How Clarisse Le Bihan grew to thrive in the NWSL

Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports
From France to the United States, Le Bihan overcome numerous challenges as she chased her American soccer dream.

LOS ANGELES — When Clarisse Le Bihan arrived in the United States to train with her new team, Angel City, in 2022, she was shocked by the intensity. Two days before games, her teammates were running hard and giving it their all on the field, an occurrence she never experienced in France. In France, such training sessions often focused on tactics or technical exercises. Sometimes they would be longer, but they still did not compare physically to what she experienced with Angel City.

“This shocked me the first time I came to training. It was two days before a game, and then people were running so fast and giving everything all the time. And I was like, ‘but you have a game in two days.’ In my head, I was like, ‘keep your energy,’” Le Bihan said. 

In games, Le Bihan experienced a similar feeling. To her, it felt like everyone was physical, made intense runs, and a goal would be scored any time the ball was turned over. She compared it to the Premier League, which is widely regarded as one of the top leagues in men’s soccer.

“France is not the same way of play,” Le Bihan said. “When you play a game, it’s more tactical, and you do less intense runs and stuff like that… I think [the NWSL] looks like the Premier League for the men, which you attack attack attack. And the first one was like giving up is going to concede a goal. And it’s the kick and rush like this, which is so amazing to play. Every game is so challenging and so competitive.”

Le Bihan began playing professional soccer at 14 years old with Ea Avant Guingamp, which she joined in 2009 and played with for seven years. After, she played for Montpellier HSC from 2016 to 2022. She scored 41 goals in 208 appearances while playing for the two clubs. 

Finally, Le Bihan came to the NWSL to play for Angel City at 27 years old. By then, she had already played professional soccer in France for 13 years. But she decided to leave her home country because of positive reviews from former teammates and others about the league.

“A lot of French people who came for a loan or some seasons all told me [the NWSL] was something different. So much more professional and intense with the crowds and stuff like that. So it has always been like something in my head,” Le Bihan said.

“About Angel City, when we got the first contact, I was starting to look at it. And I was like, ‘well, I want to go there. For sure, I want to go there…’ Finally, like when we got the offer. I was like, ‘yes, for sure. I want to discover that.’ I wanted something new in my career.”

Le Bihan also moved to the United States because of the high level of competitiveness in the NWSL. She felt every team had a chance to win any game compared to France, where top teams dominated; since 2007, Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) has won the Division 1 Feminine every season except once. 

Still, leaving France was difficult for Le Bihan because it meant going away from her family (and dog) for an extended period. And while coming to the United States was a new opportunity, she would have to rebuild her reputation as if she were a rookie despite being 27 years old. 

“In France, I’ve been playing for so many years, people knew me. And then I arrived here, and I’m starting from the bottom again,” Le Bihan said. “So I had to show again like I’m a young player while I’m not that young. It’s challenging, but I’ve not been struggling because I like this too.”

In addition to the game’s intensity and a new role, Le Bihan had to adjust to a new city, culture, and language in Los Angeles. But she adapted early on because of how welcoming her teammates were. Her English has improved, and she feels comfortable in almost all public situations and around the team.  

Dani Weatherholt, Paige Nielsen, and Scarlett Camberos (who joined in 2023) were a few teammates Le Bihan mentioned that supported her in the transition, but all of them had her back.  

“When I came, I felt so easily included on the team,” Le Bihan said. “They’ve been upfront with me with the language, so I’ve never been struggling with the language with Angel City… But they’ll always be like checking on me to see how I was feeling and stuff like that. They have been so important, and it has not been easy for me last year and even the beginning of this season. And I know some people have been there for me and have been helping me go through all of that.”

Vanessa Gilles also assisted Le Bihan in her first season as she spoke French. However, Le Bihan no longer has that connection as Gilles was loaned to Lyon. However, now after Angel City signed Amandine Henry, Le Bihan has a French-speaking teammate again. 

Le Bihan and Henry have been texting during the night about France’s World Cup games and debriefing at training the following day. Henry was supposed to play for France, but after a calf injury sidelined her, she joined Angel City earlier than expected. Still, she supports her national team on their quest to win their first World Cup with her new teammate, Le Bihan.

