LOS ANGELES — Through four league games this season, Angel City is 1-2-1. They have also lost their only NWSL Challenge Cup game to the OL Reign and are currently on a two-game losing streak.
The team has struggled to achieve their goals over a full 90 minutes. In some games, they jump to an early lead but squander it in the second half. In others, they start slowly and find themselves clawing back.
When they build an attack into the final third of the field, they struggle to put the ball in the back of the net. This was on display against the Wave, where they attempted 16 shots, but only two of them were on goal en route to a shutout loss.
Despite the challenges, defender Ali Riley believes the club has reached a crossroads and is on the right path.
“Tonight, I truly believe that this is a turning point for us,” Riley said after Angel City’s loss to the Wave.
She believes the club reached a “turning point” because of their consistency through 90 minutes. Angel City stepped on the gas in the final third with well-placed crosses and chances. If it was not for the Wave’s 11 blocked shots, the outcome of the rivalry match could have been considerably different, and Wave head coach Casey Stoney admitted this.
“I think we used our luck for the season tonight,” Stoney said after the game.
Riley credited much of their solid play to the debut of midfielder Julie Ertz, who signed with the club earlier that week. Ertz brought a solid presence to the field with her calmness over the ball. She also helped win aerial battles, forcing the Wave to build up attacks rather than going direct with long balls.
The rest of the team played higher up because of Ertz’s steadiness, allowing them to put the ball in more dangerous attacking positions.
“I do think we are able to play a different style because we have [Ertz] there,” Riley said. “I think we can have her a little big higher… Her physical presence, her ability to clean up balls that fall back, winning second balls, it’s exceptional. She knows the game so well.”
Now, Riley believes building on the positives from the game against the Wave will help them win more games in the future. She wants Ertz to help them change the point of attack to create space for scoring chances.
“When we can use Julie [Ertz] as that holding player, maybe then we can have Sav in the box, have extra numbers in there.”
Riley also mentioned that if teams begin to put multiple players on Ertz, another player will be freed to punish opponents.
Aside from Ertz, Riley thinks the team needs to support their rookie forward, Alyssa Thompson, more. Thompson has regularly found space in the final third but has failed to find outlets for her passes or crosses.
“When you have someone like Alyssa [Thompson] going one v. one, looking, looking, we have to have those runners,” Riley said.
But this does not only apply when Thompson has the ball. Riley feels the team needs to put away crosses and capitalize in the final third. The return of forward Sydney Leroux from injury could help them achieve this.
“That’s something I know that Syd[ney Leroux] will be chomping at the bit, looking at those deliveries because she will do anything to score,” Riley said. “She will end up in the goal with the ball and the goalie and all the defenders.”
Leroux is expected to return in the “near future,” but there is no official timeline.
Angel City’s first opportunity to showcase these developments will come on Saturday against the Portland Thorns. The game will be a demanding test as the Thorns are undefeated in their four league games this season.