In a lot of ways, this moment is unbelievable. Downright improbable when considering the way this season started. Today, Angel City FC are set to make their NWSL Playoff debut against growing rivals, OL Reign. Yes, at the start of the season, this was the expected result. A team that, despite a plethora of injuries last season, nearly missed out on the postseason by just a few points. However, for the first half of the season, it didn’t look that way. In fact, this is a team that, at the halfway mark of the season, was hovering around dead last in the league, looking like a team that had one eye on the offseason already. Then, the hard decision was made that absolutely changed the trajectory of this side, and no hyperbole, saved the season.
📝 Angel City FC announces that the club has parted ways with Head Coach Freya Coombe. Assistant Coach Becki Tweed will act as interim head coach.
We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Freya. As a community and team, we sincerely wish her all the best for the future.
— Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) June 15, 2023
The rough start came to a head in early June. It was after the team’s disappointing 2-1 loss to the equally woeful Chicago Red Stars where we saw an emotional Freya Coombe postgame, and in many ways it felt like the beginning of the end for her tenure. Just a week later, it was official, and Assistant Coach Becki Tweed was named Interim. In her introductory press conference she talked about the only goal the team had moving forward, putting together a full performance. “We have the pieces, but what we haven’t been able to do is complete a performance” said Tweed. “We’ve seen spells this season where we’ve been excellent, and spells where we took our foot off the gas. The goal is for us to now move forward and complete performances from minute one to minute 100.”
A simple concept really, but one that had been a trouble spot for ACFC in 2023. The team, despite all the talent, had lacked that extra bit of bite. That gritty nature needed to will yourself to results, even when you don’t necessarily always earn it throughout the course of a match. Even more impressive than her simple solution to the problems this side had been facing, is the fact that this turnaround was immediate. Literally, overnight.
Speaking to media ahead of today’s match, Angel City FC defender Madison Hammond talked about how impressive such a feat was. “For me, it’s the fact she [Tweed] went so quickly overnight from an assistant coaches role where you have a little less pressure in terms of what is asked of you, to being our head coach. The first thing she did that we really needed to make the turnaround, was structure.” June 15th was the official announcement of the team parting ways with Freya, the next day was the announcement of Tweed taking over, and on June 17th the team was back in action against rivals, San Diego Wave. The match that served as the on-pitch catalyst the team needed going forward, after securing all three points in a really gritty 2-1 win on the road.
Nearly Invincible run to end the season
When the team won the match in San Diego, very few, if anyone, was talking playoffs. The goal for the team at that time, was to just string together solid performances, To show the fans, and themselves, that despite the rough start, they had the talent to compete weekly in the NWSL, and at a high level. It was the team’s 2-1 win, this time it was the first-ever win over OL Reign, at home that really had everyone starting to believe in a playoff run. Tweed had yet to lose a match, and at that point, with five matches and 15 points up for grabs, it looked like she would have to run the table to even have a chance at seeing playoffs. Angel City went 3-1-1 in those last five matches, and with some help around the league, found themselves punching their ticket to the postseason.
The only blemish on the record under Tweed was the heartbreaking 0-1 loss at home to Orlando Pride, a team that was also competing for a final playoff spot. In the end, the team finished above Orlando, and are waking up today in Seattle, as they get set for the playoff debut.
— Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) October 18, 2023
Players to watch
The easy answer here, is everyone! Especially under Becki Tweed, everyone has stepped up. In fact, it’s what so many on the team attribute to the overall success, Tweed’s ability to get the absolute most out of every single player on the team. However, for the purpose of this, we can narrow it down to the few you should definitely be keeping eyes on if you want to see something special.
Let’s start at the back with now 2x NWSL Iron Woman, defender Sarah Gorden. When the team announced her signing ahead of their inaugural season, everyone was ecstatic to see the league’s best defender in Los Angeles. That excitement turned to pain when she suffered an injury in training, forcing her to miss all of 2022. Now, she is back and honestly, seems to have improved on her stellar 2021 season despite the year out. “It feels good, but it also feels like this is what I came here to do” said Gorden after the team’s 5-1 thrashing of Portland Thorns in the season finale. Having played every minute this season, the defender is a huge reason why ACFC have only conceded more than one goal, just once, during this amazing second half run. If anyone will be able to keep the potent OL Reign attack at bay, its Gorden, along with her CB partner, Paige Nielsen.
Another defender to watch for is rising superstar, M.A. Vignola. In fairness, she is more hybrid defender than pure, often times taking the ball up into attacking positions, servicing forwards and even scoring several times this season. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone following Vignola, who was a standout at Tennessee primarily playing forward with some midfield thrown in. Those on-ball skills have remained, making her a do-it-all threat on the pitch. Not to mention she is the embodiment of the attitude the team have adopted in recent weeks. She is gritty, fights for everything, and isn’t afraid to talk her shit when the time comes. Look for Vignola to play the biggest spoiler on what Reign hope is a special farewell.
Job not done?
It’s actually been really refreshing to see an LA based sports team, reach the playoffs, and not have to repeat the infamous Kobe Bryant line over a million times. It’s also hard to consider winning it all the “job at hand” for Angel City considering the season. This is more like, cherry on top vibes. This playoff run is less “it’s time to get over the hump and win it all” energy, and far more wide-eyed bushy-tailed, happy to be here but also let’s not go out sad, energy. All that is to say, the team are playing with house money and whatever happens today, this season is already wildly more successful than anyone had thought it would end up being way back in June.
Still, tonight wont be easy. OL Reign are a tough opponent on a bad day, and currently have some extra motivation. Woso legend, and Reign superstar, Megan Rapinoe, is in the midst of a farewell tour and OL will undoubtedly be aiming to not just win, but put on a show for the home crowd in what they hope is not the last match for Rapinoe. Few things in sports will teams to win the way a retiring legend does, so Angel City will have their work cut out for them. Luckily for them, they’ve treated every match for the last two months like must-win playoff matches. They’ve faced immense pressure as any hiccup would have meant the end of their playoff hopes. Now, they are in, and as far as they are concerned, even on their playoff debut, they feel like a team experienced in moments like this.
How to Watch
OL Reign v Angel City FC is set to kickoff at 7pm PT from Lumen field in Seattle, WA. The match will be streamed live with the broadcast for US residents over at Paramount+ , while International residents can catch the action on the official site, NWSLSoccer.com.
Thoughts ahead of the playoffs? Leave a comment below!