ACFC vs PTFC Game Recap: Colossal Upset at Titan Stadium
The last Challenge Cup game played between Angel City FC and Portland Thorns FC ended in a 3-0 score in favor of the Thorns, making the Sunday, April 24 Angel City victory against them by 1-0 all the more surprising and impressive for the new Los Angeles expansion team. With their first victory of the NWSL preseason and in club history, ACFC found themselves proving just how great of a looming threat their team will pose going into the regular season as the club continues to develop their newly formed squad.
The game between the two clubs marked the last match of the last day of the Challenge Cup group stage with PTFC entering the match at 10 points and ACFC with just 1. The Thorns needed just a tie or a victory in order to advance into the semis, but with the upset ACFC caused, they too are now out of the Cup, leaving the Washington Spirit as the best second-place club in the standings to advance and pushing the Thorns into the regular season. While ACFC had no stakes in the game given their low standings in the Western division, their knockout demonstrated the sheer grit that this team is developing on the West Coast.
PTFC’s loss seemed to be foreboding from before the match even started with many of their players in COVID protocol, most notably, 21-year-old forward Sophia Smith who leads the squad with the most scored goals of the Challenge Cup so far. Also in COVID protocol was 25-year-old midfielder Hina Sugita with 2 goals in the Challenge Cup. Both of their absences were visible in the Thorns attacking frontline during this game demonstrating a weakness in the Thorns lineup.
The first half started off immediately with a dominant presence from ACFC with an early shot on goal from a cross by Christen Press to Savannah McCaskill in the first minute. While the ball didn’t find the back of the net, this incredible start from ACFC would define the rest of the game. From the 2nd minute to the 6th there was a continuous sequence of attacks from the Thorns, all blocked by Didi Haraĉić and one ball from Christine Sinclair in the 5th minute expertly blocked by NWSL rookie Megan Reid. This strong defensive play from ACFC was an aspect of the team we hadn’t seen up until now and marked a strong visual improvement in their backline.
The 8th minute saw another attempted goal by PTFC from Madison Pogarch that went over the net. The turnover in possession that saw a 10th-minute cross from Spencer was then put out in the penalty box by Morgan Weaver. Press went for a shot from the 18 yard in the 15th minute off a cross from McCaskill but was saved by Bella Bixby. Nevertheless, this strong attacking presence from ACFC is uncharacteristic of the team so far and demonstrates just how deliberate and concise the club is becoming with their passing, especially in their midfield.
The 27th minute began the action that would lead to the only goal scored in the game. A free-kick for ACFC resulted in a foul on Vanessa Gilles by Raquel Rodríguez in the penalty box leading to a yellow card and a penalty kick for ACFC. In the 29th minute of the game, Press took a right-footed penalty shot that secured ACFC their game-winning goal and her second goal for the club. This was also the first penalty kick Press has taken in the NWSL since 2017.
There was also excitement in the 32nd minute as ACFC used the momentum of their first goal for a fantastic run down the left side by Simone Charley into the attacking third. Unfortunately, while her cross to McCaskill was perfectly placed, McCaskill was unable to settle it. However, the 35th minute saw some more action from McCaskill with a cross to Gilles in the box. Gilles managed to head in that floated ball to the back of the net but the goal was later revoked because of an offside call. Nevertheless, the ease by which Gilles was able to take that goal demonstrated a shakiness in the Thorns’ defense and a continual dominance from ACFC. With 2 minutes of stoppage time, there was some outstanding work defensively from the thorns by Yazmeen Ryan to keep possession, but ultimately the half ended with Portland trailing 1-0.
ACFC entering halftime with a 1-0 lead exemplified the potential this team has, ending their streak of conceding goals early. Their defensive work in the first half was greatly improved compared to their other performances with a specifically outstanding performance by Jasmyne Spencer who spent the first half consistently acting as a key defender for ACFC. Other notable performances from ACFC were in the attacking frontline with the dangerous and precise Charley-Endo-Press frontline, never seen until this game where together they showed outstanding chemistry.
The second half was also full of defensive surprises, beginning with Press’ decision to fall back and help defensively for the first time which ended up being a great strength to Angel City, including a great side tackle by her. Minutes 64 and 66 saw shots
on goal from the Thorns but were both driven in wide. One of the most outstanding performances of the night was seen in the 74th minute by the Thorns when a header by Tyler Lussi was saved off the line by Megan Klingenberg.
The 84th minute saw a yellow card for Charley and also an injury to her taking her off the field, replaced by Hope Breslin. After about 7 minutes of stoppage time and some great defensive play by ACFC secured them their first win of the season and knocked out the 2021 Challenge Cup champions from the semi-finals.
So what changed for ACFC and how did they manage to secure this upset, having their first win as a club against the notorious Thorns? Well, we saw a lot of differences in the way Angel City played today including coach Freya Coombe capitalizing on substitutions in ways she hadn’t previously done. The continual addition of fresh legs to the squad throughout the game ensured that ACFC remained energized and confident. In terms of the attacking frontline, we also saw a Charley-Endo-Press lineup for the first time, incorporating some of the best forwards together for the first time. Additionally, the team looked much better defensively with the addition of Reid to the backline as well as an outstanding performance from Riley and Haraĉić’s first shutout for this club. Another notable performance was from forward Jun Endo who not only acted as a vocal leader during this game but also created opportunities on goal throughout most of the match.
This game ultimately demonstrated some well-played football from both sides and the regular season will hopefully show audiences the depth of both teams as ACFC rises upwards in skill and experience as a club and PTFC continues to work out how to work as a team when some of their notable players are absent from the match. While ACFC fairly won this victory, there’s no denying the skill and history that persists with the Thorns, making future matchups between these clubs all the more tense and interesting.