Angel City Beats Defending Champs for Inaugural Road Win
1-0 Shutout Over Washington Spirit
May 19, 2022
Angel City Football Club surprised the soccer world once again by marking their inaugural road trip with an impressive 1-0 clean sheet victory over NWSL defending Champions Washington Spirit. Forward Christen Press delivered the game's only score in the 42nd minute, a golazo into the far right corner of the net. Angel City's defense prevailed in the second half, combined with a rain shower in the closing minutes that further soaked the 7,433 fans at Audi Field.
"We were feeling the effects of the loss last week and wanted to put that right and build momentum again," said ACFC head coach Freya Coombe. "I think we've shown that when we're really on it, we're really a tough team to break down and beat as well as being exciting in the offense and the attack.
The win moved Angel City into second place in the standings with a 2-1-0 record and six points. Significant is that along with first-place San Diego Wave FC (3-0, 9 points), the two new league franchises from Southern California have put the rest of the NWSL on notice. Both teams being competitive this early in the 22-match regular season schedule is a positive development for the 12-team league, celebrating its 10th season.
A lineup surprise was Coombe starting Tyler Lussi at left back instead of her usual position on the front line. Lussi, who's from the D.C. area, was instrumental in disrupting Spirit forward Trinity Rodman, the 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year. Rodman, who recently had four goals in eight Challenge Cup games, was held to two shots with none on goal. Despite having only three-plus days to prepare, Lussi was up to the challenge, including committing a game-leading five fouls.
"Definitely a physical match, and the result was very physical and transitional. Especially with the weather, the ball was skidding and sliding, but we handled it very well and made it into the game well while sticking together," said Lussi.
Playing as a forward, especially a winger, I know tendencies and try to position myself as best I could in terms of the spacing. I needed to stay connected to Vanessa, but also close enough to the winger Rodman to see if they could read it while in the pocket."
Another encouraging sign for Angel City was midfielder Clarisse Le Bihan making her NWSL debut. Le Bihan, signed in April via transfer from French Division 1 club Montpellier, subbed for forward Simone Charley starting the second half. Le Bihan, who has 16 caps playing for the French National team, immediately blended with her teammates on the pitch. Defender Paige Nielsen also saw her first action with the team, subbing for midfielder Savannah McCaskill in the final minutes.
More importantly in establishing a team identity, Angel City's defense has set the tone. Yielding only two goals in their first three matches, goalkeeper DiDi Haracic earned the first shutout of her NWSL career. The ACFC defense has not yielded a goal in its last 200 minutes including stoppage time.
"There were moments in the game where they were able to play through us a little bit too easily, but we went back in and rebuilt the block to try and prevent them from playing for us, forcing them outside," said Coombe. "I thought we corrected that well and limited their opportunities, but they're definitely a team that moves the ball well."
Communication was key for Lussi, voted Player of the Match and who also enjoyed her 'homecoming' trip with her teammates: "There is so much communication. My head is on the swivel at all times since I have to stay connected to Vanessa. I made sure that we are sliding over enough and we're connected, tight knit, and not too far so that I can still get wide enough if I needed to press Rodman."
So it was constant communication, but my teammates were doing that for me, DiDi especially. Everybody was helping me which is awesome, so I tried to communicate with the team also, do my best and it turned out well."
Angel City's score began on a classic deep pass from defender Vanessa Gilles to Press who was being checked by Spirit defender Morgan Goff near the right sideline. Press dribbled inside, sprinted towards the left side of the box and deftly placed the ball around Spirit defender Emily Sonnett with goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury diving in vain.
"It was a tough week and I'm really proud of the team. Both of the matches in the league that we've won have been such team wins, so much effort from all the players on both sides of the ball," said Press. "It's really important for us as an expansion team to have short-term memories when it comes to performances that we're not happy with so we can continue to take points."
On the pitch and statistically, ACFC stood toe-to-toe with the defending Champs and held their own. Both teams were virtually tied in possession: 50.1 to 49.9%. ACFC outshot the Spirit 11-9 and led in shots on goal, 3-1. They had five corner kicks to Washington's three and tied in crosses with 21. Angel City displayed more aggressiveness with four offsides to one and committed 12 fouls compared to 10 for the Spirit. They also won more duels and tackles. Press was given a yellow card in the 77th minute while Hope Breslin, who substituted for Press in the 89th minute received a yellow card in the 6th minute of stoppage time.
On the social impact side before the match, Angel City also made an important statement supporting reproductive rights for all women by wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the date '1973' as they exited the team bus coming as it arrived at Audi Field. 1973 commemorates the year the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision that constitutionally protects a women's rights to choose.
Angel City Football Club's mission statement is clear: "Where you can feel our impact, on and off the field. We were born on the streets of Los Angeles and stand side by side with our community. Football is our passion and the vehicle through which we speak to our community and passionate followers. Our purpose is to set higher expectations, and it guides us to strive for better in everything we do. Our purpose unites us all as we soar higher together, every day."
Freya acknowledged the significance of winning both inaugural matches, at home and on the road as the team prepares for the Kansas City Current this Saturday, May 21, 7:30 p.m. for their third-ever match at Banc of California Stadium: "Yes, I think it's important for us. We've got to try and compete every game and everywhere we go. I think we gave a very good account of ourselves last week. We were hurting as a team from that and it was important for us to go and put our best foot forward."