Rivalries may be a normal part of sports, but there’s a secret sauce to them.
There’s no one way to make a rivalry, as they can come from geographical ties, particularly feisty games in the history, underlying narratives surrounding the teams or any other number of reasons.
During a roundtable discussion with reporters last week, opinions among those on the call ran the gamut in terms of thinking about whether there will truly be a rivalry at all.
Head coach Freya Coombe thought of the question not in terms of rivalry but in terms of the expansion clubs working together to make all of NWSL better.
“I think the biggest one for me is just it’s not really a rivalry,” Coombe explained. “It’s two clubs that are bringing in an amazing group of coaches, players that is going to raise the quality and standards within the league. So that’s kind of how I view it is it’s not a rival, it’s actually two clubs that are really starting to now push the level of the league and raise the standard. So encouraging all the other clubs in the league to join on board. So for me, it’s not a rivalry. It’s obviously fantastic to have two great clubs that happen to be in California to join the league.”
Sporting director Eni Aluko admitted the geographical proximity between Los Angeles and San Diego will stoke some rivalry fires, but she largely agreed with Coombe’s sentiments about transcending rivalry.
“I think Freya is totally right, that we have huge respect for what San Diego are building to,” said Aluko. “I have huge respect for Jill Ellis [Wave FC president]. [San Diego head coach] Casey Stoney, I played with many, many times for England and she’s developed into an incredible coach. And obviously Molly Downtain as well, who’s my counterpart. So, I think there’s a there’s a lot of mutual respect. We’ve worked together throughout this process, particularly when the Expansion Draft rules were being put together, we actually worked very closely together.
“So it’s not a bitter rivalry at all, but I would hope that once we start play there is that little bit of spice, you need that, the fans need that. But I totally echo what Freya said that I think with us coming in and not just being football teams, but being organizations that are just pushing the way women’s sport is run in the U.S., I think that’s even more important. Having female-led, female-owned organizations, being quite player-focused in terms of making sure that the players that we’re bringing in want to be in, in the teams and their organizations. And it sounds simple, but that’s a slight cultural shift, I think in the NWSL. So, I’m really pleased about that. That whether it’s Angel City or San Diego we have our approaches to the women’s game. [It’s] a signal for the future. And I think that’s really exciting,” Aluko continued.
Three of the players selected by Angel City in last week’s expansion draft were also part of the roundtable, and their opinions surrounding a budding rivalry differed significantly.
“I mean, I love a good rivalry. Having spent some years in the Pacific Northwest rivalry, I’m down to claim Southern California,” said forward Jasmyne Spencer, laughing.
Midfielder Dani Weatherholt, who previously played in the league with Spencer, agreed.
“Jas, I’m right there with you, all I could think about was playing Portland [when I played for OL Reign], and I just, I agree with you, it’s a respect you have for the other team, but I love a good rivalry, too. And I’m so excited to build that culture and I want this to be a game that everyone remembers, and I like that. Let’s claim Southern California.”
Defender Paige Nielsen agreed with her new teammates, but perhaps the most vociferous pro-rivalry voice came from ACFC president Julie Uhrman.
“Yeah, I wasn’t asked but I grew up in LA and you are either a USC fan or a UCLA fan. So there is no ‘no rivalry.’ There’s a rivalry and it is Angel City, all the way,” she said.
In a perfect capper on the variety of opinions, Coombe, who appeared to set some noses out of joint at her former club, Gotham FC, when she agreed to move to Angel City FC for the 2022 season and was subsequently replaced at Gotham midseason, hinted that Angel City may actually be facing a new version of the old LA-New York rivalry as a result.
“I was just thinking that the rivalry might exist somewhere else,” Coombe said drily.
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