Playing It Forward: Maya Mendoza-Exstrom ’03

Soccer was Maya Mendoza-Exstrom's way to a Puget Sound education. Now, 16 years after graduating, she’s making sure that local children can reap the benefits of the sport she loves. Mendoza-Exstrom ’03, who is general counsel at Seattle Sounders FC, Seattle’s major league soccer club, was the founding executive director of the RAVE Foundation, which aims to make the sport more accessible to young people in the city’s underserved communities.

In 2007, Mendoza-Exstrom had just graduated from the law school at the University of Washington and was working at the Mendoza Law Center, her father’s law practice in the Seattle suburb of Normandy Park. She also was involved in local youth soccer and serving as an assistant soccer coach at Puget Sound.

The Mendoza firm represented the Sounders’ minor league franchise at the time, and was helping with its transition into Major League Soccer. The work brought Mendoza-Exstrom into contact with Adrian Hanauer, the team’s majority owner. Over the next five years, she and Hanauer often found themselves discussing the problems with soccer’s “pay-to-play” model in the United States. “A few sports, but specifically soccer, really leave out kids who can’t afford to play,” Mendoza-Exstrom explains. “In diverse communities like South King County—where I grew up, worked, and coached—immigrant families for whom soccer really was a first language and a first sport are being priced out of the formalized system of soccer.”

The answer was to form the RAVE Foundation in 2013. Its mission: to build small fields that allow for free play, and to invest in programs that use soccer to inspire youth and strengthen communities. RAVE has built a small field and two “mini-pitches” (hard-surface courts for playing a soccer variant called futsal) and has plans to build 26 more small fields and mini-pitches in the next six years. 

A year after forming RAVE, Mendoza-Exstrom—still working at her father’s law firm—got a call from Hanauer. Would she be interested in “doing a little legal work” for the franchise? With her dad’s blessing—“He basically kicked me out and said, ‘Go do that’”—she made the move. (The RAVE Foundation has since become the official charitable arm of Sounders FC, and Mendoza-Exstrom remains a member of the foundation’s board of trustees.)

Mendoza-Exstrom, now the Sounders’ general counsel, works on a range of legal issues, including sponsorships and broadcast deals, intellectual property and marketing, league and U.S. Soccer Federation compliance, and risk management. Increasingly, her work involves privacy and technology, especially around safeguarding the personal data of online customers in a way that’s compliant with local, national, and international laws.

She also manages strategic projects, including the region’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Mendoza-Exstrom grew up watching the Sounders from their beginnings as a North American Soccer League team in the 1980s. At Highline High School in Burien, she was a passionate and talented soccer player who was also interested in law. After double-majoring in history and in politics and government at Puget Sound, then earning her law degree, she joined the Highline Schools Foundation and the Seattle Parks Foundation in an effort to give to others some of the passion and direction she had found through soccer. In her role with the Sounders, she’s found a job that marries three passions: soccer, law, and philanthropy.

She’s also working to expand soccer opportunities in Tacoma. Sounders FC is partnering with the Tacoma Rainiers, the city, and Metro Parks Tacoma to build a soccer-specific stadium for use by the Tacoma Defiance—a team made up of young Sounders prospects—and by the community. A feasibility study was completed in July, and the project is moving forward.

“A big piece of this project is the public benefit to the community,” she says. “It’s not just about a place for the Tacoma Defiance to play, but asking ourselves, ‘What can we do through this game to expand access to this sport?’”

 

By Anneli Haralson
Photo by Sy Bean
Published Feb. 13, 2020