LOS ANGELES — Angel City had struggled to put the ball in the back of the net in their last two games. But against the Portland Thorns, they made that seem like a distant memory.
They came out with their foot on the gas, making runs into the final third and creating scoring chances. Then, nine minutes into the game, forward Alyssa Thompson used a burst of speed to drive down the line. Then, she cut back and buried a shot in the bottom corner of the net to give Angel City a 1-0 lead.
Through the first 30 minutes, Angel City also played sound defense. They were shutting down a Thorns’ offense that had scored an NWSL-leading 11 goals before the game.
Some of this was because defender Ali Riley returned to her role as she left back; she started the season playing right back while M.A. Vignola played on the left side. However, Vignola was out against the Thorns due to illness, so Riley moved back while Jasmyne Spencer filled in at right back.
“M.A. [Vignola] is out with illness, so it was looking at Ali [Riley] not being a natural left footer but being handy on the left. I think that was a reason for bringing her into that side,” said head coach Freya Coombe. “And then playing Jas[myne Spencer] at right back where she played predominantly last season.”
It looked to be paying off until 32 minutes into the game when Spencer got beat by forward Morgan Weaver, who passed it to midfielder Crystal Dunn in the middle of the box. Then, midfielder Julie Ertz tackled her to the ground for a penalty, and midfielder Hina Sugita made the penalty, tying the game at one goal each.
Then, 56 minutes into the game, last year’s NWSL Most Valuable Player (MVP) and forward Sophia Smith was substituted into the game.
But Angel City did a solid job of neutralizing her, as she could not string together dribble moves in the final third early in her appearance. Despite this, the rest of the Thorns were putting pressure on Angel City’s back line.
Then, Weaver received a well-placed through ball from midfielder Olivia Moultrie and scored the Thorns’ second goal. But Angel City refused to back down.
They surged back with two goals in five minutes, including Ertz’s first goal with the club. It was also her first goal since Sept. of 2017.
After two shutout losses, Angel City finally capitalized in the final third to score. They did so with set pieces, as two of their three goals came from such means.
But as the final seconds winded down, the Thorns had one last chance to preserve their 11-game unbeaten streak (including last season). They set up a corner kick, and Angel City only had ten players to defend with because defender Paige Neilsen went to the sidelines after being checked for a concussion.
All seemed well for Angel City, though, as the corner kick goalkeeper DiDi Haračić leaped to grab the ball. But then, she dropped it, and goalkeeper Bella Bixby backheeled it into the net.
3-3 was the final score. Before the game, Angel City might have been pleased with that result. However, after taking the lead and losing it in the final moments, defender Sarah Gorden was not content.
“If you look at coming into Portland, playing here is probably, besides coming into our stadium, the toughest place to play is here… you would think going in here and getting a tie is not a terrible result, but it really sucks,” Gorden said.
While goal-scoring was an issue before for Angel City, some fans may turn their eyes to the defense, which has allowed ten goals in five games. The back line has shown its talent in flashes but has yet to string together a dominant full-game performance. And that is what Gorden hopes to improve.
“There are things that we do need to clean up,” Gorden said. “There’s moments where we either turn off, or we make a mistake… Being tuned in for 90 minutes is the main thing.”
Angel City’s next chance to show improvement will be against the OL Reign in the NWSL Challenge Cup on the road. Then, they will face the Kansas City Current at home.