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Vanessa Gilles on move to Angel City FC: I came to play under pressure

Gold medalist setting tone early for expansion side.

Stephanie Romero/Angel City FC

It’s a good time to be a Canadian soccer player. While the men’s national team are on the verge of reaching their first World Cup since 1986, the women’s national team are reigning Olympic champions, and both groups have an exciting generation of up-and-coming talent.

Included in that is 25-year-old defender Vanessa Gilles, now a member of 2022 NWSL expansion team Angel City FC.

Her rise to becoming a regular for the CanWNT is even more impressive considering she was playing for a good team in France, Bordeaux, but not one of the few D1F powerhouses.

And after reaching the pinnacle at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, Gilles said she was ready for a new challenge.

“I think for me I had been in Bordeaux for four years in the French league,” Gilles told reporters last week. “And I think that like helped me develop immensely in the areas I needed to develop going into it in terms of technique and speed of play. And then moving forward from the Olympics, I knew I needed a change and I needed to develop in other areas in terms of defensively, but also dealing with high pressure at the national level. And I think the NWSL is the best way to learn about playing under pressure when you look at the athletes, the players and the teams that are in this league. So when Angel City became an option or an opportunity, it’s obviously not something you take lightly when such a big club is interested.”

“So I needed to change, I knew that I needed somewhere where I could develop in other areas and you know, it’s Angel City. So I think with the players here and the players that we’ll be up against and the staff that they brought in, I think that there’s just so much growth individually for me to be had here but also collectively as a team,” she added.

Gilles grew up in Quebec and had the potential to play for either Canada or France, ultimately opting to play for the country of her birth. While she’s new to the NWSL, she has experience playing in the United States, as she played NCAA soccer at the University of Cincinnati.

Her signing by ACFC was seen as one of the underrated coups of the offseason, and head coach Freya Coombe said the center back has made sure the expansion team’s standards are high to start their history together.

“Vanessa, who you know has been playing overseas, but just such a competitor. The levels that she’s operating as she’s an Olympic gold medalist, she is really up there, like holding high standards for the group and is fiercely competitive and holding that level of the team,” said Coombe.

Gilles will be back before the NWSL Challenge Cup kicks off for Angel City on Mar. 19 against San Diego Wave FC, but first she’s taking part in the inaugural Arthur Clark Cup, hosted by England, with Canada’s first game scheduled for Thursday at 11:30 am PT against the hosts, to air on Paramount+.

While Gilles is a bit torn on leaving preseason camp just three weeks in, she’s looking forward to getting some game time and thinks the tournament will help her get ready for the season to come.

“I think coming into preseason, I knew like I had the Arnold [Clark] Cup kind of lingering so I think I’ve just been like obviously fully present for practices, and with the team and whatever activity we’ve had, but also knowing that I had to do a little extra to prepare physically and mentally going into a big tournament. So just kicking around after practices ... just doing that little bit extra to get ready, but also not missing anything while I’m present here in preseason because I know that’s a big, like a very important thing, having to miss the next two weeks and our first few friendlies and not being here. But I think the beauty of it as well is that I will be getting games in so I won’t be falling behind as I’m just playing soccer.”

“So hopefully [Angel City] don’t forget about me, which I don’t think they will,” Gilles said with a smile.

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