Emslie’s brace lifts Angel City past the Courage, 2-1

Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports
Angel City beats the Courage by punishing them in specific moments.

LOS ANGELES — Holding just over 37% of possession is not always how Angel City wants to play. Head coach Becki Tweed has emphasized their desire to keep the ball. But Sunday’s match against the North Carolina Courage required Angel City to give up the ball more than usual, and they showed their grit in a 2-1 win. 

The Courage dominated possession, holding the ball 62.8% of the match while creating most of the game’s chances. They generated 12 chances with 2.3 expected goals (xG) compared to Angel City’s three chances and 0.36 xG. But Angel City capitalized on their few chances in areas they identified as ones to punish the Courage in the victory.

“Anytime you play North Carolina, they have a true identity,” Tweed said. “You know what they’re going to try to do. They want to have the ball. They want to play in this fluid shape where there’s always rotation. With that comes the defending in transition piece for them. We knew that we could hurt them in spaces where their fullbacks were potentially out of position, in the sense that they invert or get really high, so just attacking that space behind the fullbacks.”

In the 22nd minute, forward Alyssa Thompson drew a foul just outside the box as Courage defender Kaleigh Kurtz took her down. Forward Claire Emslie took the free kick and curled it for a goal to give Angel City a 1-0 lead. 

54 minutes into the match, Thompson found Emslie on the counterattack, and Emslie lifted a shot over Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy’s head. Emslie’s second goal of the night put Angel City ahead, 2-0.

“I remember Alyssa getting the ball, and I knew there was spacing behind,” Emslie said. “She looked up, we caught eyes, it was a perfect ball from her. I knew the keeper was tall, and I thought, I know she’s off her line. So I took a touch and tried to score. I practice it in training and kind of mess around doing it all the time. I was happy to see it go in the net.”

Courage forward Tyler Lussi responded in the 73rd minute to cut Angel City’s lead to 2-1. Then, the Courage continued to pile in chances, but deflections in the box and the post helped Angel City win.

“It’s so much credit to the subs that came on,” Emslie said. “It’s a hard game to come into. That’s our biggest strength, how together we are as a team. For everyone to come in and do their role means so much for the group, and it paid off tonight.”

Sunday’s match marked 100 regular season NWSL appearances for defender Sarah Gorden. Since joining the team, she has been a crucial part of Angel City’s backline, playing every minute of every match in 2023.

Against the Courage, Gorden faced a lot of pressure, but she and the rest of the back line only allowed one goal. According to FotMob, she made 12 defensive actions. 

“One hundred appearances means a lot,” Gorden said. “It makes me reflect on where I started, my time in Chicago, and now being in LA. It is just great to get the win on a night like this.”

Gorden started alongside Megan Reid, a duo that projects to become more common after Angel City traded defender Paige Nielsen ahead of Friday’s deadline. Nielsen started three of Angel City’s four matches before the team sent her to the Houston Dash. Reid projects to fill her role after the move. 

“Any time these things happen in professional sports, they come with emotion,” Tweed said. “Everybody is human, and emotion happens. It is part of being an athlete. It is a part of working in pro sports. It is a part of what happens. You have to deal with these things, but these moments bring groups closer together, ask questions of other people, and bring opportunities for other people. These moments are ultimately what makes you stronger, and you are never not going to go through these moments in your career as a professional athlete.

This group is incredible. They support each other, they challenge each other, they question each other, they question us and challenge us, which is important that we create that environment. They just stick through anything together. And that’s really important.”

Reid played 90 minutes against the Courage, making 11 defensive actions, completing 30 of 36 passes, and winning three of four duels.

Angel City climbed to seventh in the NWSL with their second straight victory, bringing their season point total to seven. Next, they play the Kansas City Current on Friday as they look to continue their winning streak. But the Current is a difficult opponent. They beat Angel City 4-2 in late March and are first in the NWSL standings.