(Courtesy of Angel City FC)

Christen Press has waited her entire career to play for a team in her hometown of Los Angeles. She’s waited just as long to compete for a club whose values are so synced with her own.

Since she turned professional out of Stanford in 2010, while living in Portland, the UK and many places in between, Press has been driven to elevate the women’s game. That’s what NWSL expansion club Angel City FC is all about, and finally, Press is home.

“To play at this point in my career for a club that’s trying to represent a new future for women’s soccer, and one with equity and inclusion at its core, one that’s working for progress, that’s truly meaningful to me,” she said.

Now, for the first time in franchise history, it’s match day for Press and Angel City. The team meets fellow expansion side San Diego Wave FC on Saturday in their Challenge Cup opener.

Angel City picked up just three rookies late into the 2022 NWSL draft, including Hope Breslin (No. 28), Lily Nabet (No. 36) and Miri Taylor (No. 39). With more players familiar with the pro landscape than a lot of other NWSL teams this season, Angel City is already living up to its culture of building through and around strong women.

“It’s really empowering to be led by successful women and women that want to see us succeed at the highest level, so I think having that behind us is one of the biggest differences that I have seen,” said defender Allyson Swaby.

Women athletes often spend their entire careers not only training to be elite at their sport, but also serving as advocates for the growth of the game. Angel City’s players have a club willing to fight that battle with them, allowing them more freedom to focus on soccer.

“I honestly can hardly believe that it’s a reality, and it’s a very unique thing for me to be able to be a part of and with where the game is today,” Press said.

The staff, so far, has been able to strike an ideal balance of fun and hard work. Intelligence, talent, culture, diversity and inclusion are just a few words the players used to describe the community the club has created, which has helped them sell over 14,000 season tickets for the upcoming season. Savannah McCaskill says the wide range of supporters the club has recruited will be “really unique to this league and the U.S.”

“I think every person I meet around the team, their character is impeccable, and when you put that group together, we could do amazing things,” said defender Paige Nielsen.

Ali Riley and Simone Charley have never been a part of an expansion club, so they’ve been experiencing Angel City’s gorwth with fresh eyes.

“They’re dedicated to just giving back to the community, and I think that’s an amazing foundation to be built on, just bettering those around you,” Charley said. “I think just building a team and the staff around that is an awesome philosophy.”

“It’s pretty incredible to be [my first expansion] and to build our own culture and create the team environment we want to have, and be the first team now to be Angel City players and represent L.A. in the NWSL,” Riley said.

The players have built that chemistry in training, in the locker room and before practice during games of soccer tennis. Off the field, the club recently organized a visit to San Diego, where they played jeopardy, went to the beach and had 25 minutes to paint portraits of each other, which Nielsen jokingly described as hideous.

On the field, what stands out to midfielder Dani Weatherholt is the excitement they share, knowing they’re an underdog team.

“For me initially, seeing all the names and a lot of people were either on the brink of breaking out on their team, or are new to the NWSL, like maybe didn’t get drafted, I think there’s this chip on their shoulder of wanting to prove themselves, and I think that’s super exciting,” she said.

When Angel City plays their first match of the Challenge Cup on Saturday, fans can expect a strong defensive team with a flare on the attack.

“Dangerous,” Nielsen said. “Fast and furious,” according to Swaby.

Charley prefers to keep it a secret.

“You’ll just have to come to our first game and see,” she said with a smile.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.