It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, the holiday season, but more importantly, it’s the NWSL offseason, now featuring the all-new Free Agency add-on! An already chaotic time of year is about to get even crazier with the talent set to hit the market looking for better contracts, and possibly, new homes. For Angel City FC, this is a crucial offseason as they look to take that next step from plucky newcomers, to perennial contenders. So, let’s get into what Angel City FC will need to focus on these next few months to ensure avoiding a slow start in 2024, and secure a postseason spot without the final day drama.

Decisions, Decisions

As the 2023 campaign came to a close for Angel City, they faced several big decisions going into the offseason. The biggest question at the close of the year for the team was one they wasted no time in answering: who would be the next head coach in LA. After parting ways with Freya Coombe in the summer, the team named Becki Tweed to an Interim role to finish out the year and what happened next was nothing short of magical. The team completely turned their fortunes around, as the Tweed-led ACFC side broke off an 11 match unbeaten run, losing just one time to finish out the regular season as they were able to secure a spot in the postseason for the first time in team history.

While the playoffs didn’t go to plan, with the team eliminated in the first round, the finish to the season was more than enough for Angel City to decide on dropping the Interim tag, and making it official with Tweed. Just days after their season wrapped up, the team announced they had hired Becki Tweed on as the Head Coach going forward. GM Angela Hucles Mangano let it be known that the club had an extensive search that included looking at 52 candidates, and while coaches like Carmelina Moscato were available for consideration, the team couldn’t see passing up on the only candidate that had already proven successful with this very squad.

With the biggest decision for the club done and dusted, the team now turns to the offseason, more specifically, the upcoming NWSL Expansion Draft set for Dec 15th. This year the league is welcoming two new clubs, Bay FC and the return of the Utah Royals, with both looking to make some sort of splash during the draft. Here is where it gets interesting, as the rules state, each team is at risk of losing two players in the draft. Either both expansion clubs can each draft a player from the same team, or a single club could, if they so choose, draft two players from a single team. Each club is allowed to protect just nine players and with the addition of Free Agency, all Free Agents will be automatically protected from being selected, meaning they aren’t eligible to be picked by the expansion sides. Got it? Hard, I know, but what does that mean for Angel City?

Well, first, it means the club will only be able to protect nine players from their current roster. The team is looking at eight players hitting free agency, with those players automatically protected. So, unless the team makes some trades that include protection, they could lose up to two players in the upcoming draft. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, we don’t yet know the players protected, but you know we will provide you with all those details as they become available. Now, on to those eight free agents, which looks like this:

Simone Charley (unrestricted), Elizabeth Eddy (unrestricted), Sarah Gorden (unrestricted), Madison Hammond (restricted), Brittany Isenhour (restricted), Savannah McCaskill (unrestricted), Dani Weatherholt (unrestricted). Defender Merritt Mathias was on this list, but Angel City announced last week they were picking up her option for the 2024 season, keeping her here another year. You will also notice a couple of restricted Free Agents, this means that the team will have 7 days to match, or improve upon, any offer made to those players, meaning while they are free agents, the team still have some control over the situation. Free Agency opens today, so that means anyone on this list can now sign either with Angel City, or anyone else if the price is right.

As you can see, the team have some key players on that list, players that they will undoubtedly be working hard to re-sign. However, here is that wrinkle about the draft again, where those players are ‘protected’ without taking up one of the nine protection spots, as long as they remain free agents. That means, in theory, Angel City could have deals in place with all of them, but wait until after the Expansion Draft to officially re-sign them, keeping them protected from selection while also protecting an additional nine players, Essentially, having their cake, and eating it.

The other aspect of Free Agency, is the talent hitting the market from other teams, talent like Crystal Dunn, who announced her departure from Portland as she looks to sign with a new club in free agency. We all know Angel City’s one sore spot on the field has been midfield production, and a veteran like Dunn would not only fit in with the culture of the team, but would stylistically fit in with how the team seems to want to play under Tweed.

