On a brilliant, blue-sky fall day in downtown Spokane, winds of change blew through the city as 2,000 people celebrated a historic moment in the main ballroom at the Davenport Grand Hotel.
Sunday’s professional women’s team name and brand unveiling welcomed diehard soccer fans and curious community members alike. Attendees witnessed not only the reveal of the team’s name and crest, but also a moment when the city “showed up and showed out” on the leading edge of a movement.
Spokane Zephyr FC was announced as the name of the new women’s USL Super League team that will debut in August 2024 and is expected to be sanctioned at the Division I level by the U.S. Soccer Federation, putting it on par with the National Women’s Soccer League (Seattle Reign, Portland Thorns).
Zephyr means “a wind from the west” and conveys the power of the team, not only on the field but also as a force for change in the community and the country. As one of eight inaugural teams in the new USL Super League – along with Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Lexington, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Tucson, and Washington, D.C. – Spokane Zephyr FC will dramatically expand opportunities for women to pursue careers in professional soccer.
The team’s crest is designed to reflect the movement of wind and to evoke the power of change, as the wind does to landscapes over time. The colors are Impact Blue, Basalt, Palouse Gold, and Cloud. The combination of these teal, dark gray, vibrant gold, and white hues conjures images of the Northwest, its seasons and geography that parallels the vibrancy, tenacity, and grit of the Club.
Amanda Vandervort, President of USL Super League, was on hand for the event and said in remarks that Katie Harnetiaux, Principal of Aequus Sports, Co-Owner and President of USL Spokane, is an equity leader in soccer in the U.S. and the world. She pointed to the audience, filled with many young women and girls, and predicted at least one of them will grow up to play professional soccer, and maybe represent the U.S. on the Women’s World Cup team or be a franchise owner like Harnetiaux.
“Katie is not only one of few women CEOs or Presidents in America to lead a men’s professional team but may be the only one in the world to also lead a women’s professional team,” said Vandervort.
Harnetiaux, who co-owns the USL Spokane franchise with spouse Ryan and a group of investors, told the crowd she has been working on the team launch for 18 months but she was now turning it over to Spokane. She said Spokane Zephyr FC now belongs to the city and its passionate soccer supporters.
“This is a historic day for Spokane and soccer in America. I’m proud to be from Spokane, invested in Spokane and helping to lead transformation,” said Harnetiaux. “This is about expanding opportunities for women in professional soccer. Our mission is to deliver the highest level of professional soccer plus increase access, elevate diversity and inclusion and bolster economic vitality of the region.”
Proof of that mission was reflected by the presence of some of the club’s Together Spokane non-profit partners – 90+ Project, HUB Sports Center, SYSA, and Thrive International – which hosted tables for the community to learn more about their organizations. In support of its mission to support local youth soccer, players who showed up wearing their team’s jersey received a Spokane Zephyr FC shirt.
The environment was one filled with excitement and family fun, values the franchise embodies. Kids could do arts activities with Miss Spokane’s Teen or visit a fruit station with a chocolate fountain. Families gathered for selfies or played a game of cornhole on club-branded boards.
Those who were eager to attend lined up an hour before the event. One of them, Ruby Proctor, a youth soccer player from Spokane said the announcement of a women’s team was important.
“It means a lot knowing that we’re being represented and getting the chance to have an opportunity to go somewhere,” she said.
The event was filled with youth players of all ages and backgrounds. Another player, Grace Theal, said the impact of playing soccer and having a professional women’s team goes beyond the field.
“It just means to represent honestly and show what you can do, but also show what your whole entire club and the franchise that you’re working with can do. So, then you can just all represent what soccer is,” Theal said.
Meanwhile, just feet away, Miss Spokane’s Teen Paige Tobin was working with younger girls at a craft station. Part of her platform is to promote youth to get involved in sports and the arts.
“I think it’s great that we’re bringing a women’s pro team to Spokane,” she said. “It means that (girls and young women) know they can do whatever they want in the world.”
After the event, Salvador Racinos of Spokane watched his boys playing cornhole while he was pushing his two-year old daughter in a stroller. Having grown up in Los Angeles, he appreciates the community.
“Spokane is behind women’s soccer, and it makes me hopeful that when she grows up she can have a community that supports her – not just by going to the games but also with the values,” Racinos said.
Mark Finney helped to found Thrive International, a community of refugees who have come to Spokane from around the world, including Ukraine and Africa. Their youth have an informal soccer league and hope to reach a more formal partnership by working with USL Spokane leadership.
“As a dad (of kids who play soccer), it means a lot to me,” said Finney. “I love seeing the way that Spokane already has a great sports culture, but also I’m really proud of us as a city to be not just trying to keep up with other big cities but trying to set the trend and lead the way.”
Finney’s kids play soccer with the 90+ Project. He loves how the franchise leads not only on the field, and across the nation, but also by giving back to the city as one of its nonprofit soccer groups.
“I think what I love is how community-oriented they are,” said 90+ Project founder Russ Davis. “Their focus isn’t just about building a good organization and bringing women’s and men’s soccer here on a professional level, but they care about nonprofits. They care about local kids. They want to see the influence of what they’re doing trickle down.”
The words of those in attendance, along with the amazing turnout, evoked emotion in members of the USL Spokane team who have been working on the logistics of getting Spokane Zephyr FC to this point. J. Atkins, Vice President of Strategy for Women’s Soccer, was overwhelmed by it all.
“I mean, this community shows up, right? I’m just watching the fans, the community roll in, and I can’t help but get a little bit emotional,” Atkins said. “We’ve been working on this for so long. I have had the honor of working with Katie and Ryan for over a year and watch this come to fruition. I’m getting chills just standing here. It means the world to me as an individual and I’m just so excited to bring this to life for this community because they want it. They’re ready.”
Treana Allen, General Counsel for LA-based LandSpire Group, and a former All-WCC Gonzaga University women’s basketball player, is one of the investors in the franchise and sees how this team can inspire a new generation of women to see new possibilities.
“The community gets behind sports in Spokane like no other. Just from this event, you can see how it brings people together: all ages, all races, all ethnicities, all religions – and that’s what sports is about,” said Allen. “Having that here in Spokane, leading the way in women’s soccer, is huge.”
Atkins, Allen, and others in team leadership stressed the bigger meaning of a women’s team not being an afterthought, which can often be the case in professional sports franchises.
“It means opportunity – and not just on the field,” said Atkins. “We have to be able to see ourselves on the field, off the field, and really that’s what this represents for young women and girls. … I didn’t see a version of myself (today) growing up as a 12-year-old. So, I want to be that for this community.”