SEATTLE — As the final whistle sounded at BMO Stadium during the 22nd matchday, Angel City’s players ran into each other’s arms as they celebrated making the playoffs for the first time in their two-season history. Joyous emotion filled the stadium as the home team beat the No. 1 team in the NWSL by four goals to secure a playoff spot.
A few players absent from the initial celebrations made it to the field quickly as they rushed down from their suite; it was the players who were not in the gameday squad. When they made it, everyone embraced them, knowing they contributed to the win in significant ways, too.
Players who usually do not usually make Angel City’s game day roster regularly chip into competitive training sessions, bringing a high level of play out of the starters. They motivate each other, and Angel City’s 5-1 thrashing of the Portland Thorns during the season’s final game showed it.
Angel City’s conviction never faltered as they piled in spectacular goals with remarkable efficiency in the box. They did not let their foot off the gas as they worked to clean up mistakes from a first half where they led by two goals.
Angel City’s five goals and four-goal margin of victory against the Thorns were the most in the club’s history. And much of their success was because of the players who did not play.
“The players who do not make the squad are such a huge part of it,” said captain and defender Ali Riley. “For them to come running down, jump into our arms after the game, I am so glad they feel a part of it. We could never do what we do on game day if it wasn’t for the work every player puts in out here on the training pitch.”
“When I look at the Portland game, everything we worked for came together,” said interim head coach Becki Tweed. “The goals we scored weren’t a coincidence. They are things that happen every day in training. They are things we pride ourselves on.”
Angel City’s injured players were also vital in their preparations. Forward Simone Charley is an excellent example of this, as she visits Angel City training once a week despite being out for the season due to a left Achilles injury.
Charley praises and helps her teammates in ways she can, and her presence regularly lifts the team’s spirits as they train. Her teammates call the day she visits “Simone Charley Day,” and it is one many of them look forward to.
“Every single player, our injured players, they come in here giving us energy,” Riley said. “We got Simone Charley, Merritt [Mathias], working her butt off every day, giving us their energy when they are already working so hard to come back from their injuries.”
Angel City’s competitive yet cheerful training environment, marked by contributions from all players, has the team seemingly bought into what Tweed offers as head coach. She brought stability to the training environment while emphasizing players performing well in their roles (no matter the size).
Tweed changed the way the team approached team meetings, film sessions, and training, which midfielder Madison Hammond believes allows the team to express themselves better on the field.
“Everybody’s played different roles during the season, and we have been really intentional about, ‘your impact in the group is not always being in the starting 11. Your impact in the group and the role you play is how much you can impact the group Monday through Friday and then what your impact looks in the weekend,’” Tweed said.
“Because of that repetition and routine and stability that were provided in our training environment, we’ve been able to focus on other things on the field,” Hammond said. “Her [Tweed’s] leadership has just really allowed us to start expressing ourselves on the field because we have been given the structure in training. The standards were risen; you had to perform every single day in training.”
Such freedom is invaluable as Angel City approaches their first playoff game against OL Reign. The team works with purpose during their training sessions, making every contribution crucial. Such focus created a well-prepared team filled with confidence heading into the playoffs. Or, as Tweed put it, “confidence is high.”