Making A Difference In Soccer
There are very few professional sports teams owned by women. Fueled by the challenge of being a woman in a male-dominated industry, Bronwyn Capriotti defies the odds and successfully launches the California United Strikers — California’s new professional soccer team playing in Orange County.
I had the pleasure of coffee with Capriotti before the season launched. This is the special story of one woman determined to turn a dream into a reality.
Earlier this year, the MLS welcomed St. Louis, its first female majority-owned team in the league. Major League Baseball has no female owners. The NFL has a few women. Martha Firestone Ford of the Detroit Lions is a great example, as is Jeanie Marie Buss of the LA Lakers of the NBA but the numbers, by comparison, are nearly non-existent.
Now, Bronwyn Capriotti of the California United Strikers joins the shortlist of women who own pro teams — and she is making a difference in the sport.
Defying the odds, Capriotti successfully launched the California United Strikers — California’s new professional soccer team playing in Orange County. The Championship Stadium in OC Great Park is their home field.
“We needed a new pathway in soccer. I want young men to see their dream as possible,” said Capriotti.
In America, professional soccer clubs have traditionally offered few young hopefuls the chance to realize their dreams of becoming a professional player — in fact, less than 1% of all youth players ever sign a contract and those who do frequently sit on the bench more than play the game they love with their teams.
The lack of playing time, or in other words, minutes on the field provided to homegrown players is a critical problem in America. Even if the Philadephia Union, Real Salt Lake, Sporting KC or FC Dallas provide minutes to new homegrown players, the majority of other MLS teams have failed miserably.
How to begin solving this problem?
Inspired by the lack of opportunity in America, Capriotti was determined to impact the American soccer paradigm.
Living in Southern California, one of the nation’s thriving capitals of soccer where this sport is played by more kids than any other — and where there are only two MLS and two USL teams — Capriotti inherently knew the potential for a new professional soccer club.
California United Strikers roster includes 16 players who became professionals when signing their contracts with the club.
What inspired Capriotti to own a pro soccer team?
“Bronwyn Capriotti’s unwavering financial support and determination have made California United Strikers able to make an impact on the American soccer pyramid.”Michael Collins, California United Strikers President and GM — former U.S. Soccer National Team Player
“Watching talent not be recognized, and knowing there were not enough opportunities for players to reach the next level … it needed to change,” said Capriotti.
This inspired a paradigm shift in American soccer in the Southern California landscape.
While it may have been her son, Duncan Capriotti, who first shared his passion for the beautiful game, it was the lack of opportunities for young talent to play professionally that inspired the effort.
The state of American soccer ignited Capriotti’s unswayable commitment to launching a pro club.
Launching a professional team in American soccer was a process devoid of a roadmap.
Undaunted by the collapse of the NASL — which they had joined to kick off their pro club or the infusion of capital Capriotti had provided to the now defunct pro league to try to keep them afloat, she was resolute and courageous in the face of endless disappointments and delays.
More frustrated than discouraged, Capriotti explored the USL and the possibility of NPSL Pro before joining NISA after it was sanctioned by U.S. Soccer as a professional league.
And the team also evolved over time, emerging from the UPSL LA Wolves in 2016, several of the players went off with Eric Wynalda to play in the USL Championship on the Las Vegas Lights. A core group of players stayed to realize living the dream with Capriotti … which explains why California United Strikers’ hashtag is #HomeOfTheDream.
Of the original squad, Kifi Cabrera, Gonzolo Saguera, Xavier Fuerte, Duncan Capriotti, Miguel Sanchez, and Andy Contreras have earned their pro contracts with California United Strikers.
Michael Collins is the President and GM — and the team is coached by Don Ebert, who also is the technical director of the Irvine Strikers.
With a team of seasoned experts and the leadership of Collins and Ebert, United has exceeded benchmarks, raising the standards of young professional teams. In fact, players receive salaries on par with many USL Championship clubs.
Determined to run the organization professionally, Capriotti herself has spent years on the sideline of soccer games and acknowledges it is always apparent when a team is well run.
Watching the team’s inaugural professional match against 1904 FC in San Diego, Capriotti reflected back on the four years of effort. “I’ve always felt a responsibility to these young men, and those times when it looked like I would not be able to fulfill that responsibility were excruciating to me.”
“You don’t get many moments in life when it all comes together the way you had imagined.”
Capriotti has seen the drive to become a player at a pro club. Sometimes mystified by her son’s drive, she never pushed him to play soccer.
And, when asked what does she admire most in her son? “I love his fearlessness and clarity,” said Capriotti. “It’s hard to hold onto hope through all the obstacles life throws in your path. That kid never stops working and never gives up.”
Capriotti can still remember when her son was a kid kicking around the soccer ball. Duncan, just like Landon Donovan, first played at AYSO and while it was years ago, Capriotti can still remember wishing those games would end as a tie — now, she clearly wants the team to win.
Elated with the final score of the home opener, Capriotti was proud of the 3-0 shutout against L.A Force in front of a packed stadium.
California United Strikers home opener was immensely successful.
Watching Capriotti watch her team play at the home opener, you see the infusion of a determined business person who owns a pro team mingled with flashes of a mom watching her son and his friends do what they love.
Establishing a successful sports organization in the world of soccer takes grit and time but the trajectory of the club’s launch was clear at the second home game — played on a Wednesday night. With a great passing game played on the field, the match attracted over 1,000 soccer fans.
Capriotti’s eyes remain on the successful management of the pro club. Is the stadium sold out and are fans engaged? What is the viability of the new league?
“I want it to be affordable for a family to go to a professional soccer game and have a blast,” said Capriotti. “England has small stadiums in each town and games are attended by the community. It was a great experience. We want to give that experience to soccer fans and families in Southern California.”
“There is real power in the game. Soccer unifies — Especially with Southern California’s different cultures, soccer is a game we can all agree on — we love soccer. For a moment, we can all watch the game together and we can share our passion — and not go broke, and come back next week.”
What were Capriotti’s final thoughts as the interview came to a close? “I hope soccer moms and dads bring their kids to a game and that they can see there is a real pathway to realizing their dreams of becoming a pro.”
Not everyone can follow their dream, but if you can, and you realize how lucky you are, then everyone around you is also fortunate.