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Angel City’s heavenly 2022 debut

NWSL welcomed LA’s newest Angels in 2022, with the expansion side setting the bar for those who follow

Brenton Tse

After giving some time and space to players, fans, and honestly, ourselves here at Angels on Parade after the recent release of the Yates report, the time has come to discuss and celebrate the incredible inaugural season had by LA’s newest soccer sensation, Angel City FC. The hype coming into the season was unlike any we've seen for an NWSL expansion side, and it translated into unrivaled support for a team that everyone grew to love with their whole hearts over the course of the 22-match season. While the season didn't end the way we all wanted, it was nothing short of a massive success both on and off the pitch.

As with everything in life, this season wasn't perfect. There were hiccups, down moments, and unfortunate results that helped shape the season. So, let’s just rip off the bad like a. band-aid so we can get to the fun parts.

A very regular XI

Perhaps the biggest complaint — for want of a better word — that many had at season’s end was what was up with the substitutions, more importantly, the obvious lack of them throughout the season. There’s a huge drop-off from those who played and those who didn’t. You either tallied close to 2,000 minutes, or barely scratched 100 minutes. The only exceptions were Simone Charley (1,075), Jasmyne Spencer (876) and Claire Emslie (783). Even Emslie though, is a perfect example of the lack of rotation this year. Emslie arrived mid-season and only played in 10 matches, yet almost hit 800 minutes. Charley featured in 20 matches while Spencer had 15 appearances, so it’s safe to say with a whole 22 matches Emslie would safely be in that 1600-2000 minute range. Of course there's context of injuries and such, but even then, players like Allyson Swaby, Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel and Madison Hammond couldn't seem to break into the squad to find minutes dispute being relatively healthy most of the season.

Again, context. Had the regular XI been lighting the field ablaze and racking up win streaks, you could argue not wanting to disrupt the chemistry and momentum. However, that was never the case. Angel City scored two goals on just five occasions, and scored three goals twice. That's not to say this team was bad, but just to point out rotating the squad every so often may not have been a bad thing. In defense of Head Coach Freya Coombe, she did open up to the prospect of getting more players involved down the stretch, and while they came close, it wasn't enough in the end. So there is hope that we see a bit more balance in 2023, especially with players returning from injury, and the desire to prevent such injuries in the future.

Injuries are the worst

Speaking of, yes, this team also faced a really mean injury bug who morphed into pure hater when not one, but two key pieces of the roster went down for the season. Before a match was even played it was announced Defender and 2021 Iron Woman Sarah Gorden had suffered a season-ending knee injury. Just eight matches into the regular season, Christen Press, the team's first-ever signing, also went down with a season ending injury. It didn't help that other depth players suffered long-term injuries throughout the season, so we never really got the see this team ‘as intended’ so to speak.

Disappointing end, not season

Many expected the team to fold when Press went down, but to their credit they didn't. They may have had poor moments, and results that perhaps should have gone their way, but at the end of it all, they were within reach of a spot in the playoffs until the final weekend of the season. As for as NWSL expansion teams go, that's historic as hell, and is only dwarfed because of the other SoCal expansion side who did just a bit better. So while we all felt that tinge of disappointment on the final day, this season as a whole has been nothing short of a massive success in every way imaginable.

Angel City topped the league in average attendance for 2022, with a staggering average of 19,105 over the course of 11 matches at The Banc. It came just short of the league record set by Portland in 2019, but considering the Banc holds just over 22,000 perhaps that's something to aim for next season. Often times Angel City was the show to see in Los Angeles, which is not something that's always a given in a city like LA, with the cache of some of the other teams people can go see. However, Angel City won the hearts of the city almost immediately, bringing in tons of new fans to the wonderful world of WoSo. That platform allowed them to do their part in growing the game even further.

The team held two exhibition matches this year, in part announcing a partnership with our neighbors down south. First, they played the first of what will be a home-and-away series — with the away stretch taking place in 2023 — against LIGA MX Femenil side, Tigres UANL. The team held strong at home, coming away with the 1-0 win in what was their first-ever International Friendly. Though they didn't stop there as just under a month later they did something that while not completely unheard of, is really rare, especially for an NWSL side. They took on an entire country. Not just any country either, they went right into the fire, hosting the Mexican National Team, in Los Angeles. While the team did lose, they held their own and provided an experience that is once-in-a-lifetime for some players. The event was more about the partnership formed, less the result, though both sides definitely wanted to win and lift the trophy on the line.

It also opened the door for more of this throughout the league. The fact that both events were wildly successful, and provided core memories for so many fans, showed the league that this type of thing is viable and desired. How cool would it be to see a Friendly between Portland and Spain, or OL Reign and Germany. We could all use more fun things, and Angel City showed that.

Community Builders

As most teams would, ACFC also put in work in the community. Not just typical meet-and-greets but launching internship programs throughout the city to help get young women of color into the sports business, as well as dozens of other community programs. They launched the Player 22 Future Program which was created to help retired players find work within not just the NWSL, but sports business in general. They funded countless food programs, and established themselves as a ‘force for good’ so to speak as they approached the inaugural season. It’s why the city was more than happy to support them from day one. Why 15,000 season tickets were sold before a roster was fully built.

More than all of that though, they provided an opportunity to bring people and families together. The amount of times we heard “this was our first women’s soccer game as a family, the kids are excited so we all decided to come and see what it’s about” seemed endless. Plenty of young girls saw themselves for 22 matches and two incredibly hype exhibition matches this year. They saw love and support from an entire city, and they saw players willing to give their all until the bitter end.

Whether it was the home-opener win, Christen’s first goal, beating a team from a whole other country, or those moments of staying after the match long enough to make the night of young fans in the stands, or hearing 19,000 fans provide the soundtrack for the Banc for three hours, this year was nothing short of magical. So yeah, you could sit there and think about the what ifs, the could have beens, or you could celebrate what has been one of the most successful inaugural seasons ever seen in the NWSL.

Think about those moments of bliss. The goals. Think about this team getting better with the return of Christen Press and Sarah Gorden before spending a penny. More importantly, think about how this club set out to build a proper foundation in 2022, and exceeded all of our expectations in doing so. Now the hard part begins, building on it. As we all know, this is just the start of what will be a truly heavenly journey.

How do you feel about the Inaugural 2022 season for Angel City? Leave a comment below and THANK YOU all for the support this season from us here at Angels on Parade!