For all the good that Copa Angelina did this week. For all the potential that this match has, and for what it very much might mean for the game as whole moving forward, perhaps the most important thing it did was provide opportunity. An opportunity for players who don't normally get to experience International football to get a glimpse at what it’s like. It also provided an opportunity for a National team that typically plays second-fiddle, to take center stage in a city that has become a second home. It’s a major reason why Monday night was so great, it wasn't just for the fans, or the game’s bigger picture, it was very much for the players, many of whom embraced the moment.
“I think it was great. It was my first International game that I've played in.” That was a quote from Angel City FC forward/defender Jasmyne Spencer when asked if the match against Mexico’s National team was fun. It was one of those quotes that smacks you right in the face with a heavy dose of reality. The unfortunate truth of sports, that not everyone gets to experience it all, even if they’re good enough.
The hard truth is there is a large pool of players, in the NWSL and around the world alike, that are extremely talented, great at what they do, considered one of the top players in their respective leagues, yet for whatever reason might not get into their National Team’s roster. For Spencer, it’s a mix of misfortune being in arguably the largest talent pool, for what has been the greatest National Team this sport has ever seen. Breaking into the prestigious USWNT is hard and with only so few spots, players like Spencer, who have the talent and ability to play at an International level, are left on the outside looking in. For as heavy as it was, it was further proof of why matches like this are so damn important. It would be great if every NWSL team had a night like that, where their players could feel the thrill and excitement of taking on a Nation's best XI. A chance to sharpen skills in a competitive atmosphere not typically felt.
“It was a really good opportunity for us all. It’s difficult to stay in that mentality of getting a competitive game during the International window for those of us who aren't going away, so to have an International level game right here at home, is big time to keep us in-form going into the final stretch,” said Spencer when asked about playing Mexico. She finished by saying, “It’s cool to see how you match-up at that level [International] take it for what it was, a great experience.”
It was a sentiment felt on both sides as well, because for the Mexican Women’s National Team, this is really the first time ever they've had the opportunity to take center stage as the main attraction, certainly here in America. Of course, there are the friendly matches against USWNT, but lets be brutally honest, Mexico has historically been a doormat, and as they've vastly improved in recent years, it's still the USWNT show anytime they take the pitch in this country, and mostly everywhere else they play.
However, Monday night was all about El Tri Femenil. In 2016, the Mexican Federation decided to actually invest in the women's side of soccer by forming the now incredibly popular Liga MX Femenil with the mission to bring in, cultivate, nurture, and grow young Mexican talent, with the hopes of improving their National Team. That plan worked and then, as I say, the league is already fighting NWSL and WSL as a top league in the world, continuing to bring in talent not just from Mexico, as recent arrival Mia Fishel proved.
Unfortunately, growth and progress aren't linear, and what was expected to be an easy tournament to cement their spot in the upcoming World Cup, ended in disaster for Mexico, as they not only couldn't punch their ticket to the world’s biggest tournament, but couldn't win a match in what was an embarrassing showing that resulted in a cleaning of house. Which is all part of what made Monday night so special. It was the first chance since then that fans here in their second home of LA, had to see them, and they showed out! Nearly 18,000 filled The Banc to support both sides, but it if there was a favorite, it was clearly Mexico.
“We just came out here to be competitive,” said Mexico midfielder and San Diego native Scarlett Camberos. “We’re in a transition phase, which I think these games are going to really help us grow as a team and just to come out here and have fun as a team,” she said when talking about the match against ACFC. For players like her on the Mexican side, it was also a chance to don the colors of their country in front of family and friends who may not get the chance to travel to see them play elsewhere. Camberos herself, had an army of support on-hand at The Banc. “I had like 30 friends and family, friends from college [UC Irvine], and some coaches. It was really cool to score my first goal and hear my dad up in the stands, it was a great time.”
A great time indeed, another special night provided in part by a club that made it their mission from day one to not only strive for success on the pitch, but to do all they can to help improve and grow the game of women’s soccer, off of it. Hearing players gush like that, talk of playing in front of family, soaking in a new experience, hearing them talk about playing for a trophy — a super cool, beautiful, unique one at that! — it makes you realize what truly is important in this game. Copa Angelina was a lot of things, to a lot of us.
For me personally, it was a chance to fall in love with the game of soccer all over again. Feeling the energy from the crowd, seeing families share what will undoubtedly be core memories, and as a Mexico supporter myself seeing the women’s side take the pitch in-person for the first time was something that I, like many of you all, will never forget.
More than anything, hearing the players talk about the moment, and what it meant let me know that nights like Monday night need to happen far more often than they currently do. Hopefully Copa Angelina is just the beginning of something truly beautiful.
What did Copa Angelina mean to you? Leave a comment below!