The NWSL Challenge Cup has allowed teams to test their depth. Most clubs opt to start most of their reserves to keep their starters healthy and see their bench in game action. Angel City utilizes it for similar reasons but also to keep their squad competitive. And they did so against the OL Reign in their second Challenge Cup game of the season.
“I think that the Challenge Cup is a great opportunity for players that haven’t had as many minutes in games to showcase that and put pressure on people that are starting,” said head coach Freya Coombe.
One player trying to carve out a more prominent role is midfielder Lily Nabet. She practiced for extra hours during training by working on her fitness and more. Because of her dedication and improvement, Coombe gave her a spot in the starting eleven against the Reign, her first start of the season.
Angel City ran the ball through Nabet in the first half, and she did not make any critical mistakes. Defensively, she was sound and not overly aggressive, helping them to a shutout, 0-0, tie to the Reign.
“[Nabet has] really put in the effort, and I thought she was rewarded for that tonight with her performance,” Coombe said. “I thought she did really, really well on the ball, and that’s a credit to her. She is fully deserving of this start… and her performance.”
Other players played in more significant roles as well, including goalkeeper Brittany Isenhour, who made her second start in goal for Angel City. 48 minutes into the game, she made a momentous save to preserve Angel City’s shutout.
The rest of the game was quiet for Isenhour as the Reign only put one of their five shots on goal. This was because Angel City’s backline and midfielders shut down almost all of the Reign’s build-ups.
They were successful in doing so because Coombe experimented with a 4-2-3-1 formation, playing two defensive midfielders, Madison Hammond and Nabet, who played simple yet effective defense. The back line of Jasmyne Spencer, Paige, Nielsen, Megan Reid, and M.A. Vignola also contributed to this effort. Defenders Ali Riley and Sarah Gorden did so when they entered the game in the second half, too.
“First shutout, which is huge, so we are excited about that,” Spencer said.
Offensively, Angel City looked to find forward Katie Johnson throughout the game. They crossed in balls and passed it to her in the middle of the box, but nothing came from their scoring chances.
The closest Angel City got was in the eighth minute when Johnson scored a well-placed cross from defender Vignola. However, the goal was called offside.
The next closest chance they had was 64 minutes into the game when Gorden headed a corner kick from forward Claire Emslie to Johnson, who put it on goal. However, defender Ryanne Browns cleared the shot off the goal line.
Forward Jun Endo also took a couple of shots, but one missed wide, and the other was a simple save by goalkeeper Laurel Ivory.
After losing two consecutive games, Angel City has tied their last two. Next, they will play the Kansas City Current on Sunday, where they will look to pick up three points for the first time since Apr. 2, when they beat the Orlando Pride.