The hype for this team coming into 2022 couldn't be quantified. Everybody, and we mean everybody in Los Angeles was looking forward to seeing Angel City FC take the pitch for the first time ever in the regular season. That hype culminated in a massive 2-1 win over a tough North Carolina Courage side, at home in front of over 22,000 people. Yes, the first official match in the NWSL for an expansion side, on a night where the Dodgers were playing just a skip away, over 22,000 people decided to spend a Friday night watching women’s professional soccer.
That hype hasn't died down either, as the team averages right around 15,000 in attendance each time out. The team currently sit on the playoff line, sixth place, meaning if the season ended right now we would see ACFC in the playoffs! However, the season doesn't end today, in fact we’re only at the approximate halfway mark which makes it the perfect time to evaluate and check in on this team’s inaugural season up to now.
The injury bug bit Angel City before the season even started, and has only become more of a pest for this team. Just as players were coming together for the start of preseason, it was announced the club’s second-ever signing, and planned anchor for the defense, Sarah Gorden, had suffered a major knee injury that would sideline her for the foreseeable future. An injury she is still rehabbing from, but recently gave us an update of her already running which was great to see.
New arrivals like Mary-Alice Vignola and Paige Nielsen had also dealt with knocks throughout the preseason and while the latter has slowly begun returning to the pitch, the former has yet to make her debut for the squad. Then there are the injuries that tend to happen throughout the course of a season, but even that hit ACFC harder than most recently. As we all already know, the team’s first-ever signing and star forward, Christen Press, recently suffered an ACL injury that saw her season end after just nine matches.
Controlling what they can
Injuries are the worst. Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to prevent them. Yes, rotating a squad helps a ton — that’s a different conversation we will have at a later time — but aside from that, you're at the mercy of the universe.
What has been most impressive is that injuries aside, this hasn't been a bad team at all. When you consider this was a squad that had a three-match stretch in the Challenge Cup where opponents scored a combined 10 goals against them, and through nine matches so far this regular season, have only allowed nine goals. While that’s not the best in the league, they are one of just five teams in the league with single-digit goals allowed. Considering this team lost the anchor of their defense before kicking a ball, and has had to use natural forwards as outside defensive backs, that's very impressive for an expansion side.
When the roster for Angel City was still being constructed, had you asked anybody what expectations were for this team, playoffs would've been considered the very high ceiling. Even with players as talented as they have, sports are hard, especially for an expansion side and historically so in the NWSL. Sure, some may have whispered this team had a potential to possibly compete for it all, but realistically, a playoff appearance would mark a successful inaugural season.
When the first round of injuries hit ACFC, many had already written them off, with many hoping they wouldn't get overrun by everybody when they took the pitch. They didn't. In fact, the 2-1 win over NC Courage was just the start of some really impressive performances. The team has since beaten defending champions Washington Spirit on the road, secured a solid win at home over an improved KC Current side, and recently won another tough one on the road in a 3-2 thriller over Racing Louisville.
Now, the team is in the midst of dealing with another major injury, this time to Press. While Press may not have the goal tally as others around the league, anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the game knows her impact. It’s another obstacle in a season full of them for the expansion side.
Sit back, and enjoy
Before the season a playoff appearance was almost expected. A strong statement to the rest of the league while also building the foundation of success for years to come. Now, many have all but written-off Angel City. Sure, this team may not contend for the championship this season, but that was a high standard even at full health. This year has proven just how much parity is in the league, and just how talented a lot of teams are.
We here at AoP have maintained this season was about setting the foundation for the future. Less about the expectations that should be set, and more about creating a culture and community around this team that draws in stars from around the league. An environment other teams claim to hate, but secretly wish they were part of. Through nine matches, that has been a resounding success. Angel City has firmly inserted itself as an LA sports team. People now travel from all over just to see the Angels take the pitch, to experience what has quickly become one of the best atmospheres in all of the NWSL. That, regardless of what happens in the standings over the next 13 matches, is why this season has been a massive success.
Sure, this may not be the exact way we all saw the inaugural season going, but you can't deny it’s been just as fun to this point. The support for this team in Los Angeles is very real, and will only continue to grow. With all that's happened through the first half of the season, Angel City should be less worried about outside expectations, and more focused on continuing to build the foundation. If they see the postseason this year, fantastic, but as far as we're concerned, this season has already been a massive success. Now, we can all just sit back and enjoy the football. Soak in a few more magical moments this season and not worry about expectations because at the end of the day que sera, sera.
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