NWSL Decision Day: Angel City’s Remarkable 5-1 Victory Clinches Them A Play-Off Spot
On NWSL Decision Day, Angel City FC clinched a remarkable 5-1 victory over second-place Portland Thorns FC, propelling them to their first-ever Play-Offs in their second year as an established club.
Before the weekend, Angel City sat in eighth place, just one point away from the top six, with a record of seven wins, seven draws and seven losses. Their Play-Off hopes hinged not only on a win but also on the outcomes of other games.
Portland Thorns, the reigning NWSL champions, aimed to secure their third NWSL Shield title with a record of 10 wins, five draws and six losses as they topped the league ahead of the weekend.
This marked the fourth meeting this season between the two, encompassing both the NWSL and Challenge Cup. Their previous three encounters resulted in a win each for the two sides and a draw with the latest victory being a 2-1 home win for Angel City during the Challenge Cup.
Despite securing a spot in the semi-finals, the Thorns had been struggling on the road, failing to secure a win in their last five away matches.
The anticipation leading up to the match was tremendous as eight teams fought for the final four remaining spots in playoffs.
As a club that prides itself on its social justice stances, the Angel City FC founders addressed the conflict in Israel and Gaza prior to the game stating, “We strongly condemn the horrific and heinous actions of Hamas against Israel. The indiscriminate murder of and violence against children and families by Hamas is terrorism.”
A few hours prior to the match, Angel City FC announced: “Only representations relating to the two teams competing in today’s match will be allowed inside the BMO Stadium,” citing “caution for the safety of our players, fans, and staff.”
As a result, Angel City’s La Fortaleza, which serves as the home for the club’s six supporter groups, conducted a five-minute silent demonstration.
Angel City started the game with an aggressive approach in the first half, pressing high and utilising wide play. Scottish footballer Claire Emslie posed a consistent threat on the left wing, repeatedly driving the ball to the edge of the 18-yard box and delivering crosses in an attempt to find her teammates’ heads.
In the 36th minute, a build-up originating from the defence resulted in a goal. Mary Alice Vignola received a pass out wide from Sydney Leroux and, instead of delivering a cross, caught Portland Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby off guard, striking a shot at the near post.
Angel City capitalised on their momentum and added another goal just two minutes later. A cross from Emslie to the far post connected with Scarlett Camberos’ head as Meghan Klingenberg failed to clear the ball.
While the hosts continued to create scoring opportunities, Portland Thorns fought back. Crystal Dunn had the most significant chance for the visitors just outside the 18-yard box in added time of the first half but it wasn’t enough to beat Angelina Anderson.
Before fans could settle back into their seats after half-time, Savannah McCaskill tapped in Angel City’s third goal, taking advantage of Bixby’s continued vulnerability at the near post.
Despite the Thorns attempting to press high in the hope of converting their chances, the hosts refused to sit back and defend. They maintained possession, spreading the ball wide and stretching the pitch.
In a moment that sent chills through the stadium, Leroux executed a bicycle kick to find the back of the net just beyond Bixby’s reach and over the head of Natalia Kuikka, who made a final attempt to stop Angel City from taking a 4-0 lead in only the 50th minute.
Without any successful chances for the Thorns, Sophia Smith entered the game for the visitors in the 61st minute and immediately began to create trouble in Angel City’s defensive third.
The young USWNT star had recently returned after recovering from a knee injury shortly after the FIFA World Cup. Despite her almost two-month break, she still clinched the NWSL’s Golden Boot, finishing the regular season with 11 goals.
Smith continued to pose a significant threat, taking on Angel City’s defence with dribbling runs both on the left and in central positions. Her remarkable ball control at her feet showcased football at its highest level.
When Angel City skipper Ali Riley was substituted, Smith seized the opportunity and exploited the left flank.
As Smith crossed the ball hoping to find one of her teammates to tap it in, she faced denial as Anderson made a crucial diving save. However, the Angel City goalkeeper tipped the ball just outside the six-yard box, leaving the goal open for Hina Sugita to score the Portland Thorns’ first goal of the match.
Angel City didn’t allow the Thorns to harbour hope for long. Immediately from the kick-off, the ball found its way to Jun Endo who remained wide open on the left side of the 18-yard box.
Continuing to punish Bixby, she targeted the near post, securing Angel City’s fifth and final goal of the match.
As the game approached the 90-minute mark, the intensity heightened and the Portland Thorns began to realise that their dreams of defeating Angel City and claiming their third NWSL Shield were slipping out of reach.
Fouls were consistently whistled throughout the final minutes of the match as Thompson earned a late yellow card in added time for what appeared to be a theatrical fall from Bixby during an Angel City corner.
The Thorns made a few final attempts on goal but Anderson rose to the occasion for Angel City each time.
When the final whistle blew, uncertainty still shrouded Angel City’s Play-Off prospects as they awaited the outcomes of the other games. A few minutes later, the BMO Stadium erupted in cheers as they announced that Angel City had secured the club’s first-ever Play-Off finish.
Angel City will now face reigning NWSL Shield winners, OL Reign in the first round of Play-Offs on October 20th.
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