LOS ANGELES – By just about any metric, Angel City Football Club was a rousing success last season, its first in existence.
Sellout crowds – for women’s soccer! Thousands of season ticket holders, 90% of whom reportedly re-upped for Season 2. Revenues reportedly in the mid-seven figures for sales of merch, which was gobbled up by fans in every state and 46 countries. And there are all those high-profile investors and sponsorship dollars galore.
All that, and 10% of every sponsorship dollar goes to community programs.
See, just about any metric – winners.
Everywhere but on the scoreboard. In the National Women’s Soccer League standings. The part of the measuring stick that matters most if we’re talking about what this is: Professional sport.
Angel City finished eighth and missed the playoffs in its debut season, going 8-9-5. In 22 matches, it gave up 27 goals and scored just 23, the third fewest in the league. (And it’s hard to make the yeah-but-expansion-team argument when the brand-new San Diego Wave FC finished third and made the playoffs in its first season.)
On Sunday, Angel City started its sophomore season on the wrong foot, letting momentum get away in a 2-1 loss to NJ/NY Gotham FC. Two pivotal calls got overturned after reviews with the newly instituted video assisted referee (VAR), leading to a letdown before another packed crowd at the newly named BMO Stadium.
Those folks won’t go home unhappy.
For one, they can say they saw Alyssa Thompson’s first pro goal: The Harvard Westlake senior and NWSL No. 1 overall draft pick was electric, regularly sending a current through the crowd with her sprints down the left side. And she needed only 11 minutes to score, slipping into a pocket of space just outside the box and booming a strike off the goalkeeper’s mitt and into the top corner of the net.
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Another key thing: Angel City matches are an event and will remain that way for as far as I can see into the future. There are fan festivities outside the stadium before the match and a social atmosphere that’s welcoming for all, and that’s lovely, something to celebrate in and of itself.
But still, those folks booed the referees on their way off the pitch, aggrieved after having watched VAR giveth and taketh away so cruelly, after seeing Jun Endo’s booming 40-yard score on the heels’ of Thompson’s overturned after a review that found a previously uncalled foul. And another review that set up Midge Purce’s tying penalty kick in the second half, which preceded Lynn Williams’ winner.
Because for all the headline-making of Angel City FC’s long A-list of investors – Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and family recently joined an ownership group that also includes owners include Natalie Portman, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, America Ferrera, Serena Williams and husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, as well as Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, WNBA star Candace Parker and many, many others – the question now: Will the team on the pitch play its A game?
The team with the star-studded ownership group is getting its own docu-series on HBO Max. It’s got star power on the field, too, including the rookie whose life her Harvard Westlake teammate likened to a Disney movie in their school paper.
Will these big ballers’ brand of soccer live up to its sky-high hype? That’s the billion dollar question for Angel City, the team with its sights sets on claiming a billion-dollar valuation in five years.
The pressure is on, and the women can feel it.
“Teams are gonna want to come here and shut the crowd up,” defender Ali Riley said. “They’re gonna want to show, ‘This is this team that everyone talks about.’ So I think there’s that added. We have the support of our crowd, but other teams are extra motivated when they come here so when they see that we start making mistakes, so they want to punish us. That’s why we weren’t able to get a grip on the game again. But we’re going to have to do that.”
“We are happy that the game is taking notice,” coach Freya Coombe said. “That’s the way the game’s gonna grow, that’s the way audiences are gonna grow, that’s the way that these women and these athletes’ brands are gonna grow, and can get the support that they deserve.
“So we’re happy that the world is watching. Now it’s about us playing a brand of soccer that is going to excite people and be successful.”
Angel City, which won its opener last season but then only seven more times all season, will have 21 more chances this regular season. And Los Angeles’ team will have plenty of support — and some pressure — as they strive to add some tallies in another significant win column.