San Diego Local Community News

Friends, snacks, and outdoor time: It seems like any child’s perfect summer day. But for Shannon Mac Millan, joining her friends for soccer led to a legendary career of Olympic medals and World Championships.

“When I was five, all of my friends played soccer and I just wanted to be around them,” says Mac Millan. “I loved the fact that there were halftime and post-game snacks — and that I could just run around and be free.”

Fast forward to 2024 and Mac Millan, now 49 and the Vice President of Community Relations for San Diego Wave FC, is widely known as a World Cup champion and Olympic medalist. Originally from Escondido, Mac Millan secured a full-ride scholarship to University of Portland to play soccer.

“At that time, I didn’t truly know the potential I had with soccer,” says Mac Millan. “I just knew it was going to be a vehicle to help me get to school.”

The Rising of a Star

When Mac Millan met with coach Clive Charles at the University of Portland, she appreciated that he didn’t promise her the world. Other recruiting coaches had told her she’d have the chance to start or that they’d get her on the national team. But Clive? He said she’d be a good fit — and shrugged his shoulders when she pressed further about opportunities.

Mac Millan remembers Clive telling her, “I would never promise someone playing time or that they’re going to score a certain number of goals. All I can promise is that I’ll give you the opportunity, then it’s going to be up to you what you do with that.”

The honesty resonated with Mac Millan, who moved to Portland and soon after got called into the U-20 Women’s Youth National Team and ultimately the U.S. Women’s National Team, which she played for over the span of 12 years.

The national team took Mac Millan through two World Cups and three Olympic games. She played 176 caps (career appearances) — winning two Olympic gold medals, an Olympic silver medal, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999. She was named the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year in 2002.

However, what Mac Millan emphasizes most isn’t medals or notoriety: It’s friendship, community, and family.

“I was really blessed and fortunate to be able to create a family of sisters through that team, because we didn’t have a professional league at that time,” says Mac Millan. “They really became family through the years.”

The Importance of Supporting Other Women

It was Clive, her college coach, who Mac Millan says helped her realize that it’s okay to be a strong, confident female — and to believe in herself to to overcome adversity.

“He was the first one to teach me all the amazing life lessons that the game can offer,” says Mac Millan. “It’s really important for me to now turn around and give back to the game, help inspire the next generation, and continue to leave the game in a better spot than when I first started.”

Supporting other women has been a key part of Mac Millan’s life, both throughout her career and now in her role for San Diego Wave FC.

“To see the National Women’s Soccer League thriving and growing is incredible — and you can’t put words around being part of a professional women’s team in San Diego,” she says. “It’s powerful for young girls to be able to see it so close and dream of saying, ‘I want to represent my hometown.’”

Although women’s sports have come a long way, there’s much more work to be done.

“In soccer, we’ve been fortunate that the women’s team has been successful, having won World Cups and Olympic games, and I think that helps give automatic respect,” says Mac Millan. “But we still want to be seen as a professional team here in the realms of the Padres and Major League Soccer. We should know similar standing when it comes to everything that is needed in terms of the community and support.”

The Role of Wellness for a Soccer Legend

For Mac Millan, wellness means balance. She says that when she started her soccer career, athletes didn’t talk about wellness much. They had to find a way to power through every practice and game. Now, however, they are speaking out about needing breaks — including those for mental health.

“It’s really important, I think, that the younger girls are still finding balance and not just burning out on the sport, because it is a grind,” says Mac Millan. “In San Diego, it’s a blessing and a curse that you can play 362 days out of the year.”

Too often, she sees pressure put on kids to become the next soccer legend like Naomi Girma or Mia Hamm.

“They need to be able to have a life and be a kid so that when the time does come, they’re ready to commit and give their all to a sport or whatever else their passion is,” says Mac Millan.

Her own life also expresses that balance. She says her top priority is her son Brayden, who is 14 years old. She starts her day with him, her partner Michelle, and their two dogs in their Cardiff home. After she drops Brayden off at school, she heads to the Wave office and collaborates with her team on ways to continue growing their impact in the San Diego region.

“We spend all day figuring out how, where, and what we can do to engage and give back and inspire the community,” says Mac Millan.

She leaves the office in the afternoon to make sure she’s there for her son when he gets out of school. After finishing up with work at home, she makes dinner and starts preparing for the next day. On a Saturday or Sunday, she spends time with friends and family or plays golf — a beautifully balanced San Diego life.

Mac Millan has a final piece of advice for young women: “Have a dream, believe in it, and be willing to work hard and make the sacrifices. It’s about discovering what’s uniquely yours and yours alone — not that of your parents, your best friend, or anyone who has told you differently — and then hold onto it with both hands and go after it.”

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