• Kyodo, AFP-Jiji, AP

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Chicago Red Stars forward Yuki Nagasato will make history as the first woman to play professionally for a men’s club after signing with Hayabusa Eleven in the Kanagawa Prefecture League’s second division, the two sides announced Thursday.

The 33-year-old Nagasato, who joined the Red Stars in 2017, was a member of the Nadeshiko Japan team that won the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and part of Japan’s silver medal-winning London Olympic team in 2012.

“My performance and condition are improving as I get older,” Nagasato told a news conference. “I’m looking forward to taking on the challenge.”

Nagasato has shown a willingness to play opposite men for many years, having been inspired by two-time Women’s World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe, a co-captain of the United States women’s team known for her activism on and off the field.

“Honestly, how much I can contribute among men is unknown,” Nagasato said. “But I was really inspired by messages on the gender gap by Rapinoe at the World Cup and I was wondering if I could also send a message to the society.”

Rapinoe, this year’s Ballon d’Or winner after starring in the United States’ victorious World Cup campaign, is a strong campaigner for social justice who has led attempts to win equal pay for America’s men’s and women’s national teams.

Nagasato said it was her idea to play for Hayabusa Eleven, a move that she hoped would send out a strong message.

“I thought I could show that women can also play in a men’s team,” she said. “I want to help create a community where there is no boundary regarding gender or race.”

Nagasato’s older brother Genki Nagasato also plays for Hayabusa and her younger sister Asano recently joined the Hayabusa Eleven+F, an affiliate footgolf team.

“For over a decade she’s been telling me that her ultimate dream is to play in a men’s team,” Genki said. “So, as an older brother, I wanted to help my sister achieve her dream.”

Yuki Nagasato joined the Red Stars in 2017 and scored eight goals last year, together with a league-leading eight assists.

But she said she had no ambitions of representing Japan next year at the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I really cannot imagine myself joining” the Olympics, she said.

Nagasato is expected to make her debut for Hayabusa in or after October. Her loan will end prior to the 2021 NWSL preseason, the Red Stars said in a release.

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