Filling in the Gaps

Which brings us to the real meat of the offseason, what are the plans the club has to improve this roster? As we just mentioned, the first step is addressing the glaring weakness of this squad, the midfield. It feels almost dirty to say considering the talent on this roster at the position. They recently drafted Mackenzie Pluck who was a midfield maestro in college, a pure facilitator in the best way. There is also defender M.A. Vignola who was one of the best midfield/forward hybrids in college during her time with Tennessee, and of course, Jun Endo who was literally one of if not the best midfielder during her time with Japan at the 2023 World Cup.

However, even with all that talent available, anyone who watched this side this season could tell you it was the midfield that seemed to struggle most throughout the season. The team lacked a true 10, a player that connected the middle of the pitch with the attack in a way that didn’t leave them completely vulnerable to counter attacks. Far too often we saw Sarah Gorden, MA Vignola, or Madison Hammond – who play defense – having to track back the entire length of the pitch most times, just to keep goals from being conceded. A proper midfield stifles those counters before that becomes necessary. Of course, you can get away with not having a midfield, if you’re a team that can easily outscore opponents and unfortunately, this squad isn’t there. They need a player or two, like a Crystal Dunn, who could not only help you in attack facilitating the forwards and getting off the occasional shot, but also a player you know will absolutely shut down counter attacks anywhere within a 15 yard radius of them.

Depending on how free agency goes, this team already has their defense locked in, with the meteoric rise of Angelina Anderson and from what we have seen of Brittany Isenhour, we know this team has exceptional goalkeeping, and the biggest boon of all comes in the attack. After a season of setbacks that kept her out all of 2023, Christen Press looks healthy and set to return for the 2024 fully healthy and ready to lead this team. Add her to a sophomore Alyssa Thompson, Sydney Leroux, and a potentially returning Simone Charley, and this is an attack with more options than starting spots available.

Biggest Questions for the Future

Now that we know what the Expansion Draft will look like, how Free Agency is shaping up, and what Angel City need to focus on in terms of roster building (which really is simple, midfield, pls), we can focus on the way-to-early-and-most-definitely-will-change-in-a-month, important questions facing the club. First and foremost is in regards to the upcoming free agents, who do you re-sign? If you go back and look at the list, if we are being honest, outside of maybe one or two, the team can’t really afford to lose anyone. Don’t think its wrong to say that Sarah Gorden, Madison Hammond, and Simone Charley will be the main focus for the club as losing any of them would most definitely set them back and leave a pretty glaring hole in their absence. The other question, do you risk waiting until after the draft to lock them down? That would be the smartest but the risk of course is leaving time for other teams to whisper in their ear and ruin any deals you may have thought were in place. It’s a tough line to walk, but being a team in Los Angeles, and being a team that has had the immediate success both on and off the pitch like ACFC have had, gives them an advantage over other teams, making them a destination for just about every top player in woso around the world.

The other big question for Angel City going into 2024, as harsh as it may come across, will be whether or not new Head Coach Becki Tweed can handle the inevitable weight of this job? While her immediate success has fans in the sweetest of honeymoon phases, this is still a sports team in Los Angeles, which makes it a hell of a job for your first head coaching gig. Best case scenario, the good times continue to roll as this team improves, and competes for championships. However, sports are hard, and when things get a bit rocky, LA can be a brutal place to be as a coach, just ask Darvin Ham or Dave Roberts.

That’s not to say Tweed will be on the hot seat from the jump, but as we saw with Freya, all it takes is one really bad season for questions to start being asked, and for a first-time head coach, those questions could turn distraction real quick. While its easy when things are good, it will be interesting to see how Tweed handles it should things go bad. Let’s hope that’s a question that remains unanswered.

Brace for Chaos

With the start of Free Agency, the upcoming Expansion Draft, the approaching College Draft, and everything in-between, this is shaping up to be a very busy offseason for an Angel City team that looks to take that next step in 2024. They hit the scene strong, wasting no time in making a name for themselves in the NWSL, they have secured a head coach that everyone from players, to fans, and staff alike, all have immense faith in, a coach that has a “play a full 90 plus minutes, at 100%, at all times to win games” mentality. After coming close in year one, this team was able to reach the playoffs in year two, and now, that’s the bar. While we don’t know what lies ahead, we do know the expectations for this team going forward are playoffs, at the very least, with many hoping, and some expecting, a championship celebration in the next few years.

 

Thoughts on the offseason ahead for Angel City? Leave your comment, and any questions, below!

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