“I’ve been here for more than a year by myself,” Le Bihan said. “At the beginning, I had Vanessa Gilles, so she was the one I spoke French to. But then only by myself, so it’s so nice [to have Henry as a teammate]. I also knew her before; we met on the national team… I’m happy she’s here.”

Angel City’s supporters, La Fortaleza, helped with Le Bihan’s transition, too, by making her feel closer to home. A few of them dressed up and gave her a baguette after Angel City’s game against the North Carolina Courage on July 9, ahead of Bastille Day, a French holiday. 

“That was so cute,” Le Bihan said. “I was not even expecting it… It was so cute… They were all dressed French with the mustache and the baguette. I felt so supported. It’s just so nice because it’s so far from where I live. So just feeling a bit at home was so cute from them.”

Credit: Angel City Football Club

As Le Bihan grew comfortable in Los Angeles, she began to thrive under the intensity of women’s soccer in the NWSL. Now, she loves the environment and enjoys the competitiveness of training and the games. 

Since June, under interim head coach Becki Tweed, the competitiveness of Angel City’s training sessions has ramped up. But still, Le Bihan is embracing the intensity of the sessions and contributing to them. 

“She loves it,” Tweed said. “You get to a point in training where it’s so competitive that you’re like, ‘do they take this inside with them?’ Best part about the team, they walk off the field, and they embrace it… And Clarisse [Le Bihan] is definitely one of the driving forces behind being competitive.”

As Le Bihan adjusted to the intensity, she has played multiple roles for Angel City; she has been a midfielder, forward, starter, and substitute. But she has found ways to contribute despite the inconsistency.

“She’s played a number of roles, played a couple of positions. She’s been a starter. She’s come off the bench. She’s been hurt. She’s always been through everything. And what’s brilliant about Clarisse is that whatever role she plays, she’s always going to compete and show up,” Tweed said.

Le Bihan started as a midfielder in 2023 but transitioned to a striker soon after Tweed was appointed interim head coach. Tweed prefers Le Bihan in the No. 9 role because of her finishing ability. 

I’ve asked her to play as more of a nine, and she’s an incredible finisher,” Tweed said. “Every time we do finishing, I’m always thinking ‘she can finish. how do we get closer to the goal?’ And she just wants to be able to help the team, and I think her helping the team is how close we can get her to the goal.”

Le Bihan played as a No. 9 when she was younger. Then, became an attacking midfielder later. However, when Tweed put her there again in training, she thrived; she found added chemistry with her teammates and displayed her finishing ability.

“We started to try this in training, and it was good,” Le Bihan said. “I was combining good with people around me, and we were like, ‘oh, let’s give it a try.’ And it was working in game, so I’m comfortable to play this position. Also, I’m closer to the goal, which is always good when you’re a forward. You want to score you.”

Le Bihan’s first start as a forward came against the San Diego Wave in Angel City’s fourth NWSL Challenge Cup game. And she scored her first goal in that position. 18 minutes into the game, she put away an open shot from the center of the box. In her second start as a forward, she made eight shot-creating actions in 72 minutes against the Portland Thorns. 

Credit: Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

In five appearances (three starts) as a forward under Tweed (in all competitions), Le Bihan has scored one goal, passed for an assist, and made 19 shot-creating actions per FBref. Overall, in 14 appearances (in all competitions – midfielder and forward) this year, Le Bihan has two goals and two assists. Most of her production has come in limited minutes, as nine of her appearances were as a substitute.

As Le Bihan plays primarily as a forward, she hopes to help Angel City make the playoffs. Angel City is currently 10th in the NWSL with 17 points. However, they are only four points off a playoff position (6th place) occupied by their rivals, the Wave. Seven games remain for Angel City to make up the ground, but the team is in form; they are unbeaten in their last seven games (in all competitions).

I would love to qualify for the playoffs… The playoffs are still on us, and it’s so exciting. I want to be an important player. I want to play minutes. I want to do this for the group,” Le Bihan said. 

Le Bihan Is primarily focusing on Angel City’s playoff chase now. However, she wants to win championships with any club she plays for. While playing professionally, she has never won a top-division league and hopes that will change moving forward.

Le Bihan is now comfortable in the intense NWSL environment and will push for her goals as she elevates competitiveness rather than shying away. In her second season playing professional soccer in American, she has overcome challenges to build her reputation from the ground up while impressing coaches with her demeanor.