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What we learned about Angel City heading into the NWSL season

The Challenge Cup brought valuable lessons the team can learn from for the season ahead.

Portland Thorns FC v Angel City FC - 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

It’s difficult to call this a season preview. After all, Angel City has already taken the pitch six times in the lead-up to the 2022 NWSL regular season. While the Challenge Cup may not have gone exactly like the team had hoped, it was still a great opportunity to fine-tune tactics, and get a sense of how the team plays together. It was also a chance to see what NWSL opposition will look like, and was it a rude awakening at times. Here’s some of the things we can look forward to in 2022.

Injuries are the worst

Let’s just get this out of the way now so as to not dwell. Angel City came into preseason training with a plan of action, and molded their roster as such. Paying mind not to bring too many players in too early, as to allow chemistry and bonds to build without the fear of losing players to cuts. Unfortunately, those take a hit when injuries creep in. Normally, something a team worries about in the middle of the season as games begin to pile on, but ACFC were the victim of some early preseason knocks that changed the dynamic of what they had planned to an extend.

Players like Katie Cousins, M.A. Vignola, Paige Nielsen and Sarah Gorden left ACFC with holes before a ball was really kicked. Injuries are definitely part of the sport, but it does hurt that we’ve yet to see Angel City as intended, and probably won't for a bit.

NWSL is hard, but this team is up for the fight

So, about the Challenge Cup not going as everyone might have hoped, well, yeah. To say it was “bad” would be a stretch. There were definitely bad moments, matches where they were clearly out-classed, but nothing worrisome. Opening up the tournament at home against a rival and fellow expansion side with a 1-1 draw isn't bad. The result was fair, despite ACFC letting in an equalizer late, and just to have the team on the pitch for the first time ever was an experience.

The next few matches, first-ever matchups against Portland Thorns and OL Reign, weren't great. In fact, throw in the reverse of the rivalry with San Diego Wave. That three game stretch Angel City was outscored 10-3. It was a rough realization that these NWSL opponents are talented, just like our team is, and they have the experience advantage on top of that. That’s the thing about preseason though, it’s about progression, however that may look.

The team may have lost their second match against OL Reign, but they looked much better. On the road, against a very tough squad, after going down, they fought and Simone Charley got a late equalizer. Unfortunately, that whole experience thing kicked in for the Reign, who got an even later winner. The wait for the first win wouldn't take long though, because in the Challenge Cup finale this past weekend, at “home” in Fullerton, Angel City got a 1-0 win over the Thorns behind a Christen Press penalty conversion. The best part about it, Press scored in the 29th minute, giving Thorns plenty of time to find the equalizer, and ACFC wouldn't allow it with some really great defense. Progression, that's the important part.

Names to watch

The fun thing about a new team is seeing players who perhaps aren’t the most well-known, start to open eyes and get people taking. For Angel City, Megan Reid and Simone Charley are a couple of those players. In fairness, those who have followed NWSL already know about Charley, so the fact ACFC were able to get her was a big deal, however there are plenty who have the expansion club to thank for getting them into the league. So to see her making the most of her minutes, and slowly becoming the player on the fans’ lips, isn't a surprise. It's mostly entertaining, to hear and see people say things like ‘Simone Charley should be playing more, probably even starting’, because, yeah, she should be.

Reid will probably be an unknown even to those who have followed the league, however. The defender went undrafted, played some amateur-level footy, was brought into training for San Diego Wave initially, didn’t make their roster, then brought into Angel City where she has done well with the opportunities. She is a significant reason for the recent defensive turnaround, starting the last two matches in central defense. With Gorden out for what is said to be an “undetermined amount of time” perhaps the young Reid has done enough to warrant a shot to start come the season opener.

We do have Christen Press, so there's that

It’s true, Christen Press is a member of the Angel City FC. That’s a pretty big deal, because with talent like that helping to lead the squad, you can't ever be far away from success. The most important thing will be her avoiding the need to — forgive me so much for this — press. LA soccer fans know better than most that having just one player who scores all the goals doesn't necessarily equate to championships. Success will be determined by the whole, and Angel City has a lot of talented players around Press. Sure, she will be the heart of the attack, but when players like Charley, Jun Endo, and Tyler Lussi get going and involved, then watch out. One thing the Challenge Cup definitely taught us was that Press is still great at football activities. Despite not scoring a bunch, she came away with several souls snatched and is now warmed up and ready for the matches that matter. Here we go.

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