May 18, 2024

For Angel City, Friday’s playoff loss wasn’t so much an end to a journey as it was a pause in the trek. What was a disappointment in the present is already proving to be an inspiration for the future.

“We’ve proven that we can compete and be one of the top teams and we have top players,” interim coach Becki Tweed said after the 1-0 loss to the OL Reign in the NWSL quarterfinals. “Obviously devastated, and that makes it more difficult. But we’ll grow from it. You have to go through the first to get better.”

Midfielder Savannah McCaskill, the beating heart of the team, was typically more blunt: “We’re going to be a full-fledged wrecking force in this league,” she said.

“The playoffs is the minimum standard now going forward. And we need to strive for better and making [the] semis and winning championships. But the minimum standard now is playoffs. We’ve been here, we know what it takes to get here. And so this offseason is to prepare, to get yourself ready to show up preseason, Day 1, and get back to work.”

The team has a lot of work to do before then, starting with settling on a head coach. Tweed, an assistant under Freya Coombe, was given the job on an interim basis in June when Coombe was sacked with the team near the bottom of the NWSL standings. Under Tweed, Angel City was among the best teams in the league, losing just once in 14 games in all competitions entering the playoffs.

And the loss came on a Veronica Latsko header in the 87th minute that deflected in off the gloved right hand of Angel City keeper Angelina Anderson.

“In soccer,” defender Paige Nielsen said, “you have to have a little luck on your side.”

For many of Tweed’s players, the sprint to the finish was more than enough evidence for general manager Angela Hucles Mangano to remove the interim tag. That could happen soon. Although Hucles Mangano said she is conducting “a thorough search process which technically we haven’t finished,” Tweed remains a candidate.

“She’s doing everything the right way,” Hucles Mangano said.

In the meantime Tweed, who said she is happy in Los Angeles, is free to listen to offers from clubs inside and outside the NWSL.

“The first step for me is I have to do a deep dive on myself and some self-reflection,” she said. “I need to look at where I can grow, where I can be better.”

The team also has to make decisions regarding some key players who are out of contract, among them defender Sarah Gorden, forward Simone Charley and midfielders Dani Weatherholt, Madison Hammond and McCaskill, the franchise’s all-time leader in goals and minutes played. Others, such as popular Japanese international Jun Endo, have contract options pending.

Then there’s the offense. Although Angel City got goals from 14 players this season, in its biggest game of the year Friday the team didn’t manage a shot on target, getting shut out for the ninth time in 29 games in all competitions. If Christen Press, a two-time World Cup champion who was limited to 13 games the last two years because of an ACL tear, chooses to return next season at 35, that could help. The team also needs more production from Sydney Leroux, who played just 602 minutes in 2023, scoring twice.

Defensively Gorden who, along with McCaskill, is set to become a free agent after playing every regular-season minute at center back, is among the favorites for NWSL defender of the year while Anderson, a 22-year rookie, emerged late in the season to claim the starting job in goal.

“She played like she has been in this league for years and years,” Tweed said. “She is a special talent for the future for sure.”

Angel City FC goalkeeper Angelina Anderson, left, reaches above OL Reign's Emily Sonnett to grab the ball.

Angel City FC goalkeeper Angelina Anderson, left, reaches above OL Reign’s Emily Sonnett to grab the ball.

(Lindsey Wasson / Associated Press)

As for the present, the coach told her players after the playoff loss that they should be pleased with what they’ve done, but hungry to do more.

“It’s really important that we soak it all in, be proud of where we’ve come from and obviously feel the pain,” she said. “You can’t hide from it. It’s going to hurt for a little while. It’s really important that we process those.

“[But] for the young players, it’s about using this as fuel and using the offseason to grow and get better. We can come back in January and move forward. Give yourself grace, be humble, look at what we’ve come from and be really proud. And use this to get better. That was the message.”

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