As children, the world is big and scary, and there’s so much for us to learn. Those learning curves — arguably dreadful — are something we face time and time again as we grow older. Once we conquer one, another is surely on its way.
In its final game in the NWSL Challenge Cup, Angel City FC appeared to finally conquer its first learning curve. The team picked up its first win in club history, 1-0, against one of the league’s founding teams, the Portland Thorns.
Despite sitting at the bottom of the table in this Challenge Cup, not everything was bleak for Angel City coming into the game — COVID-19 appeared to sweep through the Thorns’ camp, making five players unavailable. Notably, Portland’s current leading goal-scorer, Sophia Smith, was among those five.
The Thorns’ depth in its roster, however, made the absence of Smith and others hardly noticeable. Filling in Portland’s starting 11 were regulars such as Christine Sinclair, as well as newer players such as 16-year-old Olivia Moultrie and international star Janine Beckie — the latter playing her first game for the team after being traded from Manchester City only a few weeks ago.
At kickoff, Angel City’s hunger for the win was clear as day as forwards Simone Charley and Christen Press quickly combined to set up midfielder Savannah McCaskill for a quick shot on goal.
The homeside wasn’t the only one looking for the back of the net early on, though, as the Thorns responded with their own solid chance. Portland veteran Morgan Weaver found newcomer Beckie, who quickly let off a rocket of a shot that flew a tad too high.
All was level between the two sides for the vast majority of the first half — a feat that expertly demonstrated Angel City’s growth given the Thorns’ pure domination in a 3-0 win the last time the two faced off.
Given the chaos that is the NWSL — and the fact that nearly every other game this past weekend saw a penalty kick — fans were hardly caught by surprise when Angel City was awarded a PK in the 28th minute.
Stepping up to the spot was none other than Angel City’s queen — two-time World Cup Champion, Press. Cool, calm and collected, Press slotted the ball into the lower right corner without another look. The PK goal marked Press’ second for the club.
Angel City, clearly fired up, went full force after claiming the lead. The team’s offense pressed high and connected passes up the sideline to get shots off. Supporting the strong offensive effort was an equally strong defense led by captain Ali Riley. Shifting from one side to the other, the team came together as one to prevent the Thorns from settling down and finding a rhythm.
Halftime couldn’t come sooner for the visiting side, as it managed to escape without facing any more damage. Unfortunately for Portland, it continued the second half in the same fashion it ended the first: scattered and unable to connect. Another goal seemed to be imminent for an Angel City side that continued pressing hard.
However, one obstacle stood between Angel City and that not-so-distant second goal: the Thorns’ veteran defense. Each time Angel City’s front three came running down the neck, they were instantly surrounded by four defenders. The Thorns’ strong defensive effort was best illustrated when Meghan Klingenberg cleared the ball off of the goal line in the 75th minute — something the defender was notorious for doing with the USWNT during the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
No matter how strong a defensive effort is, no team can win without its offense. As such, the Thorns had to say goodbye to their dreams of advancing in the tournament at the final whistle.
“The biggest thing for us is consistency,” said Angel City head coach Freya Coombe. “The stages of learning themselves is in consistency.”
Consistency will come in time, but this shining spot excellently demonstrates Angel City’s growth in six short games. The team’s short history has largely been marked by learning, but the players rose to the final challenge and said goodbye to their temporary home of Titan Stadium in winning fashion.
“Now we’re just excited to play in front of our entire fanbase and in the Banc (of California Stadium),” said goalkeeper DiDi Haračić.
Fans can only hope their home stadium in the city of angels will be much kinder to the team than Fullerton. Building off of this historic win, the team hopes to continue the momentum through to a successful first season.