Forgive us if this week’s NWSL roundup is a little heavy on Angel City. But you can’t deny that they kicked off the 2022 regular season in extreme style, and it was a remarkable overall event for the whole league – not just one club. This game felt like the next big step the NWSL and its fans have been looking for to chart a path forward in scope, ambition, and delivery. It was all the spectacle of 22,000 raucous fans at Banc of California Stadium, a group of high profile investors (JenGarnerCam forever), news helicopters hovering overhead, a pre-game fan fest filled with domestic brands galore and, of course, a first home win against the odds.
Not all games will be sold out, despite the club having over 15,000 subscribers. Attendance will naturally drop; there won’t always be helicopters, fireworks and a marching band on the ground. But Angel City created a lot of expectations for themselves as the hottest new team in town, and they mostly delivered on their promise. It was also a bit of an unintended challenge for other owners to increase their spending. We can only guess how much money the ACFC poured in the week leading up to the game and on the day of the game itself, but it certainly wasn’t done by pinching a penny and always looking for the cheapest option. less expensive. When you watch things like this and Kansas City fall a nice 70 million dollars (in private funding, not public!) on their own stadium, it’s a giant signal that the days of worrying about every penny can’t continue if you want to keep pace in this league.
Expansion teams are coming in big
Angel City had all the show Friday night, but San Diego had its own tough mission, on the road against the Houston Dash. Jodie Taylor delivered a late winner for San Diego in the 86th minute. Both teams have yet to show they can produce wins like this consistently in the rest of the league, but expansion teams starting the regular season with wins are helping to provide crucial momentum to new fanbases. It’s always fair to have higher expectations for the wave overall based on the relative health of their roster compared to Angel City (who had to hang on for dear life against North Carolina for a some time during this game), but both expansion teams look competitive from the gate and gaining valuable Challenge Cup experience is a win for the league as a whole.
Spirit wins the first round
Something, something national champion something, something targeted on your back. Spirit doesn’t seem the least bit fazed by the notions of “meeting expectations” or “performing under pressure.” Every week is just the anticipation (or dread) of what Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch and Trinity Rodman are going to do in someone’s defense. And, of course, by just writing those words, this column probably cursed them, because that’s how the sport works.
Laurel regular season
There’s so much to talk about that we’re not getting too specific on a game-by-game basis this week, but we wanted to shout out some of the best moments from the opening weekend of the regular season.
Angel City 2-1 North Carolina Courage | Strong points
Jun Endo. Jun Endo! JUNE ENDO! Also be sure to watch all ACFC highlights and clips with sound. The video can’t quite capture how LOUD the stadium was, but it was definitely a noise level deep in your brain.
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) April 30, 2022
Portland Thorns 3-0 Kansas City Current | Strong points
Notwithstanding the score, a shout out here for AD Franch. It’s not like she’s getting beaten by slow rollers – the Thorns blasted KC with 19 shots and 12 on goal, as well as twice as many corners as KC (six for Portland).
Chicago Red Stars 2-1 Racing Louisville FC | Strong points
ANY GAME RUNNING SAFELY AFTER A WATCH OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS AND A RAIN DELAY IS A VICTORY.
Washington Spirit 2-1 OL Reign | Strong points
The Spirit just looks good. That’s it. They look good as hell. (With a shout out to the side for OL Reign’s Phallon Tullis-Joyce, who really hit the ground running in this league, and for the Spirit getting their championship rings in this game, presented by new majority owner Michele Kang and his half saffron cloak cape.)
Houston Dash 0-1 San Diego Wave | Strong points
The Dashes haven’t exactly looked great throughout the Challenge Cup, but they now seem to be in complete disarray. Understandable, given the stress that the team must undergo following the suspension of James Clarksonwhich was announced in the middle of last week.
Orlando Pride 0-3 NJ/NY Gotham FC | Strong points
Pride is another team that needs help. They really started off on the wrong foot. Specifically, on the left foot of Midge Purce. His right foot too, if we also talk about assists.
