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Pro soccer team makes history, offers women equal opportunities

More than 20 women took to the field Saturday for Bay Cities FC's first official tryouts.

For as long as she can remember, Ashley Ramos, 23, has played soccer with the boys. 

Growing up in the backyard of the San Jose Earthquakes, Northern California’s only professional soccer team, Ramos saw a pathway for aspiring male soccer players. But the same didn’t exist for women. So when an Instagram post for “the Bay Area’s newest Women’s soccer team” caught her eye earlier this year, she decided to sign up.

“I played college ball. So I think just playing in a higher level—I always had that mentality,” she said. “And I was like, ‘I guess I'll just go ahead and try it out.’”

Ramos was one of 21 women from around the Peninsula, and as far south as San Diego, who showed up for the first official tryouts for Bay Cities FC, the Bay Area’s newest professional sports team and San Mateo County’s first. (A handful of players had to cancel at the last minute because of COVID-19 concerns.) Tryouts took place Saturday from 2-4:30 p.m. on the football field of Redwood City’s Sequoia High School, where the team will train and play home games. 

Based in Redwood City, Bay Cities FC wants to “bridge the Bay” by providing opportunities to young, aspiring soccer players—men and women alike—from around the area. 

“It's just a clear gap that exists,” said club co-founder and director of community engagement, Ivan Martinez. “Given how many female players grow up here in this area, and for their opportunities to be limited…you know, this is a perfect time to do more.” 

Bay Cities FC was founded in April 2021 by Anders Perez, Martinez and K.C. Watson. For the last few years, Perez has worked as the general manager for Juventus Academy, a Redwood City-based youth soccer club. Martinez also serves as executive director of the Redwood City-Police Activities League (PAL). 

Last summer, to drum up momentum, Bay Cities FC played a tour that included friendly matches against several teams, including JASA and California Victory FC. In December, the Bay Cities was admitted into the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA) and held their first official tryouts, attended by more than 100 players, according to a press release. The men’s team will play in NISA, a third division professional league, while the women will temporarily join a pre-professional league. According to Perez, the club president, a professional, division two women’s league is preparing to launch next spring, which he hopes the Bay Cities women will eventually join.

“Just because it's going to happen next year, doesn't mean that we're not going to start now, laying the foundation—building out a front office, identifying players, creating relationships within the community,” he said.

“It's been a long journey,” he added. “We're trying to do something that is, in a sense, trailblazing because, obviously, there's nothing yet, right now, in the Bay Area for women in terms of a professional soccer team.” 

Sporting white or black Bay Cities-branded jerseys, women from ages 17 to 27 took to the field on Saturday afternoon for a friendly match orchestrated by head coach and technical director, Jason Brown.

“Well played, girls!” he yelled from the sidelines, applauding. “That’s it—great defending.”

Brown, a former professional goalkeeper, played for Gillingham FC before joining the Premier League’s Blackburn Rovers FC in 2006. Since retiring in 2015, he has coached the Arsenal Women Football Club and, more recently, has taken a break from professional soccer to coach at a recreational, youth level. But when he heard from Perez about Bay Cities, he was intrigued.

“[Perez] told me about what he's trying to do, which is amazing,” he said. Originally from Wales, Brown said soccer is “about creating opportunities” for people like himself to pursue careers in the professional sports world.

“I'm here in the States because of my playing career and coaching. And it's always great, I think, to be able to give others that opportunity,” he said. “One thing that this Bay Cities does is it gives the local women around in this area, which is a huge talent pool, the opportunity now to play at that level and be seen and hopefully do well for us. And then maybe go onto bigger and better things.”

Julia Arsan, 25, who grew up playing with Juventus and attended Saturday’s tryouts, agreed about the significance of starting a high-level team for women. 

“There's just so much talent here that isn't really recognized,” she said, lamenting the lack of opportunity for aspiring players when she was growing up. “So it's really exciting to see that there's an opportunity for us to really bring that talent to the world.”

Bay Cities hopes to begin pre-season training for the women’s team as early as March, with the first games tentatively scheduled for May. In addition to building two teams from scratch, the club’s leaders are also trying to develop rapport and name recognition within the community to start building a fanbase for future games.

“My dream would be to, week after week, pack the stadium full,” said Community Outreach & Engagement Lead Erik Neri. “Of course, we all want a winning team. But first, I want the community behind it. And then everything else will come.”

With only a fraction of its annual budget expected to come from ticket and merchandise sales, one of Bay Cities’ biggest challenges right now is finding corporate sponsorships to cover operations and players’ contracts. If the club cannot finalize a list of sponsors in the next month or so, Neri said, they may have to postpone their official launch until 2023. 

According to Martinez and Perez, the decision to postpone, which they’ll make in the next couple of weeks, has more to do with concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic. Martinez said he wants fans to feel comfortable attending games and worries that ongoing surges could threaten that sense of security.

“Kicking off a new team is all about building community,” said Martinez. “And we would love to be able to do that in person.” But, he added, “safety comes first.”

Still, they’re hoping that buzz around the women’s U.S. national team and the coming 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will be hosted in North America, will help generate interest in local soccer—and Bay Cities new teams. Neri expressed particular excitement among the leadership about the women’s team.

“I truly believe Anders is such a pioneer for women's soccer,” he said. “A women’s scene is hard to find. They don't come along very often, which is sad. I think that's why this project is more of a challenge, and we’re rooting for it so much.”

As part of their commitment to advancing gender equity, Perez said pay for the men’s and women’s teams will be equal. 

“Our budgets are exactly the same for men's and women's, in terms of our player wages,” said Perez. “That's what we mean by equal pay, right? Player wages will be the same,” he said, adding that they haven’t yet finalized their per player contracts. 

Though not all players will be paid exactly the same, with some variation based on seniority and other factors, Perez emphasized that they’re “not going to allocate more money towards the men's side. Because that would also say, then, that we value that side a little bit more. And that's not fair.”

More tryouts will be held for those who couldn’t make the first round. Brown plans to select an initial squad of women to attend initial training sessions and then, in the coming weeks, will narrow down to his final 20. 

For hopefuls like Arsan and Ramos, the club represents a second chance at a career in professional soccer. 

“I love the game so much. It’s a huge part of who I am,” said Arsan. “So I think that would be an amazing opportunity.

“But I'm trying to stay in the present and be where I am now and be happy with that,” she added.

With a part-time job and her ongoing degree in public relations at San Jose State, Ramos already has a demanding schedule. Still, she said she wouldn’t hesitate to join the team if given the opportunity. 

“I would definitely do it,” she said. “I'm really passionate about it. If it's soccer, I'm 100% committed to it.”


Leah Worthington

About the Author: Leah Worthington

Leah is the lead reporter for the Redwood City Pulse. A Bay Area native, she has written about everything from biotechnology to true crime. When she's not writing, you can find her running or baking. Habla español!
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