Competition is motivating Angel City

Angel City Football Club
Players are working hard ahead of Angel City's third season, the first full one under head coach Becki Tweed.

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Ali Riley has been on many teams from multiple countries. From Chelsea to Bayern Munich to the Orlando Pride, she has played alongside many top women’s soccer players. But in 2024, with Angel City, one aspect has stood out to her: how hard everyone is working. 

One of the main reasons for the hard work is head coach Becki Tweed. This is the first full preseason under the coach who emphasizes competition. Her players are always competing for starting spots, and training sessions are a determining factor in preseason. The team hopes that level can help them reach their 2024 goals.

We’ve worked really, really, really hard… The coaching staff did such a good job,” Riley told The Sporting Tribune. “They really challenged us, and the team met it with smiles, energy, and joy. And that’s really all you can ask of a team.”

Angel City Football Club

Competition driving standards were one of the main reasons Angel City made the playoffs in 2023. The team was 11th in the NWSL when Tweed took over but climbed to fifth.

However, much of Angel City’s 2023 success relied on gritty wins, where they edged their opponents by close margins. For example, they kept their playoff hopes alive in the second-to-last match only after midfielder Savannah McCaskill scored a stoppage-time winner.

Tweed wants that to change. She wants Angel City to build on their late-season success and become more dominant. Part of that involves playing with the ball more and being adaptable. 

“We’d love to have the ball more, and that’s something we’ve worked hard on in preseason,” Tweed told reporters. “I hope that we can play an exciting style of soccer. We want to be more ruthless than the attacking third.”

No player scored more than four goals for Angel City in 2023. Some of that is probably because forward Sydney Leroux joined the team late due to injury, and forward Alyssa Thompson left briefly during the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Still, getting a player to the top of the leaguewide goal and/or assist totals is a priority in 2024.

“Having a player in the top goal scorers or assists, those are always going to be the targets,” Tweed said, “We want our individuals to perform, and if you look at teams that typically win championships, they have those players that live up to those championship-winning moments and players that score multiple goals per season.”

Thompson’s pace and skill were constant threats for opposing back lines in her rookie year (2023). However, leaving for the World Cup and a midseason scoring drought left her with only four goals to show for her efforts.

Thompson’s numbers could increase in 2024, though. She is no longer a rookie and is likely more comfortable with the NWSL. 

Thompson may also not be leaving for a major tournament, as the 18-player Paris 2024 Olympics roster may be difficult to crack. But even if she does, unlike during the 2023 World Cup, no NWSL games are scheduled during it, so she will not miss any goal-scoring opportunities. 

Either way, Tweed wants Thompson to enjoy the game and believes production will come with time.

“We have to remember that Alyssa [Thompson] is still 19,” Tweed said. “Alyssa is an incredible talent and very gifted. Taking that rookie kind of umbrella off of her is going to be healthy. I just want Alyssa to be a footballer and human. To see Alyssa enjoy being on the field and being in our element is something that’s really important. There is no pressure on Alyssa. 

My job is to continue to push, develop, and challenge her. She has time on her side. We get really caught up on, she has to achieve this, this, and this, and check these boxes. She’s 19. She has time to continue to grow. When Alyssa is at her best, it is very difficult to say that she is not one of the top players in the league or in the world. She just needs to continue to grow and enjoy the game.”

Angel City Football Club

Angel City also acquired forward Messiah Bright, a player who scored six goals in her rookie season (2023). She could join the goal-scoring leaders if she takes another step up. But either way, Bright is adding to Angel City’s competitive environment. 

“Every player that we’ve had in this preseason has had an impact on who we’re going to be as a team. Messiah has come in and upped the level for us,” Tweed said. “All of our signings have done that. We’ve brought in players that are going to truly challenge and compete for places in the starting XI, but truly add to our environment every day.

Other positions are also competitive, like those in the back line. The outside back roles are especially deep after M.A. Vignola broke out in 2023, earning her first USWNT cap, and Merritt Mathias returned from injury in the preseason. Also, U-18 Gisele Thompson offers potential and Riley remains a solid option, among others.

“We all face competition, and I want that,” Riley said. “I’m so excited to have that and to be competing against Merritt [Mathias], M.A. [Vignola], Gisele [Thompson], Madi Curry, Paige [Nielsen]. We have so many players who can play fullback. 

We have sensational wingers. We have Messiah [Bright] coming in at the No. 9, Casey [Phair] looks incredible, and everyone is going to play a huge role. For some people, that will be a lot of minutes; for some people, it means showing out in training and pushing the person who’s ahead of you. For me, being pushed every single day is what will allow me to keep developing as a player and hold that standard. And then when it’s my turn to push someone else, I’m going to do it and show that every day.”

A productive attack and a dynamic backline could be the building blocks for Angel City’s 2024 success. For them, that would mean making the NWSL Championship, as well as showing their new identity.

“Our eyes are on the prize,” Riley said. “Making playoffs was huge, but it was very touch-and-go. We want things to be in our hands. We want to be consistent.”