In our look at the upcoming season’s opponents we’ve come to the fifth (and final) playoff club from 2023, Angel City FC of Los Angeles.
As we’ve done with the previous four, we’ll start from the 2023 edition of this series and work from the changes we’ve seen since then.
When I wrote about them prior to 2023 I said of their 2022 inaugural season: “Angel City was, if anything, more anticipated and arrived with more word-of-mouth. A star-studded ownership group, relentless social media campaign, huge FOMO, and a roster full of NWSL A- and B+ listers promised big fireworks in Los Angeles.
What LA fans got, instead, was a soggy fizzle from…”
Angel City FC
Year formed: 2020
So their 2022 was a big bust after the huge hype; 8th of 12, mid-table mediocrity.
We’ll talk about this in just a sec, but the 2023 season was dramatic and very different, both from 2022 and between the halves of the year.
Owners: The A-List
Same-same; lots of big-name entertainment or sports figures plus ladidadi-and-everybody-vloggers, entrepreneurs, and vulture capitalists. Financial type Julie Uhrman still is the “president”, so no changes there.
Head Coach: Becki Tweed
A Brit from Bristol. She played in England during the Oughts for Bristol City and Milwall (“No one likes us! We don’t care!”) then shipped over to the States in the Teens where she played in something called the “Jersey Blues” in the WPSL and ended up with Sky Blue in 2020.
She’d moved into management by then, so when she retired from playing that year she became one of Freya Coombe’s assistants at SBFC, and remained after Coombe was hired away by ACFC. She was also head coach of the Sky Blue WPSL side, and won their minor league with them in 2021.
In the 22-23 offseason ACFC hired Tweed, reuniting her with her old boss Coombe, who (as we noted) had struggled through her first season, going 8-9-5. Then the 2023 season opened…
2023 – 8-7-7 (31 points; 5th of 12) 31GF 30GA +1GD
Season summary: Coombe’s 2023 ACFC campaign opened about as badly as her 2022 ended; 2-2-2 over the first six. After going 2-5-3 over the first ten came Matchday 11, a 2-1 away loss to Washington, and Coombe got canned on June 15th.
Tweed took over and ran off six wins in the last eleven (6-1-4) to slide into the playoffs on goal difference (over Orlando) and – freakishly, in my opinion – by most goals-for, the third tie-breaker (after GD and total wins) over Gotham.
Key was the 5-1 demolition of the Thorns on Matchday 22; the win was the Angels only ticket to the postseason but was Portland’s key to the Shield. Both clubs had honors to play for, the Angels wanted it more, and they fucking went out and took it from us in the most brutal fashion imaginable.
Once into the quarterfinal, however, the Angels ran into the OL reign defensive meatgrinder up in Seattle and went unceremoniously out 1-nil.
Worth noting, as we did in 2023, that the improved-Angels still sold like cold beer on a hot day; average gate over 19.700 a match, second in the league after San Diego and just ahead of us.
Meetings with Portland: 4/29/23 (3-3 away draw under Coombe), 10/15/25 (5-1 home win under Tweed)
Outstanding players: After last season I wrote: “Well…that was kind of a part of the problem. When Savannah McCaskill is your best attacker? You got issues.”
ACFC solved that not by adding a better, bigger-scoring attacker but by adding more attackers.
In 2023 McCaskill scored four. And Alyssa Thompson scored four. And Jun Endo scored three, and Claire Emslie scored three, and Katie Johnson scored three, and Mary Vignola scored three, and Sydney Leroux scored two, and (gasp) about half the squad got one each.
What about their defense?
The Angels backline was anchored by Paige Nielsen, Mary Vignola, and Sarah Gordon but not exceptionally well; their 30GA was the worst of the playoff teams outside our own porous 32GA.
How’d the 2023 defending and goalkeeping compare to 2022?
|Goalkeeper – Season
in 2023 I wrote: “What saved ACFC – the ONLY thing that saved ACFC – from being a raging tire fire defensively was Didi Haracic, full stop, who was the best technical keeper in the league in 2022.”
Last season the backline was still about as useless as a kleenex in a typhoon, but Haracic went from stud to spud; instead of saving about 11 goals over the season, more than one every two games, she coughed up an extra goal.
In the “NWSL post-season honors, whatcha gonna do, eh?” tradition the only Angel to make the 2023 Best XI was Gordon, the overseer of this tire fire. But the league had to honor somebody, and with ACFC scoring by committee there wasn’t an attacker available for the job.
So ACFC still had big name Hollywood star owners, a huge fanbase, exciting publicity, and a glittering FOMO public presence. But – although better than the previous season – still had issues on the pitch. Between Tweed and some inspired play late in the season they just made the cut.
But the problems remained and cut their season short of the Big Dance.
How did they score?
As we discussed, by committee, and sporadically.
The Angels in front of goal were, as they used to say about Germany, either at your feet or at your throat.
They got blanked six times. But they also scored in bunches; we were the primary victim, shipping eight – five in the Decision Day Debacle and three on Matchday 5 – and Kansas City was the other, also conceding three on Matchday 6.
