Angel City’s lead to a Challenge Cup loss against OL Reign

Photo Credit: Angel City Football Club
ACFC lost their first Challenge Cup game after errors led to conceded goals.

LOS ANGELES — High stakes often lead to mistakes. And that happened to Angel City FC (ACFC) in their opening National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Challenge Cup game against the OL Reign. 

With the Challenge Cup prize money increasing to $1 million this year, players’ interest in the tournament was heightened. ACFC forward Katie Johnson expressed this after the club’s previous game. 

“I am very excited for the Challenge Cup… The money seems very nice. Money motivated,” she said. 

Despite the increased stakes, many teams use the tournament as a way to test their depth. ACFC head coach Freya Coombe did that against the Reign by mixing her usual starters with rotational players. Goalkeeper Brittany Isenhour, defender Jasmyne Spencer, and forward Scarlett Camberos all made their first starts of the season.

“[The Challenge Cup] is a great opportunity to give some minutes… It is about being able to give people opportunities in different positions,” Coombe said. “It keeps the squad competitive for selection of league matches. 

While Isenhour navigated the trials and tribulations of a season debut, her teammates made it easy for her in the first half, allowing only two shots (none on goal). They cleared crosses and did not allow many shots. But then, in the second half, the Reign started piling in pressure.

53 minutes into the game, the Reign had a free kick from just outside of the box. Midfielder Jess Fishlock took the free kick to the left post, but Isenhour extended her hands to stop the shot.


Shortly after, 64 minutes into the game, Isenhour miss-kicked the ball while attempting a clearance and fell on the second try. Then, a pressing Reign forward Jordyn Huitema picked up the pieces and scored into a virtually empty net. 

Not so magnificent.

77 minutes into the game, Fishlock deflected a corner kick off ACFC midfielder Clarisse Le Bihan into the back of the net to increase the Reign’s lead to two goals. The goal was scored as an own goal for Le Bihan. 

The game finished as a 2-0 victory for the Reign, placing them at the top of Group B and dropping ACFC to the bottom. Despite the loss, a handful of players exhibited strong individual performances, as Coombe hoped. 

“I thought Jasmyne [Spencer] did really well, and it was great for her to get her first start for us. M.A. [Mary Alice Vignola] looked much improved from the previous game, which was great to see,” Coombe said. “Lily Nabet also had a great performance. Scarlett [Camberos] looked threatening in different moments of the game, which was excellent.”

Alyssa Thompson also stood out, making a few plays to set up ACFC in dangerous attacking positions. She was active up front and pressed the Reign’s defenders by deflecting their passes and dribbles. 

12 minutes into the game, Thompson used a series of dribble moves to create space, but drove her shot driven toward Reign goalkeeper Claudia Dickey for a simple save.

37 minutes into the game, Thompson made a run up the right side of the field to set up a corner kick. However, the corner kick resulted in Reign goalkeeper Claudia Dickey saving ACFC defender Paige Neilsen’s header. 

40 minutes into the game, Thompson stole the ball from Reign midfielder Nikki Stanton and then was fouled by her, drawing a yellow card.

“I think [Thompson] is a good player, and she’s got a lot of speed,” Huitema said. “She’s got a bright future for sure with her being so young. Just keeps pushing in the right direction. Skies the limit for her.”

Midfielder Savannah McCaskill was also impressive after Coombe substituted her in for Thompson. She led the team in crosses attempted (four) and tied with Camberos for the most chances created (three) despite playing only 27 minutes. 

Next, ACFC will play their rivals, the San Diego Wave, this Sunday. ACFC went 1-2-1 against the Wave last season. 

“The team is really ready for that game,” Coombe said. “We recognize it’s our derby match. The players are completely up for it, especially after last season.  We want to make sure that we are competitive and want to turn them over at our home. I know this game means a lot to the fans and the community, so this place is going to be absolutely rocking on Sunday.”

United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) midfielder Julie Ertz, who ACFC signed earlier this week, will be available for selection to make her debut for the club on Sunday, too.

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