Women's professional soccer continues to big crowds

Angel City Football Club’s immediate attention was to it’s very first road match last Wednesday, March 30, when they played the Portland Thorns FC at Providence Park. They lost the game to Portland 3-0. The first year NWSL franchise suffered its first loss, a 3-1 Saturday afternoon lesson courtesy of the OL Reign at Cal State Fullerton, to fall into a tie for third place in Division. The Thorns are coming off a 1-0 shutout over the league’s other newcomer, San Diego Wave FC.

Another large crowd at Titan Stadium saw the OL Reign take a quick 2-0 lead in the opening 17 minutes. Midfielder Savannah McCaskill’s red card on a tackle in the 31st minute compounded matters. But an infusion of substitutes in the second half created greater chances and improved decisions despite the player disadvantage. Forward Tyler Lussi scored the club’s second goal ever in the 67th as a result.

“It's always fun playing with Tyler,” said Simone Charley who played with Lussi at Portland. “We've been together as long as I've been in the league, and we know each other's strengths and how to play together. It was really fun being able to score a goal together and be able to assist her and her great movement in the box.”

Head Coach Freya Coombe saw improvement from last week’s 1-1 draw with San Diego. “We use the Challenge Cup as a process to test our team, and today we were tested. I was really pleased with the performance despite being a player down. If you look at some of our statistics, we completed more passes than we did last weekend. We were better in possession than we did last week.”

Veronika Latsko’s point-blank shot damaged AGFC early with an assist by Rose Lavelle for a 1-0 lead. Angelina Alana Cook’s glancing header past goalkeeper DiDi Haracic gave OL a 2-0 lead after Angel City had dominated the opening minutes. “What I saw was Rose Lavelle doing absolute magic in the attacking third. She set up both plays so perfectly that it was very easy to be open,” said Latsko.

The Reign’s third goal in the 50th minute, Latsko assisting Angelina’s easy put-away, sealed the result. Charley, substituting for forward Jun Endo starting the second half, gave ACFC the spark and numerous opportunities up front.

Yet, Reign goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce was up to the task. “Phallon was phenomenal,” said OL Reign Head Coach Laura Harvey. “We're only going in 2-0 up because of the saves that she made. We needed to reward her with having a quieter second half. We did an okay job at that. She still had to pull off a couple of saves again.”

Tyler Lussi was one who did manage her first Angel City past Tullis-Joyce on a fine assist by Charley. “It was amazing to get my first Angel City goal. It felt good to score and have that momentum shift.

“That goal started from the back with Jasmyne Spencer beating her defender so many times, then Simone getting it and crossing it in. I may have had the last touch when it went into the back of the goal, but it didn't start from me.”

McCaskill’s ejection forced formation adjustment but allowed Coombe to call for multiple substitutions. Hope Breslin for Lussi, and Lily Nabet for Cari Roccaro. Allyson Swaby for Spencer, and Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel for Christen Press each made their Angel City debuts while Breslin marked both her professional and Angel City debut.

Coombe continued to say, “We dominated possession in terms of having 10 players, and that’s an absolutely great performance. We also didn’t roll over. We came back into the game and scored a goal. I’m very proud of my team today.”

The OL Reign and Portland Thorns are tied for first in Division: West with four points each. Angel City and San Diego Wave are tied for third with one point each. Each team has four matches remaining in the round-robin format that decides who will advance to the tournament Semifinal matches on Wednesday, May 4. The Challenge Cup Final will be held on Saturday, May 7.

The North Carolina Courage lead the East Division with two wins and six points, ahead of the Washington Spirit with two points and the Orlando Pride and the NJ/NY Gotham FC with one point each. The Kansas City Current leads the Central Division with four points, followed by the Chicago Red Star and Houston Dash tied for second with two points, while Racing Louisville FC is in last with one point.

2021 Challenge Cup and NWSL Shield winner Portland Thorns and OL Reign played to a 1-1 draw in their first match. Thorns forward Christine Sinclair scored the equalizer. In their second Cup match they beat the Wave 1-0 before a sold-out crowd at Torero Stadium in San Diego. Forward Sofia Smith scored for Portland five minutes into the match on an assist by defender Natalia Kuikka. The Thorns were outshot by the Wave, but goalkeeper Abigail Mackenzie had seven saves in the clean sheet.

The most notable change to Portland’s lineup is that they lost both Tyler Lussi and Simone Charley to Angel City during the expansion draft. The Thorns also lost defender Christen Westphal to San Diego and player rights to Amirah Ali. They also lost longtime NWSL midfielder Angela Salem and Celeste Boureille to retirement. Portland’s major acquisition was signing Japanese midfielder Hina Sugita for three years. Other re-signings included forward and team captain Christine Sinclair defenders Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelli Hubly, and Meghan Klingenber.

Angel City will be on the road for three consecutive matches before returning to Titan Stadium to host Portland in the sixth and final match, on Sunday, April 24, to determine who advances in the Challenge Cup. ACFC will be at Torero Stadium vs. San Diego Wave on Saturday, April 2; and at Lumen Field vs. OL Reign, Easter Sunday, April 17.


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