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Angel City FC 2022 Player Postmortem: Vanessa Gilles

Outstanding defender showed what she could do in NWSL.

NWSL: Portland Thorns FC at Angel City FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Vanessa Gilles was a sky-high upside newcomer to the NWSL in 2022 when she signed with Angel City FC. Obviously she won a gold medal with Canada at the Tokyo Olympics, and had some experience in American soccer after playing NCAA ball at the University of Cincinnati, and played against some tough competition in France at Bordeaux, until recently the “best of the rest” in the French top flight behind Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain.

Still, with no experience in the NWSL and playing in Europe for a smaller club, were there some concerns about Gilles’ level? To a point, yes. Canada are one of the best national teams in the world, but they are a defense-first team, which can cover players’ sins at times.

And as Angel City came together, the Challenge Cup was rough for them, and their trip to Portland to play the Thorns, on short rest, proved to be a tough night for Gilles, who was on skates in a loss in Oregon.

From all got better. Gilles had a bad night, put simply. After that, she was a dominant center back for the rest of her time on the field this year with the Angels. While it was a short tenure in the end, Gilles demonstrated she was capable of being NWSL Defender of the Year if she got a full season of play in.

Here are Gilles’ stats with Angel City in 2022:

Vanessa Gilles Angel City FC 2022 Statistics

2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Challenge Cup 6 6 540 0 0 2 1 0 0
Regular Season 7 7 604 1 1 9 3 1 0
Total 13 13 1,144 1 1 11 4 1 0

Gilles’ single biggest highlight on the season was her goal, coming in the incredible home opener at The Banc, with a towering header and then an incredible defensive siege to hold onto that lead gave them a 1-0 win over the North Carolina Courage to open the regular season.

Gilles has pretty much all the tools in a center back: She’s big and not afraid to body attackers, she’s a good leader in the back and took the initiative to vocally keep the shifting backline pushing in the same direction, so to speak, she’s an attacking threat on set pieces and put simply, she defends very well. Her passing may not be exceptional but she’s competent there, too.

I’m not just looking at her performances through sol rosa glasses. Gilles was voted to the first NWSL Team of the Month this regular season, deservedly so. And look at her scouting report graph from, comparing her to other center backs in eight women’s club competitions. Over the past year, she’s exceptional in nearly every single category. This is a remarkable sea of green.

So what happened? Unfortunately, she exited the lineup for ACFC, for three separate reasons.

First, she went to play with Canada at the Concacaf W Championship, helping them to a 2nd place finish, clinching a berth in the 2023 World Cup and headed to a playoff for a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics. It’s the bargain NWSL teams make with big time international players, when there’s a call-up, they go, even if the club team is in session. What can you do?

But Gilles came back from international duty with an injury. In August and into September, she didn’t play, and while the healthy defenders were holding down the fort, obviously it would have been better if she was available to play, but again, injuries happen. There’s not much to be done in that case.

And then came the truly bittersweet blow, as Gilles headed out on loan to Lyon in mid-September. Lyon needed an injury replacement themselves, and picking up a Francophone defender with very recent experience playing in the league who also happens to be a very good player was an obvious move. They even added her even though she was injured and would need several more weeks to get ready to play.

That’s really the ultimate proof that Gilles is truly legit, Lyon can basically pick up players from anywhere in the world and they reached out to Gilles. And as the defending Champions League champs, it totally makes sense why Gilles would want to go on loan. Angel City can hopefully be a destination club in the future in much the way Lyon is now. That day isn’t here yet on the field, however, and you can’t begrudge her wanting to make the leap to the true global elite.

Gilles hasn’t featured for Lyon yet but she was on the bench for their Champions League game this week for the first time, so she could see a debut before long. And from there we’ll see what happens. Officially, Gilles is on loan until summer 2023, and she may come back to Angel City at that point, but I think if she gets good playing time and impresses in France, there’s a good chance she’ll stay there for good. And possibly, ACFC can get a bit of a transfer fee in the process. If that happens, fair enough.

All in all, Gilles not only showed she’s a good defender who can anchor a backline but possibly be world class. The NWSL has a bunch of world class players, of course, but Gilles’ brief jaunt to NWSL this year showed she’s the real deal, and we’ll see what happens from here.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.