Following LA Galaxy’s win over LAFC at the Rose Bowl on July 4, Galaxy’s reserve soccer team LA Galaxy II faced off against Wrexham AFC in Carson, California, on July 22 . The Rose Bowl used to be LA Galaxy’s home stadium from 1996-2002, but the team now plays home games in Dignity Health Sports Park.
Wrexham AFC, owned by actors Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool”) and Rob McElhenney (Mac from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), defeated Galaxy II 4-0. McElhenney, who lives in LA, was in attendance. Reynolds, who lives in New York and was filming “Deadpool 3” in the UK until the actors’ strike started, was not. The friendly match is part of Wrexham AFC’s tour across the United States called “Wrexham USA Invasion.”
Founded in 1864, Wrexham AFC is the third-oldest soccer club in the world and the oldest club in Wales. The team’s homebase is the Racecourse Grounds, the world’s oldest soccer stadium that still hosts international matches. The team and the town are the focus of the FX/Hulu docuseries “Welcome to Wrexham,” which chronicles the transformation that the small, working-class Welsh town has been experiencing ever since two Hollywood celebrities purchased their soccer team, pumped millions of dollars into the club and turned the team’s—and thus the town’s—fortunes around.
Season one of “Welcome to Wrexham” aired August 24 last year and season two airs September 12 on Hulu. The critically acclaimed show was nominated for six Emmy Awards and won two Critics’ Choice Television Awards. It is about more than just soccer—it’s a moving human drama that explores the lives of the people of Wrexham and how their soccer team is the beating heart of their town, a real life “Ted Lasso” that shows soccer is more than just a “beautiful game.”
Wrexham AFC now competes in the fourth tier of the English football league system, League Two. The team was mired in a lower level league for 15 years, after being relegated down to the fifth tier of the English football league system, the National League, in 2008. In season one of the show, which chronicled the 2021-22 season, the team almost got promoted but fell short late in the season. However, the perfect Hollywood ending will come to fruition in season two, as the team became the champions of the 2022-23 National League when they defeated Boreham Wood 3-1 on April 22 and got promoted to League Two for the upcoming 2023-24 season.
When Wrexham AFC lost to FC Halifax Town 3–1 on April 7 leading up to that final match, Wrexham AFC’s head coach Phil Parkinson said during the post-game press conference on July 22 that he could almost hear their supporters saying, “Here we go again, we’re going to blow it.”
“When you have a lot of near misses as a club, you naturally feel a bit negative and you think, ‘We’re never going to get out of this division,’” he said. “You could really feel that, but I was always confident we had the ammunition in the squad to do it [get promoted]. The lads handled the pressure, and it was not just the pressure of a normal title race, it was the pressure of the club being out of the division for 15 years, and if we didn’t do it this year, it can be tough to reproduce what we’ve done. And also the documentary, because that’s always in the back of your mind—creating a story. I’m sure that’s going to be well received.”
Many of those Wrexham residents are so dedicated to the team that they’ve flown to the United States to follow the soccer tour. The majority of the crowd of 10,553 people at Dignity Health Sports Park on July 22 seemed to be rooting for Wrexham AFC rather than Galaxy II, with loud chants of “Let’s go, Wrexham!” Cameras were rolling at the stadium for season 3 of the TV show.
Parkinson, who’s featured in “Welcome to Wrexham,” told Pasadena Now after the game that the TV show and new Hollywood owners have transformed the town of Wrexham.
“It’s incredible, the positivity in Wrexham, honestly, you’ve got to be there to believe it,” he said. “If you just talk about the local people, what it’s done is lifted the area so much. Wrexham have had so many years of having nothing, no money, no backing into the club, operating on a shoestring. And Rob and Ryan come in and they’ve just raised everything. You can see everybody in Wrexham walks around with a spring in their step. A football club can do that in an area in the UK. It really can. It can transform a community. It’s been great to see that real connection between supporters and the players, and obviously the ownership. Long may that continue and if we keep winning games, I’m sure it will.”
McElhenney first got the idea to buy a soccer team after watching Netflix’s 2018 docuseries “Sunderland ‘Til I Die,” about how that English soccer club was relegated from the Premier League and tried to launch a comeback. Parkinson previously managed Sunderland among other teams before McElhenney and Reynolds hired him at Wrexham AFC.
McElhenney knew he’d need “movie star money” to buy a team, so he reached out to Reynolds on social media with the idea, sparking their new friendship and partnership and the TV show to document the whole process, which was been so popular that the two actors recently met the new king and queen.
McElhenney created and stars in two other popular shows as well: “Mythic Quest,” an Apple+ comedy about a video game company, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which just concluded airing its 16th season on FX/Hulu last week. “Sunny” is the longest-running live-action sitcom in history and one of the best shows on television. It has been renewed for its 17th and 18th seasons and also stars Danny DeVito, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson, McElhenney’s wife.
Parkinson also talked about the response Wrexham AFC have received from the American public as they tour across the States, due to the show and the buzz generated by Reynolds and McElhenney’s ownership.
“Over here [in the United States], I think the lads have been surprised how much interest there is in the club,” Parkinson said. “It’s fantastic for us, it really is. We had an extraordinary season last year and got a record amount of points, and for that to be documented, which will be shown in the next series, I’m sure that’s going to be really exciting again for everybody over here to watch and and see the story behind the scenes. It has surprised us a bit but it’s been great, not just the level of interest, but the detail of that interest as well. When I speak to people like tonight, it’s the knowledge of our players, asking me about individual games and people have been really engaged in it which is amazing, really, for the American public to be interested in us.”
He also offered his take in the post-game press conference on how Galaxy II fared against his storied team. Galaxy II consists mainly of younger players, between 16-23 years old.
“The Galaxy youngsters did well and caught us a bit by surprise,”Parkinson said. “Their technical ability was excellent and gave us a bit of a wake up call in the first half.”
Indeed, during the first half the teams were evenly matched and no goals were scored. However, in the second half Galaxy II’s defense fell apart, with Wrexham AFC scoring four goals to win the game. Still, Galaxy II had possession 56.8 percent of the time overall, executed more passes and had a higher pass accuracy rate. There were several fouls on both sides but only one yellow card earned by Wrexham’s Aaron Hayden.
Wrexham’s Andrew Cannon scored the first goal in the 47th minute with a shot from the center of the goalie box into the center of the net. Wrexham’s Elliot Lee fired the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal in the 55th minute. Ten minutes later, Wrexham team captain “Super” Paul Mullin who’s featured prominently in the TV show, was in the right place at the right time in a cluster of Galaxy II players right in front of the goal where he was the last one to touch the ball before it deflected off a Galaxy II player and went in for an “own goal.” Wrexham’s Anthony Forde shot the game’s final goal in the 68th minute.
Parkinson said Wrexham AFC would love to come back next year and play against the first LA Galaxy team.
The July 4 game at the Rose Bowl between that LA Galaxy team and LAFC was originally scheduled for February 25. The game got rescheduled due to the winter storms and instead replaced the Rose Bowl’s traditional AmericaFest, which consisted of musical performances, motocross jumps and fireworks. Rose Bowl General Manager Jens Weiden told Pasadena Now that the stadium lost half a million dollars hosting AmericaFest in 2022 and that the format would have to change going forward.
“The exciting thing for us is that we have a history of doing soccer matches here on the 4th of July with fireworks,” Weiden said. “When the LA Galaxy played here for years, we would have a soccer match and then do fireworks after the soccer match.”
In the July 4 match-up between LA Galaxy and LAFC, known colloquially as El Tráfico, Galaxy prevailed 2-1. There were 82,110 people in attendance, the most ever for a Major League Soccer game. Instead of losing $500,000, the Rose Bowl made $400,000 from the soccer match and post-game fireworks show. LAFC will return to the Rose Bowl on August 11, which is expected to generate $250,000 in revenue for the stadium. on Sunday, the Rose Bowl hosted an international soccer match between Real Madrid and AC Milan in front of more than 70,000 people, with Real Madrid coming out on top 3-2.