Japan Women's World Cup winner Yuki Nagasato is joining men's club Hayabusa Eleven of the Kanagawa Prefecture League in Japan.
She will be the only woman playing on a men's club in Japan and just one of a very few in football history to do so.
The Chicago Red Stars loaned Nagasato, 33, to the Japanese club for the duration of the NWSL fall schedule and offseason. Hayabusa currently plays in the second division of the Kanagawa league, one of around 50 regional prefecture leagues that operate seven and eight rungs below the J-League at the top of the domestic men's professional soccer ladder.
Nagasato is from Atsugi, a city in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Initially scheduled to begin this spring, games in the second division of the Kanagawa league were postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. An abbreviated schedule begins this weekend, with 28 teams divided into four groups.
Nagasato started in Chicago's opening two games in this summer's NWSL Challenge Cup, but was unable to play in the final five games due to a left leg injury. She led the league with eight assists in 2019, tied for sixth with eight goals and earned second-team all-league honors. She initially signed with Chicago in 2017 after professional stints with women's teams in Japan, Germany and England. She also played in Australia's W-League between the 2018 and 2019 NWSL seasons.
Nagasato has played more than 130 times for her country, including a substitute appearance in Japan's win against the United States in the 2011 World Cup final. She also played in the 2007 and 2015 World Cups.
The contractual details of Nagasato's loan are unclear. A Red Stars release described Kanagawa as an amateur team, but also said Nagasato would be playing for them in a professional capacity.
Nagasato is not the first women's player to seek an opportunity with a men's semi-pro or pro team. Earlier this year, the Netherlands FA announced 19-year-old Ellen Fokkema would be allowed to play for VV Foarut in the domestic ladder's ninth tier as part of a pilot program. Women were previously barred from playing for Category A teams beyond the under-19 age group.
Current North Carolina Courage and Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe also attempted to play for a men's team, Calgary Foothills FC, in 2018. She went through training with the team but was ultimately prohibited from continuing by league rules 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 seeking more sustained competition than the league's abbreviated fall schedule offers.
Nagasato's Red Stars teammates Emily Boyd, Makenzy Doniak, Rachel Hill, Cassie Miller and Kayla Sharples are among those already loaned to European professional women's teams.