FULLERTON, California — This past Saturday night Angel City FC made their NWSL debut. Sure, many regard the Challenge Cup as a mere ‘preseason’ tournament — and the team was playing 38 miles from where they’ll take the pitch regularly — but it was a debut all the same, and was it ever historic. It’s hard to put into words just what this past Saturday night meant for so many. With it feeling less like a match, and more like a family reunion where a soccer match broke out, but I will try to capture the transcendent experience.
The match itself was against SoCal rivals, San Diego Wave FC, who were also taking the pitch for the first time in their club’s history. The clash ended in a 1-1 draw with both teams splitting the points, able to walk away having celebrated a first-ever club goal. In all honesty, the result was a fair one. Both sides controlled different parts of the match, both nearly netted bangers, and as a whole the quality of the match was excellent. There wasn't the typical jumped play brought on by lack of chemistry and two new teams trying things on the pitch at the same time. This match was competitive, fiery at times, and was a great preview of the contests to come when these two begin to meet during the regular season.
The result, for many in attendance, was the last thing to be worried about. Saturday night was less about that, and more about the experience. Taking in the moment, the countless people who put in the ground work in the building of that night, appreciating the history that was taking place before us. The Los Angeles Sol was the last professional women's soccer team to play in LA, and despite being a playoff team, the club folded after just one season. Shortly after, the entire league — then, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) — folded, eventually carving a path for the current NWSL. 12 long years of many pining for return of a professional team to one of the largest sports markets in the world.
The return really vamped up post-2020 Challenge Cup, when the NWSL began reaching new heights in terms of popularity. After a strong grassroots campaign with “Bring NWSL to LA” it didn't take long for people with the money, and ability, to finally make it happen. That history is important, because it gives insight on the immediate popularity of Angel City, and into why over 14,000 people have already secured season tickets. For many, this has been more than a decade in the making, for others, this is two years of never-ending relentless gatherings, shows of support, and calls being made to anyone who would listen about why bringing a team here is a great idea. All of that built-up excitement was finally released Saturday night.
Sitting here this morning, drinking my coffee and just thinking about how INCREDIBLE OUR SUPPORTERS WERE LAST NIGHT! This year is going to be fun— Savannah McCaskill (@smccaskill_7) March 20, 2022
Before a ball was even kicked, the scenes were surreal and vibes immaculate. Thousands of fans waiting in lines that circled around the stadium. Supporter’s groups meeting up in various locations throughout the parking lot. Families with kids set to take in their very first professional women's soccer match. Flares filled the air and drums set the rhythm of the night as the March to the Match made its way to the front gate. From there, a palpable buzz that turned Titan Stadium into a makeshift beehive. Thousands waiting for a glimpse of their new squad — who it should be said waited until the last possible moment to begin warmups, in true LA fashion — with many anxious to see LA native Christen Press take the field for the first time in person.
Press nearly blew minds early, showcasing her soul-snatching ability to weave through a defense, and came within inches of finding the back of the net with a rocket from yards outside the box. The goal that ACFC did score was a perfect example of how the team will likely want to play throughout the campaign. Defender and captain Ali Riley made her way up the pitch along the side of the pitch, and put a perfect ball into the box, finding a leaping Savannah McCaskill for the first goal in club history.
Even after the final whistle ended proceedings, fans remained en masse to continue singing, partying, and showering their new club with all the adoration one could ask for. With many players, to their credit, also sticking around to enjoy the moment and soak in the atmosphere of the evening.
“Angel City playing, it’s huge, right? We’ve got a huge support system to come and cheer us on at the games. This has been months since the idea of ACFC came to mind, and now it’s in fruition which has been an amazing moment to get the first ball kicked in the first official competition” said head coach Freya Coombe after the match.
In the months leading up to this moment we heard all about how the club wanted to be a beacon of hope. Something young girls could look up to and see themselves, an attainable dream right in their own backyard, a spark for the love of the beautiful game. So it’s perhaps most fitting that the best moments of the night were seeing that come to fruition.
Not just young girls, but young men as well. Kids from all over the area, genuinely excited about women's soccer. Young girls screaming their lungs out in the hopes of getting a brief response from their favorite players. The sparkle in their eyes as they began to see themselves taking the pitch with that pink crest emblazoned on their chest.
Personally, the moment that stood out the most came post-match where a father was taking pictures of his daughter in front of one of the various Angel City signs that sprinkled throughout the stadium. Asking her if she enjoyed herself, and being met with a gleeful yes and questions about if they could return for more. As they walked across the parking lot, hand in hand, planning their next match day together it really hit me. That moment was what the night was all about. Bringing family together, enjoying the love of sports with one another, and inspiring the future generations, in the hopes that it continues for years to come. Saturday night wasn't just a preseason match, it was the start of something truly special for the city of LA.
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