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“Tonight was surreal": What made the W League inaugural match so special

By Staff, 05/10/22, 11:00AM EDT


Indy Eleven won the league opener, but what happened on the field was only part of the story

The Experience

The excitement surrounding the W League’s inaugural match was electric.

You could hear it in the voices of the supporters who met at a pub a few hours before kickoff. You could see it on the social media channels of the clubs around the new elite pre-professional women’s league.

You could feel it in your bones when the players for Indy Eleven and Kings Hammer FC took the field and the Brickyard Battalion supporters group started bringing the noise.

Something was happening here. A tectonic shift in the landscape of women's soccer in the United States.

It was awesome.

The Brickyard Battalion's Katherine Reed

Before the match, the Brickyard Battalion and their first female president, Katherine Reed, gathered their forces at the Union Jack Pub.

Reed led a small group of visitors to the backroom where a painting of the Indy Eleven crest took up the entire far wall. As the group sat down to chat, she opened up about her role as a female president of a supporter group of a club that previously only fielded men’s teams. To now have a woman leading a supporter group that will cheer on a women's team is like rocket fuel on the fire for Reed and others.

“I think it’s important for people to see someone who is not a dude at the helm of a supporter group," said Reed. “It’s not about me being the president. It’s about making sure that people see everyone is welcome and that there are no gatekeepers. If you want to be a part of the Brickyard Battalion, then you are.”

The group is affectionately referred to as the BYB and it’s clear that their love and support of the club and crest is unwavering – regardless of gender or division.

BYB President Katherine Reed with USL Super League President Amanda Vandervort

BYB President Katherine Reed with USL Super League President Amanda Vandervort

“When we found out we were getting a women’s team, the very first conversation we had internally was that they will be supported as much as the [USL Championship] men, just as the academy team should be supported as much as the men,” said Reed. “If you wear our crest, we have your back no matter what.”

True to her word, that mentality of equality was on full display in the stands at the sold-out Grand Park facility. The BYB filled the stands, hung numerous banners, and cheered as loudly as they would for any other club match. They unveiled the team’s first tifo, featuring Indiana native Lauren (Cheney) Holiday sporting the US Women’s National Team crest and the phrase “It all begins with you.”

BYB proudly hangs a tifo at the inaugural match

“This isn’t just Indy Eleven’s first game; it’s the W League’s first game,” explained Reed. “We want this to be a celebration — this is huge. Of course, we’re cheering for the girls in blue but we want everybody on the pitch to be celebrated for starting this historic journey.”

It is safe to say that BYB’s presence was felt — and heard — by everyone at the match and that the group’s support helped Indy Eleven to victory. Reed wants the supporter group to inspire the young team and continue to make Grand Park a tough place for visiting teams to play.

"Watching the young girls in the community get excited is so great,” Reed said. “Representation matters.”

Amanda Vandervort and Missy Price talk to Indy Eleven Youth Members


The launch of the W League is as much about today as it is about the future. That was the message delivered by USL Super League President Amanda Vandervort and Dr. Missy Price, Vice President of Women's Soccer, when they spoke with members of Indy Eleven's Youth Academy about the pathway the USL is developing, and that is kicking off before their eyes.

The W League has created more than 1,200 high-level playing opportunities for standout high schoolers, college players, players looking to continue their careers and ex-professionals. Players like Indy Eleven’s Rachel McCarthy.

McCarthy, a star at Brigham Young University, stole the show on the field. She scored the first ever goal in the W League in the 8th minute and followed that up with the second-ever goal in the 17th minute.

But Kings Hammer also got on the board in the first half, thanks to 17-year-old Mandy Schlueter’s tidy finish in the 40th minute.

Ultimately, Indy would find the back of the net for a third time, through Katie Soderstrom, to finish off an amazing night in style with a 3-1 win.

Maddy Williams and Rachel McCarthy celebrate after McCarthy's second goal assisted by Williams | Photo courtesy of Trevor Ruszkowski

Kings Hammer Mandy Schlueter

"Playing in this game was amazing. I'm so glad I'm out here playing the sport I love," McCarthy said McCarthy. "The supporters were amazing. The supporters are what keep us pushing when we're tired and exhausted. The fans do push you to play your best."

Schlueter, Kings Hammer's goal scorer, saw the match — and the league — as a step in her evolution as a player. She will head to Ohio State University next year, and needed to prepare by competing at a higher level.

"The speed of play is insane," said Schlueter. "It was great to play out here with older girls because since I'm young I don't always get that fast speed of play. This is a great opportunity, and I am so excited to be able to do this because it will develop me and a lot of other players."

For the hosts, the night was one that will live in the memory for a long time, but also provide the platform for a potentially successful season ahead.

"I am a very loud person and the girls couldn’t hear me,” said Indy Head Coach Paul Dolinsky, referring to the supporters’ chants and songs. “So from that perspective, the support was fantastic. Now my girls know what it's like to play with that type of noise. Anyone that comes in here is going to be shell-shocked because they’re not going to hear their coach, they're going to have to communicate on the field differently than normal, their awareness levels will have to be on high alert."

Coach Dolinsky celebrates after Indy Eleven wins 3-1 | Photo courtesy of Trevor Ruszkowski

It all bodes well for the club and, more importantly, for this new league. As mentioned before, the excitement is electric.

"Tonight was surreal," Dolinksy said. "We knew coming in that it was going to be a fun opening night, and it was an absolute blast.”

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