This season has not gone the way Angel City FC had hoped. After an inaugural season plagued with injuries, a season in which they still nearly found themselves in the postseason, the team were hoping for a better 2023. With the return of superstar defender Sarah Gorden, Christen Press on the mend, as well as the number one NWSL Draft pick in Alyssa Thompson, to go along with several decent signings made in the offseason and early stages of the year, the team had hopes of taking a massive step towards improvement. Unfortunately, as we sit now, not only has the team failed to improve much, they are scarily close to regressing.
DREAM DEBUT 🤩
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 27, 2023
The expectations for Angel City coming into this season, weren’t too crazy. Many still understood this was a team that was still getting healthy, with players like Sydney Leroux and Christen Press still rehabbing as the season began, with aims of returning shortly before the start of World Cup action. Defender Sarah Gorden was healed and had a full offseason under her belt, giving the team a much-needed boost in defense. While hardly anyone expected this squad to be one to sit atop the league standings, this was still a team many felt would, and should, see the postseason with relative ease. At present, Los Angeles would be lucky to finish the season outside of last place.
Progression, regression, or idling
Normally, it’s hard to compare any given roster from one year to the next, but in Angel City’s case, the 2023 version of the squad wasn’t too much different from their inaugural roster. Most of those departed were players who didn’t see many minutes, with the biggest loss being the, now extended, loan for Vanessa Gilles to Lyon in France. As mentioned, this year’s squad actually saw plenty of arrivals via the draft, signings, and players getting healthier. That’s what makes the start of the season so worrisome. This is the point in the season teams are settling in for the season, and in a World Cup year, this is the time in the season where teams will be trying to make headway with several teams set to lose top players, Angel City included.
At this moment, Angel City are battling just to keep from being bottom of the league. The team hold a 2-5-3 (W-L-D) record, with 13 goals scored, and 19 goals scored against them, with a total of just nine points. For reference, current league leaders and defending champion Portland Thorns sit with 19 points and a 5-1-4 record. If we are going purely on numbers, this team has gotten worse in comparison to year one. Through ten matches last season, LA had a respectable record of 4-4-2 giving them 14 points, and while they only scored eight goals, they only allowed 11 as well, giving them a better differential despite adding one of the best defenders in the league.
If we try to throw away just purely numbers, and try to judge just based off eye test and vibes, it isn’t much better for ACFC. Last season, the biggest hinderance was health. The team was losing close matches, but were performing incredibly well. More times than not, you’d see them fight until the bitter end. While they did lose several matches in the final moments, it always felt like it was more the opposition putting together a moment of brilliance far more than it was Angel City doing something to lose. However, this season, we have seen the complete opposite. This is a team that, despite getting healthier, seems more lost than before. Performances aren’t just bad, they are hard to watch. You can never question what is in a player’s heart, and there is no doubt individuals are giving all they have, but as a whole, this is a team that seems to hang their heads way more than we saw last year.
Not the kind of history Angel City wanted to make. 😐
We have the first ever VAR goal reversal in the history of women’s club soccer on Jun Endo’s rocket from midfield. 👀 pic.twitter.com/FxLkCmM9HF
— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) March 27, 2023
Who exactly are Angel City?
We saw it from the start of the season, with the first match at home against Gotham FC. After top draft pick Alyssa Thompson secured one of the more impressive debuts, scoring in the first 11 minutes of her career, it looked like LA was off and running on the new year with a Jun Endo goal just minutes later. However, after a review from VAR, it was called back due to a controversial foul call. Despite not doubling their lead, the team still led with plenty of time left, yet, couldn’t overcome the feeling of being robbed of their second goal. It was something even players recognized with Captain Ali Riley saying after the match, “we can’t let things that are out of our control affect us so much, and I do think we saw a little bit of that on the mental side.” Head Coach Freya Coombe even spoke on it, “for many players on the team it was their first exposure to VAR and the emotions. I think it’s just a learning moment for all of us.” The team ended up losing that match, 1-2.
It wouldn’t be the only time VAR shook up this squad mentally this season, as the team’s biggest rivalry might not be San Diego, but rather, the little monitor on the side of the pitch. Given all that, what has been hardest to accept through all this, has been the absolute lack of identity Angel City FC have on pitch. Off it, this is a team that has excelled at marketing, done great at accumulating the hype, and has made excellent headway in relationships within the community. However, do we know what they are on the pitch? Are they a team that fights until the very end, rarely making it easy for opponents? Are they the type of team to get physical with teams, always racking up yellow cards? Are they the squad who is going to turn their home into a fortress with a stellar home record? Sadly, this side has proven to be none of those. As harsh as it sounds, the most consistent thing about 2023 Angel City has been letdowns. A team that folds at the first sign of trouble, unable to overcome obstacles. A team that can go on the road and put on a great effort, but will almost always have a ten minute span where they essentially hand the opposition points. If there is one thing this team needs to do, even more so than the obvious getting healthier, is find out who they intend to be. The honeymoon phase is fading, and it’s time this team start securing results.
— Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) May 27, 2023
Problems require solutions
This is the hardest part of columns like this. The, ‘come to ancestors moment,’ that everyone has when faced with the crossroads. Right now, despite being just ten matches into the season, Angel City are at a critical crossroads. The team are almost dead last in the league, ten points off the top spot, but still just six points off the final playoff spot. With just over 10 matches left, there is still plenty of time to salvage the season, but given how things have gone so far, that won’t happen without major changes being made. The facts are, through two seasons, this team has no identity on the pitch, has struggled to find any sort of consistency, and falling further behind the pack. Coming into the season, the biggest complaint in regards to tactics had been the lack of substitutes, the lack of creativity in how the team attacks, and players not given a chance with many seeing hardly any minutes. While there has been a bit more rotation this season, it hasn’t been enough, nor at times when needed most. Subs being made when the match is already out of hand, or not at all.
Seeing as Angel City FC secured a new GM in Angela Hucles Mangano, the only plausible change that can be made, if one is made, is at head coach. These are never easy conversations to have, but changes must be made. We have seen players mention all throughout the season that the mentality is not there. Far too many matches where the players leave feeling like they just “didn’t have it.” Too many matches where tactics let the side down. The biggest problem with making a change like this, is the age-old question, who do you bring in for a replacement? Given one Angel City assistant has already been poached for a Head Coach position overseas, there aren’t many options.
If a move is made, the team will need someone who can come in and truly put their mark on the roster. A coach with experience coaching at the highest levels, one who is used to the spotlight, used to coaching high-profile talent, in a high-profile league, and is familiar with the pressures of being in a place like Los Angeles. If the team is going to make the move, looking at some of the recent departures around women’s soccer would be a great place to start.
How do you feel about the season so far? Leave a comment below!