Merritt Mathias returns in Angel City’s preseason draw with Bay FC

Angel City Football Club
Mathias returned from a knee injury in Angel City's only preseason match.

INDIO, Calif. — Defender Merritt Mathias’s 2023 was devastating as she faced a knee injury, a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, and a dog passing away. Through all of it, she learned to find a new community and separate her feeling of value from soccer.  

On Saturday, Mathias returned to the pitch, a meaningful moment for the 33-year-old. During preseason in the Coachella Valley Invitational, she featured for Angel City in a 0-0 draw with Bay FC. 

Mathias entered the game in the 31st minute and was taken off in the 76th minute. She has been building her confidence since starting preseason training in January, and playing against an NWSL team was the next step in her return. 

“It feels great,” Mathias said. “Someone just came up and was like, ‘it’s kind of like your debut.’ I’m like, ‘well, it’s nice to be 33 years old, 12 years in, and have a debut. So, it felt nice to be on the field. It’s a big box to check off on my list to play against an NWSL opponent, to feel good, and to get through the game safely.”

The match against Bay featured significant rotation and minimal chances due to stout defense and likely a lack of chemistry between players. Angel City started the match with Angelina Anderson, Sam Kroeger (NRI), M.A. Vignola, Sarah Gorden, Ali Riley, Madison Hammond, Jessica Garziano (2023 draftee), Kennedy Fuller (U-18 trialist), Sydney Leroux, Katie Johnson, and Alyssa Thompson. 

“This was an opportunity for us to get everybody on the field to continue to evaluate and look at players and to continue to build our identity,” said head coach Becki Tweed.

Gorden played well, blocking consecutive shots in the seventh minute. Anderson also put in a solid performance, saving a couple of shots, none too dangerous. Others also put in decent shifts, but none stood out. 

10 minutes into the match, Garziano played a through ball out wide to Thompson, but Bay cleared Thompson’s cross. 

12 minutes into the match, Vignola displayed her physicality to cut off multiple runs on the left side. 

31 minutes into the match, Mathias entered alongside goalkeeper Hannah Stambaugh, who also debuted for Angel City. The club acquired Stambaugh from Japanese club Omiya Ardija Ventus in a trade. She made a couple of solid saves to keep the scoreline even. 

The second half featured more lineup changes, as everyone except for Mathias was substituted. Angel City brought on DiDi Haracic, Jasmyne Spencer, Madison Curry (2024 draftee), Paige Nielsen, Megan Reid, Lily Nabet, Felicia Knox (2024 draftee), Meggie Dougherty Howard, Clarisse Le Bihan, and Messiah Bright.

Knox created a few chances for Angel City, but none were overly dangerous. 52 minutes into the match, she played a solid cross to Bright, but it was just out of Bright’s reach.

The rest of the half featured looks from both sides, but none with much substance, leading to the 0-0 draw. Despite the empty scoreline, the game saw multiple Angel City debuts and the potential of NWSL preseason. The stands were packed with NWSL fans.

“The event today was amazing,” Mathias said. “There are fans in the stands, so that is really great… I hope it continues to keep growing because I’m here for Coachella Valley for sure.”

Next, Angel City plays Bay, kicking off its 2024 campaign. Mathias is looking forward to playing in front of Angel City’s regularly sold-out crowd. She has played for three NWSL clubs since 2014, none of which she feels had as much support as Angel City.

“I’m most excited to step on the field in front of our fans,” Mathias said. I have played in this league for 12 years. And I played for incredible clubs, but none with the kind of backing and support that you see with Angel City. Our fans are incredible.”