Angel City FC had an NWSL regular season opener for the ages on Friday, a 2-1 win over the North Carolina Courage in which the raucous home crowd at Banc of California Stadium thoroughly got the road team out of their element at kickoff, followed by two early goals for ACFC, and then a lot of holding on for dear life.
While Jun Endo had a sparkling 1st half performance in the victory, and was rightly the player of the match, with a goal and an assist as well as plenty of terrific defending to go alongside the production, there was a definite MVP of the 2nd half for Angel City FC, and maybe not for the reasons you may be thinking.
Goalkeeper DiDi Haračić did allow a goal early in the 2nd half, but from there she had a masterful performance, by doing everything she possibly could to burn clock as Angel City hung on for the victory.
The thing is, soccer doesn’t actually have many “unwritten rules” but one of the practices that is not legal and yet widespread is time-wasting. If your team is losing, time-wasting is the dirtiest trick the devil ever pulled, and if your team is winning or tied and desperately hanging on in either situation, it’s a necessary evil. Something to give your team hope as the seconds dwindle.
What struck me was how early Haračić began time-wasting in earnest. After allowing the goal by North Carolina star Debinha in the 51st minute, Haračić, the player on the field most equipped to effectively waste time, took full advantage.
After slowing playing a restart, she went down around the hour mark of the game with an apparent cramp. While it is entirely possible she had a legit cramp there, it was not especially hot in Los Angeles on Friday, and she was able to carry on with no issues (sometimes when goalkeepers pull a muscle or deal with cramp they get a teammate to take goal kicks, Haračić did not).
From there, having pulled out the biggest card right off the top, Haračić did the more mundane things to milk the clock. Goal kick? Walk around the long way for a new ball, give it a good look, place the ball down at the edge of the 6. See that spot isn’t quite perfect, replace the ball, point at a teammate, gesture wildly, point at another teammate, get a whistle from the ref to hurry up and finally kick it away. Boom, 45 seconds burned right there.
My actual favorite routines pulled by the GK was when she would scoop up to collect a ball from the run of play, fake a quick outlet pass, pump fake a couple times, walk around the box, then basically do the routine she did on goal kicks once again. She did this at least three separate times.
At one point, the referee — who to be fair called a pretty good game, especially by the “Wild West” standards of the NWSL — walked back upfield to issue a warning to Haračić. Remarkably, she wasn’t shown a yellow card at this point, which admittedly was probably warranted. Instead, Haraćič again tested her luck on this exact stretch of play before finally kicking off. I swear, with the ref’s help she managed to bleed close to 1:30 off the clock.
The effort was contagious around Angel City, who truly were hanging on in the final minutes. Twice midfielder Cari Roccaro suffered fouls, and stayed down on the field a beat or seven longer than usual. The first time, I thought she was hurt, but as she got back to her feet and began jogging again, she had a wry grin on her face.
Meanwhile, forward Tyler Lussi did get hurt, first taking a shot off the head before going to the other end of the field and getting inadvertently smacked in the face or eye by a Courage player. But while we all hope she’ll be just fine, she was taking one for the team as she needed medical attention and eventually, a substitute that also helped take time off the clock.
Obviously, if I was North Carolina, I’d be furious that Haračić’s tactics were not reined in far earlier. But, you know, this is an Angel City site, and the veteran did what she had to to get the result. That’s some queen shit right there.
Even ACFC head coach Freya Coombe acknowledged the time-wasting efforts of her goalkeeper.
“DiDi has proven herself in these big moments to overcome triumphs,” Coombe said postgame. “She understood the assignment in terms of managing the momentum of the game. She did a fantastic job for us and contributed to our win in a massive way.”
Can’t say fairer than that. Usually we judge GKs on saves made or not, goals allowed and distribution, but in this particular game, the occasion called for the ‘keeper to just burn that clock away, and she was built for the moment. Congrats to Haračić for her 2nd half MVP performance, Angel City probably would not have sealed the win without it.
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