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Angel City FC defenders dazzle on international duty

An early look at several ACFC players during current window.

Canada v Germany - Arnold Clark Cup Photo by Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

It was a busy week in the world of women's soccer internationally, with the SheBelieves Cup, Arnold Clark Cup, and Concacaf W Qualifiers all taking place. While Angel City FC is still in preseason mode preparing for their first match in March, this week did provide an early look at several players set to take the pitch for ACFC in 2022.

New Zealand defender Ali Riley, Canadian defender Vanessa Gilles, and Jamaican defender Allyson Swaby all featured for their respective countries this past week. The trio all made the Starting XI and played a hefty amount of minutes for their squads, giving them some much welcome playing time in a competitive environment as they continue to prepare for the NWSL season ahead.

Let’s start close to home, with the SheBelieves Cup. With the first two matchdays played at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, this was the perfect opportunity for Angel City fans to get a good, local look at New Zealand captain Riley up close and in-person.

As a whole, New Zealand has had a rough tournament. Losing both of their previous matches — a close 1-0 loss to a surprise Iceland squad, and a 5-0 loss to powerhouse USWNT — with their final match of the tournament set to take place against Czech Republic Wednesday afternoon. Riley started both matches and logged the full 90 minutes in her appearances. She flashed her speed, ability to lock down the attack — with a majority of opposition success coming via the side opposite her — and showed her veteran grit and leadership.

Despite the overall sour feeling of how the tournament has gone for New Zealand, Riley did find solace in her support. With the Cup being played in LA, she not only got to enjoy the warm welcome and love from Angel City supporters, but as a SoCal native, got to play in front of family and friends. That itself, is always a major win.

Over in the Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers, Allyson Swaby put on a show for Jamaica. The team as a whole enjoyed two wins in their brief qualifying window, a 4-0 shutout of Bermuda, and 6-1 thumping of Grenada. While Swaby didn't log in a full 180 minutes combined for the two appearances, she did start in both appearances, logging a full 90 minutes in the shutout of Bermuda. She didn't find herself on the score sheet, but she did get close to several assists, and provided a handful of key passes to help star forward Bunny Shaw find the back of the net for her squad.

Not only proving to be a brick wall in defense, Swaby showed off her ability to get upfield and provide a different layer to the attack. Of Course, we have yet to see just how Angel City head coach Freya Coombe will have the team playing, but she has to like what she sees in the 25-year-old defender. With a stacked midfield and potent attack on paper, Swaby won't be lacking for targets to feed the ball into.

The defender who opened the most eyes this past week was Canadian international Vanessa Gilles, during the Arnold Clark Cup. The 25-year-old had a tournament to remember, starting in two of the team’s three matches, playing the full 90 in both starts. Not only did she lock down attackers in defense — holding Germany scoreless, and keeping England to just one goal — but she also showed Angel City supporters another layer to her game, via aerial threat. In the team’s second match of the tournament, Gilles netted her first International goal, on a perfectly placed header via corner kick. The goal was enough to secure the win, as Canada went on to beat Germany 1-0.

Canada played their final match of the Arnold Clark Cup Wednesday morning, with Gilles taking a much earned rest, starting the match on the bench, not making an appearance in the team's lone defeat, a 1-0 loss to Spain. The team currently await the results of matches later in the day to see if they get crowned champions. While Jamaica won't take the pitch again until their next qualifying window in April, Riley and New Zealand have one more match left in the SheBelieves Cup. The team face off against Czech Republic, as they look for their first result of the competition. Kickoff in that match is set for 3 pm PT (available on ESPN3 in the U.S.).

International action is always worth the watch, but especially so when you get an early peek at what will likely be members of the starting defense for Angel City. This also goes a long way in helping get players match fit as the NWSL season is just a month away. Expect the club to schedule a few scrimmages of their own ahead of the Challenge Cup, as they continue to gain fitness, but more importantly, continue building chemistry.

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