ACFC also had a way with setpieces; their seven – almost 22% of all goals – are the most of the playoff clubs. What’s intriguing is that there doesn’t seem to have been a plan for that; the scorers are all over. Katie Johnson scored from a corner and knocked in a free kick. Julie Ertz scored off a direct free kick. So did Madison Hammond. Claire Emslie droped an olimpico on Orlando off a corner. McCaskill headed in a corner, and so did Ali Riley. So just kind of coincidence, random players doing setpiece things.
The Angels ran out that perennial superstar prospect Own Goal, including one off Natalia Kuikka, more than any other playoff club.
So a little of this and a little of that; seems kind of patchwork for a club that’s supposed tot be glossy stars of LA but, hey, whatever works.
How Did They Look?
The Angels changed formations when they changed managers in midseason, so we’re best off looking at them after Matchday 11 to suss out 2024.
In the first half Coombe liked the 4-3-3; she ran out that way in the first nine of eleven. Given how that worked it’s not surprising that she switched to a 4-2-3-1 for the last two games before the sacking. Here’s her final dance in Washington:
Didn’t work then, but when she took over Tweed stuck with the double pivot and things began to turn around. Here it is against the Damned Courage in July:
Big changes; LeBihan for Katie Johnson at the #9, Camberos and Endo replace Thompson and Emslie flanking McCaskill as AMs. Hammond and Weatherholt replace Ertz and Nabet as DMs, and in back Spencer and Ried replace Vignola and Riley
Here they are in Houston in October:
More changes. Anderson fills in for Haracic in goal, Endo for Reid in back, Amandine Henry for Weatherholt as DM and Emslie’s back at AM. Leroux now leads the line instead of Le Bihan.
Here’s the quarterfinal:
Finally Tweed has what she wants; a lot of consistency from Houston. Camberos and Emslie swap sides, and the fullbacks rotate; Vignola and Riley back in like Matchday 11, Endo and Spencer out. Everyone else stays put.
Result? Seattle grinds out the win and Angel City goes home. Hard luck to the Angels.
Still…the impressive second half wins Tweed the full-time job, and here we are with her getting ready for 2024.
Changes for 2024
The Angels had made some big signings late in 2023; Camberos, Julie Ertz, Amandine Henry. Ertz retired at the end of the season and Camberos was traded but Henry is still there.
Lots of free agent movement in and out of LA in the offseason. Weatherholt out (to Cary). McCaskill out (to San Diego). Simone Charley out (to Orlando). Camberos, as noted, shipped to Bay City for protection and Bermanbux.
In? Mathias, Hammond, Eddy, and Gordon re-signed. Endo extended. A U-18 player, Gisele Thompson, was signed. Meggie Howard shipped in from San Diego. Raquel Rodriguez traded in from here, and Messiah Bright from Orlando. Christen Press is still around if healthy. A bunch of solid players; Alyssa Thompson, Jasmyne Spencer, Ali Riley, Claire Emslie, Clarisse LeBihan all return,
ACFC was pretty barren on draft day; nothing higher than third round and only three picks overall, They took:
Felicia Know (midfielder, Alabama) – 3rd round, #37
Jessica Garziano (midfielder, St. Johns) – 4th round, #44
Madison Curry (left back, Princeton) – 4th round #51
Henderson was pretty meh; “High ceiling, low floor players is about all you can ask for if you’re drafting as late as AC was. Did fine considering limitations.”
How they’ll look next year?
How about something like this:
Possibly Le Bihan instead of Hammond or Rodriguez. Press? Depends on her form and health – if she’s ready it’s hard to see how she’s not there somewhere
The backline has GOT to be better. Anderson was significantly better than Haracic (3GA on a PSxGa of 4.9, DDiff -0.47/Gm) but this unit has got to stop giving up good looks. The addition of Henry and Rodriguez at the DM positions should help.
The questions surrounding scoring still remain. There’s a LOT of quality there, from the pitch to the bench with Emslie, Thompson, Leroux (if she’s on form), Press (if she’s fit), Endo…all the way to young players like Bright and young Giselle Thompson
But can they produce in a way the McCaskill-led unit didn’t? Given the backline, they might have to.
ACFC made some ambitious moves late, things like the Henry signing, and have added some more firepower in the offseason. They have veterans who have produced elsewhen such as Leroux and Press.
The roster has a terrific ceiling…if everyone is on form and Tweed continues her good work.
If players like Press and Leroux do the disappearing act they’ve done in the past? If Tweed can’t keep them together as well as she did in 2023? If adding Henry and Rocky can’t put more steel into the defending?
The result could be disappointing. Again.
I’m going to bet on Tweed. I think this club goes from a marginal to a solid playoff contender this season. I’m guessing top-three.
Will they be dangerous? Yes. With the caveat that they may have to score four because their defending might concede three. But…again, I’m betting Tweed shapes up the backline and streamlines the attack. I think they’re going to be a tough opponent this year.
Can the Thorns beat them? We couldn’t last season, and I think the two clubs have improved but the difference might be in the technical box. Under Tweed the Angels whipped the living hell out of us. Can they do that again? It’s gonna depend on whether Mike Norris learned the lessons that match provided and how well he can run his new roster.