forward, where she excelled for New Jersey powerhouse club Players Development Academy (PDA). She says she “idolizes” U.S. forward Mallory Swanson, and she likes to watch clips of fellow forwards Erling Haaland and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to refine her game.


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What does her signing mean for Angel City, NWSL?

First, Phair said she takes comfort in not being the only teenager. Alyssa Thompson, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League Draft, and her sister, Gisele, are also members of Angel City’s full roster. They are 19 and 18, respectively. Angel City FC general manager Angela Hucles Mangano said that youth movement was done intentionally, to not have only one player alone among veterans.

Phair has been brought in as a No. 9, but that could change. The key to her development, Hucles Mangano said, is balance. There’s a give and take of what is expected of her now, and there will be an understanding that she is still developing.

“I think it is definitely about how we can push and apply pressure so that there’s an understanding of what it does take to be in this environment at this level to perform, but also understanding that she might have a little bit more leeway in some respects because she isn’t there yet,” Hucles Mangano said. “So I think it is that kind of nuanced balance of a push yet being forgiving.”

Phair is Angel City’s only current player who falls under the U-18 entry mechanism, since Gisele Thompson has already turned 18. Phair is friends with Claire Hutton, a fellow teenager from New York who recently signed with the Kansas City Current.

The NWSL introduced the U-18 mechanism last year so that teams could start signing younger players outside of the draft. The number of U-18 players allowed on the full roster doubled to four per team in 2024. It is another sign of the NWSL’s increasing attempt to align with global norms in which talented young players can sign with professional teams from young ages to continue their development.

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