Soccer was my life. Between the ages of 3 and 18, my world revolved around it. I initially joined a team with friends, though we enjoyed picking dandelions more than chasing the ball. Over the years, they moved on and I continued to play. Soccer was a big piece of my identity, and so was being Jewish, but there was little room to be Jewish in soccer. I played on a team with girls from the parochial schools and our practices took place on Friday nights, so we did not celebrate Shabbat the way my mom wanted for years. When the Friday night practices ended, they were replaced by Saturday morning high school games. I spent years trying to balance both parts of my identity as a Jewish soccer player, yet it always seemed I had to choose one.
I am no longer actively playing soccer and therefore channel my energy into being an avid fan of professional women’s soccer. It is similarly a very not-Jewish space: I can count all the Jewish players in recent years on one hand. But I’m excited that two of them, Yael Averbuch West and Cami Levin Ashton, are now general managers in the National Women’s Soccer League. Somehow, a league with minimal Jewish players has one-sixth of its teams run by Jewish women. Last year, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency excellently highlighted Yael’s path from U.S. National Team to NWSL Players’ Association president to general manager of New York / New Jersey Gotham FC. Now it is time to celebrate Cami Levin Ashton, former NWSL player and current general manager of the Kansas City Current.
Cami grew up in California, the daughter of South African Jews who were former athletes themselves. She grew up playing – and excelling – in soccer, as did her sister Savannah. They attended Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine, leading the soccer team to great success and earning Cami repeated call-ups to the U.S. youth national teams. Despite her stardom, being recruited for a college team was difficult because no teams had ever heard of her Jewish day school. She landed at Stanford, where she was one of their fastest runners, best tacklers and most versatile players. Her position was listed as “defender / midfielder / forward” — notably including every position except goalie. Cami won about every possible individual collegiate soccer honor and led Stanford to their first NCAA championship victory in 2011, the start of a long legacy of championships. She went on to play professionally in the NWSL for Sky Blue FC, Houston Dash, and Orlando Pride, as well as playing in Australia, Sweden, Norway and Italy. She was an important asset to every team she played for and was inducted into the Orange County Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in2015. Cami retired in 2019 and chose a new path: being a changemaker off the field.
At the start of 2022, following her post-soccer career as talent manager at WWE and vice president of Blueprint Sports and Entertainment, Cami was appointed general manager of a new NWSL team, the Kansas City Current. KC has committed to changing the status quo, and has chosen her to lead the way. With Cami in charge, the team went from last place to playing in the championship in under a year. They also just began working on their new $70 million stadium located in the heart of the city – the very first built specifically for a U.S. professional women’s soccer team.
Cami has stated she is “grateful for the opportunity” to be general manager because she sees a “bright future [for the NWSL] with KC leading the way.” I hope Cami also realizes that she is an equally important piece of this movement. She has redefined excellence and raised the bar for women’s soccer in the U.S.; the entire league now works to match the standard she has set.
The power of a Jewish woman in this space is just as significant. There are few professional female Jewish athletes, and even fewer who get publicity. Though it’s a sport that many Jewish girls play, professional soccer is notably lacking in Jewish women.
When I ask myself, “How do we get more Jewish women in soccer?” I can look to Cami. She proves you can go to Jewish day school, win national championships, be a professional athlete and become the manager of a team. You can do all those things while being truly yourself — and you can be celebrated for it. One of the few Jewish women to play professional soccer is going to change the entire sport for the better; she’s already well on her way.
Watching the Kansas City Current play in the NWSL championship last month, I felt a shift in the culture surrounding professional women’s soccer, which is very much heading in a direction of positive growth, inclusivity and visibility. I feel undeniable gratitude, appreciation and hope knowing that someone who looks like me is at the center of it all. I want to share with my younger self, and with all the Jewish soccer girls, the message Cami and Yael are shouting loud and clear: Jewish women do belong in soccer. Yes, you may be one of few, but that doesn’t makes you any less important. Your success will be valued, your aspirations celebrated and your goals achieved, on and off the field.
This sport has a special seat at the table for Jewish women. You are our leaders, advocates and changemakers. There is very much a place for you.