LOS ANGELES — Angel City’s 2023 season was like a rollercoaster. They went through a tough start, a coaching change, and a climb from near the bottom of the table to the playoffs. Through each step, their players made brilliant plays (whether they were happening frequently or not.
Each step proved to be vital as Angel City made it into the playoffs on the number. They would have missed the playoffs if they finished with just one fewer point. But thanks to some heroics throughout the year, they made it in on Decision Day.
As they turn the chapter to 2024, let us take a look back at some standout moments from 2023:
April 2: Katie Johnson’s stoppage-time winner versus the Orlando Pride
The start of the season was a challenge for Angel City as it was filled with draws and losses. But one match was unlike the others, the one against the Pride on April 2. After Angel City lost their opening match to NJ/NY Gotham FC, who won in comeback fashion, they were on the verge of missing out on some points again versus the Pride. They led against the Pride, but forward Messiah Bright equalized, and as the final minutes commenced, the match seemed headed for a draw.
Then, Angel City had one final chance after defender Sarah Gorden drew a corner kick. Late in stoppage time, forward Claire Emslie whipped a ball toward the front post, and forward Johnson headed it into the goal. Angel City won the match, 2-1, securing two extra points early in the season. The goal was the latest match-winning goal in NWSL history when it was scored.
May 7: Three goals in the first half against the Kansas City Current
Another bright moment in an early part of the season that featured many lows came against the Current on May 7. It was Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) Heritage Night, and Angel City’s players AANHPI players put on a show. Ali Riley, Jun Endo, and Alyssa Thompson scored goals, giving Angel City a three-goal halftime lead.
The Current pulled two goals back in the second half, but Angel City held on to win. Nonetheless, scoring three goals in one half was a defining moment; three AANHPI players scoring them on AANHPI Heritage Night was the cherry on top.
May 20: Gorden’s tackle to save a goal versus the North Carolina Courage
Many of Angel City’s crucial moments early in the season were, in many ways, little wins. Since they did not win numerous matches, picking up a point in a draw was a decent result. Against the North Carolina Courage, defender Sarah Gorden saved them a point.
Gorden was one-on-one against Kerolin as she approached Angel City’s box. However, Gorden stepped up and tackled her, saving a big chance. There were pleas for a penalty, but it was not called, and the match finished 0-0, so Angel City added a point to their total. Such a doing was made possible by Gorden’s critical challenge.
May 27: Emslie’s Olimpico against OL Reign
The match on May 27 against the Reign was one to forget for Angel City. They were thrashed, 4-1, as almost nothing went their way. Still, the match produced one of the season’s top highlights for Angel City.
27 minutes into the match, Emslie scored an Olimpico, giving Angel City a 1-0 lead against the Reign. Her corner kick found the front of the net, beating Reign goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce, who tipped it in. Unfortunately for Angel City, the Reign piled in four goals shortly after Emslie’s Olimpico. Still, the goal was arguably one of Angel City’s best in 2023.
June 17: Beating the San Diego Wave in Becki Tweed’s first match as interim head coach.
This is when Angel City began to right the ship. Tweed took over as interim head coach after the club parted ways with Freya Coombe, as the club was 11th in the NWSL. With only a few days to prepare as head coach, Tweed led the club to victory over its rivals on the road, 2-1.
Vignola scored a match-winning goal in the match’s dying minutes, displaying her two-way talent. Angel City’s supporters also willed them to victory, cheering loudly despite being outnumbered.
Angel City’s win over the Wave was pivotal as it began a double-digit unbeaten streak on a run that would bring them from 11th in the standings to playoff contention.
June 25: Paige Nielsen’s tackle versus Houston Dash
Yes, Angel City had two tackles make the top moments list. That shows how vital Nielsen and Gorden were to the team. Both players saved Angel City on many occasions or led them to victory.
Arguably, one of Nielsen’s most crucial moments came against the Dash early in Tweed’s tenure as interim head coach. She turned on the jets to track down Dash forward Michelle Alozie. Alozie was set to have a one-on-one chance against goalkeeper DiDi Haracic, but Nielsen shut it down.
