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Angel City FC Draws 22,000 Fans For NWSL Regular Season Opener

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A sold-out crowd of 22,000 soccer fans filled Banc of California Stadium to witness Angel City FC’s first win of the 2022 NWSL regular season. The expansion team treated the crowd to a 2–1 win. Vanessa Gilles and Jun Endo both scored in the first 45 minutes for ACFC. NC Courage star Debinha would get the lone goal for the opposing side.

“We did a really good job in the first half in managing (North Carolina’s) pressure. We knew they were going to come out the second half strong. They put us under a lot of pressure,” head coach Freya Coombe. “Our players adjusted to how North Carolina was rotating, especially in midfield. We were able to organize ourselves to deal with it.”

The team didn’t meet success in the Challenge Cup, an annual preseason tournament for the National Women’s Soccer League. They did play spoiler and eliminate the Portland Thorns from the Challenge Cup playoffs off a Christen Press penalty kick. The 1-0 win was the first in franchise history and set the scene for a historic game Friday night.

Two wins in a row bodes well for the off-the-pitch narrative ACFC is selling. An expansion team will a football roster-sized ownership group including the likes of Mia Hamm, Billie Jean King, actors Natalie Portman, Viola Davis and the G.O.A.T herself, Serena Williams is an easy sell for women’s empowerment.

MORE FROM FORBESPride Partnership With Heineken Is Just The Beginning For Angel City FC

Williams, Davis, and WNBA champion Candace Parker are among the handful of Black owners not just for the new club, but in the NWSL period – a fact I am curious to follow as the league continues to grow in the 10th season and beyond.

The celebrity of the City of Angels meant any Los Angeles team could, and probably should, lean into the drama and and celebrity of it all. If we’re being honest, the NWSL needed this type of christening to the season. Six coaches and executives, including Houston’s James Clarkson just this week, were dismissed or resigned amid investigations into discrimination, harassment, abuse, and bullying.

New commissioner Jessica Berman is committed to investigating and current or historic issues. “On that basis, both the league and the union collaborate with the joint investigators on how to address issues that come to light,” Berman told The Equalizer.

The NWSL Players Association signed its first collective bargaining agreement in February and Berman and NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke signed the new CBA on the pitch ahead of the ACFC home opener.

A bit theatrical, sure but also critically important.

There is a lot on the line for Angel City FC and the NWSL this season. If yesterday was any indication, there is hope yet.Whether fans came to see Christen Press or Uzo Aduba, the point is they came to the stadium; 22,000 of them came to see a women’s soccer match.

The best part for me is the players are feeling the shift.

“I know it was just game 1, but I think it’s a moment I will never forget, and no matter what happens this season no one can ever take tonight away from us and this crowd,” ACFC defender and Los Angelino Ali Riley said. “To feel that, was unbelievable. I will never forget this.”

The energy of yesterday reminded Riley of a memory she and many other soccer players, who play professionally today, remember as if it were yesterday.

“I went to the ‘99 World Final and that was what put this idea in my head. I had no idea how it would happen but it planted the seed that maybe one day I could play soccer on a stage like that. So now for us to be here and for those little girls to see that, just that kind of visibility and how we are in the field with all different skin colors, all different experiences, all different backgrounds, such a diverse and inclusive group; I think that’s really important and that’s what the club stands for as well.”

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