LOS ANGELES — As the final minutes ticked away at BMO Stadium, it seemed like Angel City would earn their first shutout of the NWSL season. Then, disaster struck.
Angel City defender Mary Alice Vignola blocked Washington Spirit midfielder Marissa Shiva’s shot, but the ball kicked off her side to her arm, awarding the Spirit a penalty kick for a hand ball.
Then, forward Ashley Hatch buried the penalty in the top right corner, giving the Spirit their only goal in a 1-0 victory over Angel City.
After the penalty, many fans in attendance erupted into “ref, you suck” chants as they expressed their displeasure towards the call.
The referees said the ball struck Vignola’s body, but after a secondary motion that was “at/above the shoulder, making the body naturally bigger blocking the path of the ball,” they called it a hand ball. However, Angel City head coach Freya Coombe was not satisfied with their explanation.
“I don’t know where we are expected to put one’s arm when the elbow is tucked into the side and your turning your back as you are clearing the ball,” Coombe said.
Despite the late hand ball call, Coombe was pleased with Vignola’s performance. Vignola intercepted passes and even led Angel City’s attack; she led the team with 11 recoveries and three shots.
“[Vignola] had an incredible game, did well defensively,” Coombe said. “She was able to shut them down on that side and was able to intercept well. She got forward and led the team on shots on target. She had a couple of great efforts, and that’s exactly what we want to see from her.”
The rest of Angel City’s back line also found success. They limited the Spirit to only three shots on goal despite their 13 shot attempts. Defender Sarah Gorden led their effort with two tackles.
Defender Paige Nielsen was also stout and won the Heineken Player of the Match award. Notably, she deflected away a pass in a two-on-one scenario, stopping a Spirit attack eight minutes into the game.
Goalkeeper DiDi Haračić also contributed with three saves and multiple punchouts. Notably, 18 minutes into the game, she leaped up to stop a Spirit shot attempt.
While the defensive efforts fell short, Nielsen was proud of Angel City’s performance. They hope to clean up minor errors to improve their results moving forward.
“I said out there that good teams become great when you get all the small details, and that’s what we’re going to focus on,” Nielsen said.
Offensively, Angel City failed to find many chances in dangerous positions. They could not break down the Spirit’s back line and only managed two shots on goal.
One of their closest chances came when forward Alyssa Thompson hit the side of the net on a one-on-one with goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury 51 minutes into the game.
Thompson skipped her senior prom night to play in the game. Because of this, some of her teammates dressed in prom outfits before the game.
“As a team, we came together because Alyssa [Thompson] was going to be missing her prom, so we tried to make her comfortable, rally around her, and we wanted to make the day special for her,” said midfielder Dani Weatherholt.
Still, Thompson and her teammates’ efforts fell short as the Spirit shut out Angel City. She left the game for forward Scarlett Camberos 66 minutes into the game.
Next, Angel City plays the North Carolina Courage as they open a three-game road trip; two of the games are NWSL ones and the other is a NWSL Challenge Cup game.