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Demand for women’s sports? Copa Angelina proved it’s alive and well

When a friendly means much more.

Brenton Tse

Stop me when this sounds familiar: Angel City FC hosted first-of-its-kind exhibition match, that drew a massive crowd, moved the game as a whole forward, and had at least one writer falling in love with the sport all over again.

This past Monday, on Labor Day no less, Angel City played host to Mexico Women’s National Team in the first of what is set to be an annual event, Copa Angelina.

It's not completely unheard of, but still incredibly rare — especially for an expansion side with arguably a billion other things to focus on — to see a domestic club take on a national team, let alone enter an annual partnership with them. Which is part of what made Monday night so special. It wasn’t just a night to be treasured and preserved in history, but the start of something that could bring bigger, and much welcome, change to the game of women's soccer as a whole. We even got a look at the trophy for the competition and nothing screams permanent fixture like a one-of-kind, Sol Rosa colored, winged trophy!

While it may feel familiar, us about to gush over the incredible atmosphere and magic of the occasion of yet another ACFC moment, but Monday night was unlike anything The Banc has seen.

Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to see many big moments at The Banc from the MLS side. From inaugural match-winners late, an epic Concacaf Champions League comeback, playoff wins and rivalry routs, but nothing tops what Monday night provided.

It shouldn't be a surprise either, playing a club like Tigres is one thing. It’s a popular club in a league that is only gaining popularity and they have plenty of fans here in Los Angeles, but going up against a whole country, especially Mexico, in LA which has always served as their second home, was a totally different beast.

As you might have imagined, not only were there tons of Mexico National Team supporters, but you very much got the sense many were supporters of both sides hoping to see the best from both and just enjoy the festivities of the night. That was made especially clear once the match kicked off. With every chance, attack, dribble move that Angel City had, the crow roared with excitement. Whenever Mexico did the the same, the crowd had an equally enthusiastic reaction. We’ve made the ‘family bbq’ analogy here before, but this was very much like a family pick-up game during holiday dinner.

You may have had a favorite cousin on either of the teams which is why you wanted them to win just that little bit more, but for most, just having the drinks flowing, food cooking and friends close meant the night had already been won. It wasn't until late in the second half that one team gained the backing of the filled stadium, and to the surprise of almost nobody, it was Mexico who began receiving a lot more of the support.

Perhaps the oddest moment of the evening from an optics standpoint, was when Angel City’s Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel put in a hard tackle on one of Mexico’s players, and not only received a foul for her efforts but was actually met with a cascade of boos. It was the first time ever a player on one of The Banc’s resident teams was on the receiving end of boos at home, but while odd, it was also just more evidence of how incredibly unique the night was.

As for the players, they didn't take it too seriously, with Jasmyne Spencer saying after the match “You feed off the energy whether they’re for or against you. It’s just incredible to play in a stadium that’s loud and vibrant.”

Spencer also viewed it as a learning experience as the team will undoubtedly face hostile environments come postseason, saying, “when you think about coming up on the playoff stretch, there's a good chance we’ll go against big teams like Portland [Thorns], and Seattle [OL Reign] and play in their packed houses and have the crowd against you.” She did make sure to acknowledge that while the crowd may have played favorites to Mexico on the night, they've shown ACFC nothing but love during their inaugural season. “The Banc has been so good to us all season long.”

And just how many made up that loud and vibrant crowd? Oh, just under 18,000 people, who braved the hottest recorded September in modern history in Los Angeles, during Labor Day Weekend, for a match that while incredibly special is still only an ‘exhibition’ match.

Yet, Angel City continue to prove what many of us already know, people truly do love watching and attending games for women’s soccer. Angel City hasn't seen a crowd less than 15,000 at home this season, and are no strangers to pulling in close to 20,000 at times.

An atmosphere like that is how people go from casually watching the sport, to having their happiness dependent on the result of a soccer match any given weekend. It’s how someone who's spent over 25 years watching the sport, has a spark lit anew. Seeing families take in the moment together, children having a chance to see players they love for both club and country, just knowing that this was the beginning of something much bigger. It was the rare times where you know you're taking part in something historic, something meaningful. You may not know how it will end up changing everything, you just know that it will.

What do you think, did you enjoy Copa Angelina? Leave a comment below!