Women’s professional soccer’s triumphant return to the City of Angels

Angel City FC went all in on tonight, and their 2-1 victory will forever validate the movement behind their founding.

Smoke billows from the supporters section as the players celebrate Angel City's first NWSL regular season win on their home field.

Tonight was always going to be a celebration. A jubilant recognition of Angel City FC’s creation, its owners, its supporters, its brand.

The investors were applauded on the field. Julie Foudy led a booming rendition of the infamous, now ACFC adopted, “three clap.” The players entered through smoke and fireworks as “Still D.R.E.” accompanied the moments leading up to kickoff.

But more often than not, that’s where the energy peaks on night one for an expansion franchise. Tonight was different. A sellout crowd of 22,000 was on hand to welcome professional soccer back to Los Angeles, and they were not disappointed.

“[The crowd] was unbelievable,” ACFC head coach Freya Coombe said after the match. “Everything we’d hoped the club would deliver, and they delivered in abundance and with more. The crowd was unreal tonight.

“Their energy, enthusiasm and support for the players and for the coaching staff was felt throughout the night. It’s the best environment I’ve ever coached in.”

Banc of California Stadium was littered with stars Friday evening, but Jen Endo reigned chief among them by the end of the night. Her goal and assist were the difference in ACFC’s 2-1 win over the North Carolina Courage in the club’s home opener.

Endo delivered the home crowd their payoff just three minutes in. After a Savannah McCaskill corner sailed long, Endo raced to the ball and went to work.

Her first touch was enough to beat the lone Courage defender standing in her way – the crowd now on its feet almost certain of what was coming next. Endo carried the ball into the box and delivered a perfect cross to Vanessa Gilles who headed it home to put ACFC ahead.

The Banc erupted. Loads of effort and anticipation have surrounded this club’s arrival since the project to conceive it began, and their players needed all of three minutes to validate it.

Ten minutes later, McCaskill played a perfect long pass that allowed Endo to run onto the ball in stride past the entire Courage defense. Endo only had the keeper to beat as the crowd was back on its feet, once again turning to Endo for their release.

The Japanese international controlled the pass, worked the ball onto her left foot and fired it the far post past the outstretched arms of Courage keeper Katelyn Rowland. The city had brought NWSL soccer to LA, and Endo delivered them a 2-0 lead in just 13 minutes.

“When the players came out for warmups, you could see something special about the night all of the supporters we had in the stands,” Coombe said. “It was a fantastic start for the team. We harnessed the energy of the crowd and supporters, which was unreal.”

The party was on at the Banc. Jen Garner was dancing on the videoboard. Becky G spoke on the field at halftime. Foudy was still spurring on a now euphoric supporters section for the club she was instrumental in constructing.

Debinha got one back for the Courage just six minutes into the second half, forcing ACFC and their crowd to ride out the final 39 minutes with just a one goal cushion.

While you won’t find her on the scoresheet, Christen Press was all over the field, putting out defensive fires before they started and dropping deep to relieve the attack from the North Carolina high press.

Her effort combined with tidy one-on-one defending from the backline allowed ACFC to see those 39 plus stoppage minutes through without conceding, and secure the 2-1 victory in their inaugural home match.

“We knew they were going to come out the second half strong,” Coombe said. “They put us under a lot of pressure … Our players adjusted to how North Carolina was rotating, especially in midfield. We were able to organize ourselves to deal with it.”

The NWSL finally arrived in Los Angeles Friday night, and it ended the night on the high side.

Of course, there is a long season ahead for this Angel City team that still has plenty of questions to answer going forward. But tonight, April 29, will transcend the months that come for this club.

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

This night will live on forever as the night the most ambitious expansion project in league history was rewarded. Rewarded with a 22,000 seat sellout. Rewarded with two goals in 13 minutes. Rewarded with a win for both Angel City and the future of women’s professional soccer.

“I have waited for a moment like this for 12 years,” Riley said. “I had hoped to get drafted to the LA Sol. The team folded before I had the chance. I’ve been all over the world, and to be here with my parents watching the game, to feel the love, the support. I think we proved that anything is possible in women’s sports. I’ll never forget this.”