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By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

Angel City FC Takes Off

Packed Titan Stadium Witnesses Inaugural Match with Sand Diego Wave FC


March 24, 2022

Fred Altieri

Angel City Football Club gathers after memorable NWSL debut at Titan Stadium

Angel City Football Club has landed! ACFC and San Diego Wave Fútbol Club's long-awaited debut was a big hit with the packed crowd at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium, Saturday night. The result was a well-deserved 1-1 draw in the opener of the National Women's Soccer League 2022 Challenge Cup. The play was physical, highly skillful, and very competitive from the opening whistle. The future looks bright for both franchises as they expand the number of teams in the league to an even dozen.

"Angel City playing, it's huge, right? We've got a huge support system to come and cheer us on at the games. This has been months since the idea of ACFC came to mind," said ACFC head coach Freya Coombe, who paraded with her players around the stadium to thank the thousands of fans giving both teams a standing ovation after the match. "And now it's in fruition which has been an amazing moment to get the first ball kicked in the first official competition."

Following an entertaining but scoreless first half, ACFC midfielder Savannah McCaskill made history by scoring the club's first goal, a header into the right corner of the net on a fine cross by defender Ali Riley in the 49th minute. The home crowd reaction led by the relentless chanting and drumming from the Supporters group was priceless. "I knew Ali Riley could put in a great ball, so I just backed her and knew she would put a ball in the box," said McCaskill.

"I saw Tyler make the run to the near post, and as soon as I saw the ball coming overhead, I knew that was going to be my moment. I wasn't tracked going into the box as well, so I knew if I just put it to either side of Kailen (Sheridan, Wave goalkeeper), she probably wouldn't be able to get there. It all came together pretty nicely."

San Diego managed the equalizer in the 81st minute from a corner kick by forward Marleen Schimmer over ACFC goalkeeper Didi Haračić into the far corner of the net. Wave defender Kaleigh Riehl pushed the well-placed kick over the goal line for the 1-1 tie. Incidentally, both players entered the game in the second half, validating San Diego head coach Casey Stoney's substitution moves.

"The biggest pleasing thing for me was to go one-nil down and come back into the game. That shows huge character and resilience. We started to get slightly stronger towards the end, and I know they had some big chances," said Stoney.

"Was it our best performance? We are nowhere near where we need to be. We need to be a lot better. They created a lot of chances and good openings. Kailen Sheridan was outstanding tonight, so it tells you the balance of the game. Having said that, we had a few chances, especially from set pieces, that we could have done better with. "

Angel City FC will host the OL Reign from Seattle in their second of six scheduled Challenge Cup matches this Saturday, again at Titan Stadium starting at 1:00 p.m. The OL Reign also played Portland Thorns FC to a 1-1 draw in their opening tournament match at Lumen Field, Seattle. Defender Sofia Huerta gave the OL Reign a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute on an assist by midfielder Angelina.

OL Reign are led by Laura Harvey, who took over as head coach last season, when the club finished second in the standings with a 13-8-3 record. The Reign have twice won the NWSL Shield for the best season record in 2014 and 2015. Forward Bethany Balcer has led the team in scoring the past three seasons. In Challenger Cup action, they made the Quarterfinals in 2020 and finished second in the West Division in 2021.

Coombe acknowledged the work in progress for ACFC but was satisfied with the team's reaction on the field in their debut as the team prepares for the OL Reign: "The big thing for us is being able to play through the midfield. It was a big gap when we possessed the ball in our backline, and we weren't able to connect with our sets in those moments during the first half."

"We had to control the space and give the players confidence to play under pressure, especially in the first official game. The adjustments gave the players determination to get the ball and they delivered, which was fantastic for them to take the instructions."

ACFC defender Vanessa Gilles is looking forward after the club's first experience: "There were some great things and there were some things to build off of and to improve on coming out of this match... It's a first for us all being on this team, and we are all still getting to know each other. But the beauty of it is that we have amazing leaders here. Whether it be from the goalkeeper, midfielders, backline, or forwards and I think that's really helped us and been the key for us."

McCaskill was impressed with the support from the stands at their temporary home field at Titan Stadium before they open the regular season at Banc of California Stadium: "Amazing! We talked about it during warm-ups. We couldn't hear each other speak, which is amazing for a Challenge Cup preseason game that isn't even in our home stadium yet."

"It's an incredible atmosphere, and I can't wait for next weekend and then moving forward for our first home opener in the Banc of California Stadium. It's going to be insane."


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