Thanks to Nielsen’s efforts, the match ended 0-0. Angel City preserved the momentum it gained from the Wave match by drawing, which later proved valuable.
Aug. 27 — Beating Reign for the first time ever
The playoff run was one filled with many key moments. Beating the Reign was one of the most crucial ones. Angel City was chasing the Reign, who held the final playoff spot then. They were six points off their total with a few matches left. But their opponent was a challenging task. In their history, Angel City had never beaten the Reign, but they had to do so on Aug. 27 if they wanted a decent shot at the playoffs. The crowd was also star-studded. Despite such pressure, Angel City put on a show.
Angel City took a 2-0 lead, including one by Hammond against her former team, a magical moment. However, the Reign responded in the 75th minute, leaving everything to play for in the final 15 minutes and stoppage time. During such time, the sell-out crowd of 22,000 fans rose as Angel City defended spectacularly to seal the victory.
Playoff hopes were no longer an implausible thought; they were convincing. Angel City moved to three points off a playoff spot after the win, setting them up well for the final few matches of the season. But there was some work to do.
Oct 8 — Savannah McCaskiill’s winner against the Houston Dash
The high of the Reign win was followed by a victory over the Kansas City Current, but then a gutting stretch where Angel City drew with the Chicago Red Stars and lost to the Orlando Pride, putting them at risk of elimination two matches before the season’s end. That is when they traveled to Houston to face the Dash.
Everything was on the line, yet Angel City trailed 1-0 after an uninspiring first half. According to Tweed, the team was not composed and played too quickly. However, they gathered themselves in the second half and Thompson in the 65th minute.
Quickly, Angel City equalized when Thompson scored in the 68th minute. Then, as the final minutes ensued, magic happened. Goalkeeper Angelina Anderson delivered a brilliant service down the field. Moments later, Johnson passed the ball towards the center of the box. McCaskill charged for it and struck it to the bottom corner of the net, beating an outstretched Dash goalkeeper, Jane Campbell, to score. It was a stoppage-time miracle that sent Angel City into Decision Day with a playoff chance.
Oct. 15: Thrashing the Portland Thorns (Leroux’s bicycle)
Angel City faced a daunting opponent on Decision Day: the No. 1 seeded Thorns, who were playing to win the NWSL Shield. They were on the outside of the playoffs looking in, needing to win to have an opportunity.
However, the match was a spectacular display of motivation by Angel City, as they crushed the Thorns, 5-1. Many of their goals came in dazzling fashion, including a bicycle kick from Leroux to put them up 4-0.
Angel City made the playoffs on the number (31 points), as their goal differential (boosted by the 5-1 victory) propelled them to fifth place. It was their first time within the top six since early in the season, but they made it when it mattered the most: in time for the playoffs.
Oct. 20 (playoffs): Nielsen’s goal-line clearance versus the Reign to keep their playoff match scoreless
Angel City’s playoff debut was an evening that could motivate them in 2024 as they lost 1-0 to the Reign. However, the loss came with a few moments of individual brilliance.
Angel City was on the back foot for much of the match, especially in the second half, as the Reign looked to break the 0-0 scoreline. But 52 minutes into the game, Nielsen gave them hope when the Reign looked like they would go ahead. Reign midfielder Jess Fishlock rebounded a shot as Anderson was rising from her previous save. As the shot headed towards the back of the net, Nielsen stepped in and cleared it off the goal line.
Angel City lost the match due to a late winner from Reign forward Veronica Latsko. However, Nielsen’s goal-line clearance was one many will likely remember for some time. It was a crucial moment in the club’s first playoff appearance.
A look ahead….
2023 was a year of thrill for Los Angeles’s NWSL team, and they are looking to take a step up in 2024. The next one (they hope) could involve them lifting the NWSL Championship trophy. Moments like the ones mentioned above would be crucial to making such a run, but some could involve different players.
After the season, Angel City added Thompson’s sister, Gisele Thompson, and re-signed Gorden. They also traded away forward Scarlett Camberos for Expansion Draft protection from Bay FC, and McCaskill left to join the Wave. The team has high aspirations for 2024 and will likely have more changes to its roster before embarking on its 2024 campaign.