SAN DIEGO — Entering Saturday, making it out of the NWSL Challenge Cup group stage was a long shot for Angel City. It would have taken multiple results and a major swing in goal differential to do so. Still, the game was important to head coach Becki Tweed because it gave them the chance to build momentum while playing their rivals, the San Diego Wave, before returning to NWSL play.
Angel City was undefeated in their last six games (in all competitions) and had beaten the Wave the last two times they faced off. On the contrary, the Wave had not won in their last eight games (in all competitions). They had also conceded a goal in their last seven games, which is the most in their (two-year) history.
The importance of upholding such undefeated streaks was reflected in Angel City’s lineup, with common regular season starters such as goalkeeper DiDi Haracic and defender Sarah Gorden starting. But even with a strong lineup, Angel City ended up splitting the points with the Wave with a final score of 1-1.
Still, with the draw, head coach Becki Tweed stays undefeated as interim head coach; she has won four games and drawn three in such time.
“Today’s performance is a long way off where we want to be,” Tweed said. “We know we have a ton of space to grow, and this performance is scrappy, It’s a little ugly, but it’s a point, and we are not happy with a point, but if we can raise the level, it’s actually a good learning point for us to take this away and look at it.”
Angel City’s recent run of form is reflected in their Challenge Cup record as they began with two losses and a draw but rallied to pick up a win and two draws in the final three games. Forward Scarlett Camberos believes the turnaround shows the team’s growth this season.
“We’ve come a long way and have grown so much as a team,” Camberos said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t come out of the group stage. It’s not something we ever want as a team, but I think we can reflect on how much we’ve grown. We’ve learned so much, and it’s only going to make us stronger.
Camberos scored Angel City’s goal against the Wave 16 minutes into the game when she shot the ball over and past Wave goalkeeper Shae Yanez to tie the game. The goal came from a difficult angle and was her first for an NWSL team.
After the game, Camberos admitted she did not intend to shoot the ball
“I wasn’t trying to shoot it,” Camberos said. “I was trying to cross the ball. But I’m happy that it turned into a goal, and I got my first goal. And that’s all that matters, that it went inside of the net.”
Haracic helped preserve the tie with eight saves in her first Challenge Cup start of the season for Angel City. But was also inconsistent with her services in the first half, conceding a goal.
11 minutes into the game, Haracic’s pass was intercepted by forward Jaedyn Shaw, who scored quickly after opening the scoring for the Wave.
Later, though, 53 minutes into the game, Haracic made a save on a powerful strike to preserve the even scoreline.
Also assisting in keeping the draw was defender Sarah Gorden. She cleared away crosses and through balls, and was stout to limit the Wave’s attack.
40 minutes into the game, Gorden deflected a pass from Shaw across the box intended for forward Rachel Hill, who was open in the center of the box.
Offensively, Gorden stayed composed with the ball at her feet as she was pressed, allowing Angel City to build attacks out of their own half. She also moved them forward with long balls.
Notably, 24 minutes into the game, Gorden passed a long ball to Jasmyne Spencer, who tracked it down, but Yanez stepped up to stop Spencer before she could get a shot off.
“Sarah has been in form,” Tweed said. And she has come back from an injury last season to play a ton of minutes this season. You can see her growth every game and confidence in everything. She is such a key piece for us. She allows us to defend the way we want to defend. She is a true leader, competitor, and she keeps growing every week.”
Next, Angel City plays Racing Louisville on August 19 as they resume NWSL regular season play. They are currently four points off a playoff position that the Wave currently occupies.
During Angel City’s two-week break before the game, they will primarily work on their problem-solving as they push for a playoff spot.
“Our build wasn’t working well, and we kind of abandoned our game plan rather than sticking to it, working through it. So problem-solving, trying new things. We didn’t adapt quick enough, and it got us to a very slow start,” Tweed said.