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN HUH pic.twitter.com/DLi6wznwvY
— NJ/NY Gotham FC (@GothamFC) May 1, 2022
Discover the levels
Now that we’re out of the Challenge Cup group stage, we’re not going to take a power ranking approach (because I’m never quite sure of their value beyond people yelling at you on Twitter, although we might still be in this boat with a tier system, anyway) but trying to assess teams that seem absolutely locked in, teams that seem ready to fight for a playoff spot by the end of the year and the teams that have work to do.
Now, these aren’t entirely based on a single regular season week, of course. The Challenge Cup is going to influence where teams land until we get a bit further into the season, but thanks to all the clear results Week 1 influenced that.
Looking locked up: The Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns – could there be a case for a few other teams here? Sure. But right now, the Spirit really are the team to beat, and Portland picked up a decisive win to open their season.
Qualifiers candidates: OL Reign, Courage and Current are in the game here, even with the defeats of week 1, thanks to the Challenge Cup. The Chicago Red Stars are expected to be in that zone (or more) all season, but Gotham FC and the Wave also picked up dubs this weekend, after mixed results in the Challenge Cup.
Work ahead: If Angel City gets another result next week, they’ll get the upgrade to the next level, but they’ve yet to prove they’re ready to hang in there for the regular-season grind. Louisville, Houston and Orlando are still looking for that early-season breakthrough in consistency, but Pride, in particular, has struggled throughout 2022 so far.
We need to talk about…
… attendance this weekend.
Angel City helped lead the way in the NWSL, but with help from Portland and very solid numbers in Houston for the first time in a while, the league hit a new opening weekend record in regarding the average attendance.
—Paul Kennedy (@pkedit) May 2, 2022
But the best part is that Angel City’s attendance numbers are in the conversation not just within the NWSL, but in club football around the world, thanks to other big numbers in Paris, Wolfsburg and Newcastle.
Women’s football broke attendance records left and right over the weekend 👏📈 pic.twitter.com/uIy2MGM80V
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 2, 2022
We talk a lot about tipping points and inflection points and the breakthrough date, but Friday night in Los Angeles, you might feel things changing around you.
…we have an ABC!
While we will have a lot more on the NWSL CBA now that it’s a public document (stay tuned for Full Time this week on this front, we tap Thursday) that moment with new Commissioner Jessica Berman and NWSL PA Executive Director Meghann Burke signing the actual document during the pre-game show was both slightly surreal and somehow appropriate for the League. The two sides have been in a deal since preseason, but as far as we’re talking about the atmosphere in LA – the signing of the ABC comes in the biggest moment of what this game meant for the league.
We won’t stop laughing about Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” soundtrack, thanks to the stadium pre-game mix. (The players’ unions are doing like no other. —Steph)
— NWSLPA (@nwsl_players) April 30, 2022
(Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports)
As the regular season begins, the weather warms up and the woolen coats go into the closet, we’re saying goodbye to our weekly Stoneywatch. It’s been a pleasure to be able to highlight a collection of outerwear that frankly makes me (Steph) regularly envious, and we’ll always be keeping an eye on Casey’s Closet for special occasions. But as every sun rises, it must also set.
Stoney’s PowerPoint slideshow fits using random slide transitions set to “I’ll remember you” goes here.
One last thing
Who is she
So a while back there was a meme that just became “Tutant Meenage Neetle Teetles” and it’s, without fail, a phrase that when said out loud will automatically send me off. “Rose Ravelle” is now in the same category. When Meg and I saw this as we prepared to leave Los Angeles after covering Angel City’s home opener, we had to sit in the parked rental car laughing for a good 30 seconds, periodically saying “Rose Ravelle!” to one another. There’s no reason it should be so funny. Maybe it was all the sun.
— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) May 1, 2022
(Top photo: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports)