SACRAMENTO, California – Jerry Zanelli, a pioneer in women’s soccer and founder of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, died in his Sacramento home on Wednesday night. He was 80.
Zanelli worked 47 years in women’s soccer as a coach, owner and league commissioner. He founded the WPSL in 1998, and within 20 years the league grew into the largest women’s soccer league in the world.
The 2018 WPSL season had 106 clubs competing for the Jerry Zanelli Cup, the championship trophy named in his honor before the start of the league’s 21st season.
“Jerry has been the leader of women’s soccer in the United States,” said John Motta, President, United States Adult Soccer Association. “He worked tirelessly to see that the women in this country had a viable competitive league to continue to play the sport they love.
“His vision and his understanding of what it took to keep a women's competitive league going was beyond anyone's comprehension. There are many females in this country that owe Jerry many thanks for what he has done.”
In his final media interview in early November, Zanelli was asked what he wants to be remembered by the most.
“That I fought for women’s rights in soccer — by desire and necessity,” Zanelli said to SoccerToday.
Zanelli founded and coached the California Storm, and the Sacramento club became a dominant force within the league. The Storm won three league championships (1999, 2002, 2004) and three additional runner-up finishes.
The list of players Zanelli coached at the Storm is extraordinary – notably FIFA Women’s World Cup stars Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, Alex Morgan and Sissi.
“I want to say thank you to Jerry for all he has done to make women’s soccer a viable option for girls and young women who are determined to continue their careers once done with college,” Chastain said. “Jerry has been a beacon of light in a dark place for so long, not for personal gain, but to give the opportunity and share the great game.
“I couldn’t be any more grateful, and U.S. Soccer and fans around the world should praise his name as he helped give many national team players a field and team to play on when options were extremely limited.”
Inducted in to the United States Adult Soccer Association Hall of Fame in 2009, Zanelli also founded the Men’s Premier Soccer League in 2003, which is the present-day National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). The NPSL had 98 clubs competing across the United States during its 2018 season.
Outside of soccer, Zanelli worked most of his career in politics. He began in the 1960s as an anti-war and civil rights activist, and he ran assembly campaigns. He became an executive for the California State Senate from 1980-83 and later worked as a lobbyist for government advocates.
“Jerry Zanelli has done more to advance the cause for women’s soccer than most,” WPSL commissioner Rich Sparling said. “Besides having a hand in the establishment of the W-League and the NPSL, his drive and no nonsense approach has resulted in the WPSL being the largest women’s soccer league in the world. It was a privilege to work with him as his associate commissioner and even more to call him my friend.”
Zanelli is survived by his son, John; and his daughter, Diana. He was preceded in death by his son, Aaron.
Tag(s): Home Clubs Northwest Eastside FC ISC Gunners FC OSA XF Westside Timbers PacNorth California Storm Fresno FC Ladies San Francisco Nighthawks MVLA Wolves Red River Mountain Conference Oklahoma City FC FC Dallas TTi Bluebonnets Lonestar SC San Ramon FC Primero de Mayo Coastal PacSouth Desert Division Beach Futbol Club Legends FC Pateadores LA Surf Soccer Club SoCal FC LA Villa FC Fram Ajax San Diego SeaLions FC Tucson City SC SC del Sol Players SC Utah Arrows SC Utah Red Devils Players North Soccer Club Heartland Ohio Valley Northern Texas Titans Chicago Red Stars Reserves Des Moines Menace Women KC Courage MapleBrook Fury Fire & Ice SC FC Pride Columbus Eagles FC Cincinnati Sirens FC Motor City FC Cleveland Ambassadors Pittsburgh Hotspurs FC Mid-Atlantic Metropolitan Midwest Torch FC Penn Fusion SA Lehigh Valley Tempest Philly Fever Hershey FC Old Dominion Cesena USA Empire Revs PSA Wildcats Long Island Fury New York Athletic Club Washington Spirit Reserves Legacy W76 Virginia Beach City FC Carolinas Southeast Sunshine Charleston Fleet FC Independence Central Oak City United Beaufort County FC Independence North Pensacola FC Alabama FC Nashville Rhythm Memphis Lobos Emerald Force Little Rock Rangers Chattanooga FC Tampa Bay United FC Surge Team Boca Blast Florida Sol FC Florida Krush Florida Gulf Coast Dutch Lions Florida Tropics SC Fire SC 98 SUSA FC Vancouver TSS Rovers Indy Saints FC Independence South Marin FC Alliance Gulf St. Louis Lions Kansas City Athletics AAFC Lumberjills SFG Lady Demize FC Wichita AHFC Royals Women Texas Spurs FC Chicago City SC Dakota Fusion FC Milwaukee Torrent Rangers Ladies FC Baton Rouge United MS Blues SC Puerto Rico Pride FC Asheville City SC North Carolina Fusion U-23 Peachtree City MOBA Eugene Timbers FC Azul THUSC Diamonds Las Vegas Q11 San Diego Parceiro So Cal Union FC Rhode Island Rogues Tulsa Soccer Club San Antonio Blossoms Pleasanton RAGE Provisional San Antonio Surf News Gretna Elite Academy