nwsl

Nielsen stuns Angel City loss to Houston Dash

Henry Tran - The Sporting Tribune
The former Angel City defender scored a game winner against her previous team.

LOS ANGELES — Paige Nielsen was a crucial part of Angel City FC. She played for the club since its first season and became a pivotal piece of its back line as the team made the playoffs for the first time last season.

But before the NWSL trade deadline in April, Angel City traded her to the Houston Dash. Nielsen knew about the trade talks the day before the deadline and was told the move was verbally agreed upon on deadline day. 

Despite a difficult adjustment in which Nielsen had to move away from her wife and family, she persisted and is growing into her new team. She returned to BMO Stadium on Sunday to play her former squad for the first time — and she became the Dash’s hero.

In the dying minutes of stoppage time, Nielsen received a bouncing ball off a corner kick and fired a shot past goalkeeper DiDi Haracic. She won the game for the Dash, 1-0, and ran towards the bench, bringing the entire team together around her. 

It was a full-circle moment for Nielsen. The crowd was mostly silent, with some cheers mixed in.

Some of the cheers for Nielsen were likely by fans whom she impacted while in Los Angeles. Nielsen said she felt their appreciation postgame. 

“When I scored the goal, I was like, ‘Holy crap, did that just happen?’ I was just super stoked,” Nielsen said. “I didn’t really understand that the fans were cheering. It wasn’t till after, when everyone stayed and had the signs, that I saw it.

“They said how much they loved me and missed me. I heard a couple of stories that impacted kids’ lives. Best fans in the league. They mean so much to me still, I still follow a lot of their stories via social media.”

The last-minute goal was a deflating moment for Angel City, but coach Becki Tweed said the rest of the game was the most “relevant part.” Angel City was ineffective in creating chances, leaving the door open for Nielsen’s game-winning goal.

“It was just one of those games where we didn’t create enough [chances], and we weren’t dangerous enough in the final third,” Tweed said. “We had 13 shots, apparently, and I don’t know where they came from. We had some good build-up moments, but that’s not enough to win games.

“Quality inside the final third, deliveries, runs, committing numbers into the box. It’s not even about being ruthless; it’s about creating your own opportunities. … We played some good football, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t do anything with it.”

One of Angel City’s bright spots moving forward was midfielder Clarisse Le Bihan, who made her first start of the season. She took 74 touches, made five passes into the final third and created three chances, according to FotMob

Defensively, Angel City was gritty enough to hold the Dash scoreless for most of the night. But giving up a late corner kick cost them the game.

“We had a bit of a gutsy defensive performance,” Tweed said. “We talk a lot about our shape behind the ball and not getting hurt in transition. That includes giving away a corner and the 97th minute.

“Our shape behind the ball wasn’t good enough. We give up a corner, and now we unnecessarily have to defend with the last kick of the game. That’s football. It punishes you when you don’t do the little things right.”

Nielsen met with some of her former teammates after the game. She said she made lifelong connections with her Angel City teammates while in Los Angeles. 

“I made some friends for life here and, even our–can’t say our–even the staff, I got super close with. I’ll have them in my corner for life,” Nielsen said. “This is sports, and everyone knows that. You lose players, and you have to move on, but I’m gonna have some people in my life, and I’m super excited.”

Angel City next play the Washington Spirit on Saturday.