93 minutes in, it looked like Angel City FC would come away with a hard-fought road point in their NWSL Challenge Cup match Sunday against OL Reign, but a 94th-minute bloop header off a free kick won the game for the home side at Lumen Field, with Angel City suffering a gut punch result in the 2-1 loss.
The Easter Sunday showdown was Angel City’s best performance to date, as they were stout in defense aside from two breakdowns, and while their attack was more limited, they got a goal and honestly deserved a point, but the lesson from this loss is the game isn’t over until the final whistle.
With Christen Press a scratch due to entering the COVID protocols prior to the match, Simone Charley got the nod to start up top, and Freya Coombe gave Megan Reid her NWSL debut, starting in place of Madison Hammond.
Given the potency of OL Reign’s attack so far in the Challenge Cup, Angel City had their work cut out for them but the early signs were promising, as they kept their opponent in front of them and stopped them from grabbing a quick lead in the opening minutes.
The wall stayed up for 33 minutes, but in the 34th minute, OL Reign found a breakthrough. Quinn hit a ball over the top to Ally Watt on the right flank, who then sent a pass into the middle to Bethany Balcer, who finished past DiDi Haračić to give the home side the lead.
The Reign scored again through Balcer just before halftime, but the goal was chalked off due to offside, with Reid appearing to do her job to hold the line and keep the deficit to just a goal going into the break.
ACFC tried to redouble their efforts in attack to open the 2nd half, since they couldn’t hope for a result without at least a goal. Still, they found it tough sledding and couldn’t get the breakthrough, and OL Reign refound some rhythm as the second 45 wore on and Angel City had to work on both ends of the field.
Hammond entered the game in the 63rd minute and replaced Ali Riley, and then Hope Breslin replaced Cari Roccaro in the 82nd minute.
Moments later, Jun Endo had the best chance of the game to that point for Angel City, as she acquired the ball at the top of the box, made a nifty move to find space, and forced a save from Reign GK Phallon Tullis-Joyce. Immediately after, Angel City circulated the ball around, with Endo hitting a cross that Charley headed against the grain, just sneaking in under the crossbar to tie up the game.
It looked like Angel City would hold on in the final minutes for a draw, but in the 94th minute, Lauren Barnes’ long service on the free kick was headed in by Olivia Van der Jagt to win it for OL Reign.
To make things worse, Angel City had an even later chance to tie up the game again, with Endo sending a beautiful cutback into the 18-yard box, and Jasmyne Spencer — who also had a terrific match — hit a one-timer that sailed just over the goal. The final whistle came immediately afterwards.
So it’s a tough result to take. I think Angel City weren’t a flowing team, but they played smart and the team was putting together good performances collectively to stay in the game. Considering this was their best performance to date, they didn’t quite deserve an elusive first win, but they did deserve the draw and having that snatched away hurts. Still, it’s another learning opportunity for the young team.
Angel City will wrap up their Challenge Cup group games next Sunday, when they will host the Portland Thorns at Titan Stadium in Fullerton. It’s another tough assignment and the Thorns have obviously beaten Angel City already. But it will be another chance to get a result, and there’s a lot to build on from this performance, even if the ending wasn’t ideal.
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