As expected as it was, when Angel City FC announced Christen Press as their first-ever signing, everyone took notice. When they then followed it up with the addition of 2021 Iron Woman, defender Sarah Gorden, everyone raised several eyebrows. It was the perfect one-two to begin building a franchise. A prolific attacker up front, and a very solid foundation to build out the back. Unfortunately an injury kept Gorden from making her Angel City debut in 2022, and sent an immediate blow to the expansion side before the season even began. However, not all was lost, several players took on the challenge of filling that hole on the backline, and for the most part, did an excellent job.
No better way to start this game off! @weareangelcity | #AngelCityFC pic.twitter.com/q7MgSl2H91— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) April 30, 2022
Looking back on it all, the first-ever goal scored for Angel City being scored by a defender was almost like a cosmic sign that all would be okay despite the early sense of nervousness around the back. Sure, you would be without one of the bigger names, and proven players to start of your inaugural season, but the way others stepped up is something that hasn't been talked about enough. One of those who really came into her own, the first-ever regula season goalscorer defender, Vanessa Gilles.
The Canadian International and gold medalist came to Angel City ahead of the season, and immediately settled into the squad. First, there was that goal. The header that sent The Banc into a frenzy and would be enough for the win in the team’s first-ever match. Her raising her fist in celebration like the end of a John Hughes movie is an image that will live on forever in the history of the team. Only making seven league appearances in 2022 — fairness to her, she missed a handful of matches while out representing her country of Canada in International action — Gilles started all seven matches, tallied 49 blocks and recorded 19 interceptions. She had the historic first-ever goal scored for the team, and even added an assist to her impressive year with ACFC.
Not only did she produce on the pitch, but was an instant fan favorite. Which is why the recent news of her leaving Los Angeles on loan to play for one of the best women’s soccer teams on the planet, OL Lyon, had everyone in their feels. The hope, is that she returns next year even better and continues to be that much-needed stalwart in defense.
Requesting more Ali Riley micings pls!— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 25, 2022
Coming soon: On Pitch presented by @Ally featuring @RileyThree@weareangelcity | #AngelCityFC pic.twitter.com/1EBppQbcHo
Every team needs that one veteran who bridges the gap between coaches and players. The ones who understand what needs to be done, and can relay that to fellow teammates in a way that gets received in a productive manner. Ali Riley is one such veteran. Longtime captain of New Zealand’s National team, Riley came to ACFC after a season with the Orlando Pride. Prior to that Riley had made stops in Sweden, England, and even Germany. That wealth of experience really helped Angel City this season. Riley started in 19 of her 20 appearances, had 41 clearances, and 18 interceptions.
Not your typical defender, Riley also served as a bridge between defense and offense, often taking the ball up the pitch to start attacks. She scored twice this season, and even had two assists, so yea, she made an impact in every aspect of the game this year. Not only that, but even when she wasn't playing, she was the team's number one fan and hype-woman. Even when officially on International duty, she could be seen in the stands cheering on her teammates when she could. She may be entering the final stages of her incredible career, but let's hope we see at least a couple more years of Ali Riley at Angel City.
Megan Reid Thought She Was Done with Soccer. It Wasn't Done with Her.https://t.co/ZNyFyFyyWv pic.twitter.com/U8lIkHgbqr— Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) May 28, 2022
Stop me when you've heard this before from us, defender Megan Reid has been one of the best stories, as well as best players for Angel City in 2022. Reid was all but done with her soccer career when ACFC made the call to bring her in for pre-season training and boy was it the best decision for both sides. After losing Gorden, the question for Angel City was, how do you even begin to replace a player like that? The answer, Megan Reid. The rookie defender had a great pre-season during the NWSL Challenge Cup, and was given the starting nod for the team's season opener at home. She never looked back. Finishing the year as the team's lone Iron Woman — a title reserved for those who go the length of the season having played every minute, of every game — Reid had a breakout year to remember.
In her 22 starts, she racked up an astonishing 137 clearances, 20 blocks and 11 interceptions. While she is the only defender on this list not to score a goal, she did come away with an assist. More than that, she showed the entire league she belongs. Stepping in for any player is tough, but doing so as a rookie, in one of the toughest leagues in the world, for an expansion side, is something that can't be scoffed at. Reid did get some love from her own team, winning Rookie of the Year at the team awards dinner. The defense may be getting a bit more crowded with players returning from injury, but one thing we know, Megan Reid is a great foundation to build with going forward, and could very well be half of the best defensive duos in 2023, just saying.
We now leave it in your hands. Who do you think was the best defender for Angel City in 2022? Voting ends Wednesday 6pm PT, so make sure to make your voices heard!
2022 Defender of the Year
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