Japan Women’s World Cup winner Yuki Nagasato joins men’s club Hayabusa Eleven of the Kanagawa Prefecture League in Japan.
She will be the only woman to play for a men’s club in Japan and one of the few in football history to do so.
Chicago Red Stars loaned Nagasato, 33, at the Japanese club for the duration of the NWSL fall and offseason program. Hayabusa currently plays in the Kanagawa League Second Division, one of some 50 regional prefecture leagues that operate seven and eight rungs below the J-League at the top of the men’s professional football national scale.
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Nagasato is from Atsugi, a city in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Originally scheduled to begin this spring, games in the Kanagawa League’s Second Division have been postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. A shortened schedule begins this weekend, with 28 teams split into four groups.
Nagasato started in Chicago’s first two games in this summer’s NWSL Challenge Cup, but has been unable to make the last five games due to a left leg injury. She led the league with eight assists in 2019, tied for sixth with eight goals and won second-team honors in the league. She first signed with Chicago in 2017 after professional stints with women’s teams in Japan, Germany and England. She also played in the Australian W-League between the 2018 and 2019 seasons of the NWSL.
Nagasato has played more than 130 times for her country, including an appearance as a substitute in Japan’s victory over the United States in the 2011 World Cup final. She also competed in the 2007 and 2015 World Cups. .
The contractual details of Nagasato’s loan are unclear. A statement from the Red Stars described Kanagawa as an amateur team, but also said Nagasato would play for them in a professional capacity.
Nagasato is not the first female player to seek an opportunity with a semi-pro or pro men’s team. Earlier this year, the Dutch federation announced that 19-year-old Ellen Fokkema would be allowed to play for VV Foarut in ninth place in the national ranking in a pilot program. Women were previously banned from playing for Category A teams beyond the Under 19 age group.
Current North Carolina Courage and Canada goalie Stephanie Labbe also tried to play for a men’s team, Calgary Foothills FC, in 2018. She trained with the team but was ultimately banned by the rules. of the league regarding gender.
According to the Red Stars, Nagasato will return for the start of the NWSL preseason in 2021. She joins an exodus of NWSL players looking for more competition than what the abbreviated fall schedule offers. the league.
Nagasato Red Stars teammates Emily Boyd, Makenzy Doniak, Rachel Hill, Cassie Miller and Kayla Sharples are among those already on loan to European professional women’s teams.