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‘Finally, we have a women’s team’: LA rallies around Angel City in debut

Angel City celebrates Jun Endo’s goal in the first half of their 2-1 win over North Carolina. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — For the first time since 2009, Los Angeles fans watched a women’s professional soccer team play a regular-season match, as Angel City FC defeated the North Carolina Courage 2-1 on Friday night. ACFC announced its NWSL entrance in July 2020, but as the team took the field in front of a sellout crowd of 22,000 at Banc of California Stadium for its home opener, after the anticipation and the build-up of the past year, it all started to feel real.

Thousands of fans arrived as much as four hours before kickoff to revel in the historic moment together, playing games, dancing to a live DJ and chanting “Dalé, Dalé, ACFC” with drumming accompaniment. The on-field pregame festivities included pyrotechnics and a live musical performance replete with a 40-piece marching band.

ACFC defender Vanessa Gilles kept the good times rolling, sending the crowd into a frenzy in the third minute when she headed in a precise centering pass from Jun Endo on the right flank for the first goal in regular-season franchise history. As the fans cheered their team’s 1-0 lead, Gilles’ teammates wrapped her in a swaying group embrace before the Canadian jogged back to midfield, raising her arms triumphantly.

Arturo Gutierrez, his wife and two sons (ages 9 and 11), decked out in matching ACFC scarves and kits, were four of the 22,000 who lost their minds on the Gilles goal. The family from nearby Lynwood has season tickets in the supporters’ section, where Arturo’s son, 11-year-old Arturo Jr., plays the drums.

“We’re super excited,” Arturo Sr. said. “It’s nice being able to see him happy. It makes me happy.”

Arturo Sr. said he and his wife speak to their sons “all the time” about the importance of supporting women.

“I’m a real soccer fan,” he said, “and it’s important to support the women. They need that from us. Not having a women’s team is not right. We finally got one, and we’re here to make history, bro.”

Ten minutes after Gilles made history with the franchise’s first goal, ACFC struck again. Receiving a pass from Savannah McCaskill, Endo met the ball with her left foot and directed it across her body and into the bottom right corner of the goal.

In Endo’s first 13-plus minutes of NWSL regular-season play, the 21-year-old — who before tonight had never played for a team outside of Japan — factored in both goals to give ACFC a 2-0 advantage. Meanwhile, in the stands behind the opposite goal, an ACFC supporter waved Endo’s native flag of Japan.

Twelve-year-old Farrah Pulido of El Monte soaked in every moment of the match with her mom, Ivette, who received two tickets from her boss, a season-ticket holder who could not attend Friday’s match.

“We’re both big soccer fans,” Ivette said. “I grew up watching it, and now so does Farrah, and it’s always been all about the men. Finally, we have a women’s team.”

Farrah, who is a goalkeeper for the SC Blues club soccer team based in Irvine, naturally loves watching fellow goalies.

In the 38th minute, she witnessed ACFC goalkeeper DiDi Haracic dive to her left and deflect a dangerous shot out of play.

“DiDi’s save was absolutely world-class,” ACFC head coach Freya Coombe said after the match. “I’d like to say that we’ve never seen that before, but I think that we all had in the Portland Challenge Cup final where she did exactly the same thing. DiDi’s proven herself in those big moments.”

Haracic saved three of the four shots on goal she faced Friday night.

The Courage dominated possession in the second half but only capitalized on one opportunity. Brazilian national team star Debinha’s score in the 51st minute marked her fifth straight game with a goal.

In the final 10 minutes of the match, the stadium rocked with “Let’s go, City” chants until ACFC officially secured its first regular-season victory, persevering through several Courage rushes, especially during the six minutes of stoppage play.

“The crowd was unreal tonight,” Coombe said. “It was the best environment I’ve ever coached in.” The ACFC manager said she noticed “something special” about the fan support when the players came out for warm-ups.

“The support from the fans has been unwavering,” said Coombe, “It’s definitely having an impact on the players on the field. They’re living off that energy …We’re really grateful to have the number of fans we do, but also the passion and intensity of the fans.”

“I’ve never played in front of a crowd this big. Not on my side,” ACFC midfielder Dani Weatherholt said. “It was an unreal feeling to have all those people backing us … This community loves soccer. It’s very evident.”

Chris Weyant-Forbes and her partner, Al Weyant-Forbes, were among the ACFC backers in the stadium, wearing matching shirts that read, “#EQUALITY IN WOMEN’S SPORTS” on the front, and “WE DESERVE TO BE HERE” on the back. Al works at Riverside City College, where the women’s basketball team has had trouble getting access to the weight room and other college facilities. The women were regularly getting bumped in favor of the men’s teams, which led players on the team and the coach to speak out and later sue the college.

“The coach had these shirts made up, and we are wearing them,” Chris said, “because that’s bulls—t!”

Chris and Al discovered ACFC through a Los Angeles Times article, prompting them to attend their first game last Sunday, a Challenge Cup match in Fullerton. They had such a good time that they decided to come to opening night all the way from their Riverside home, a nearly two-hour drive from the stadium without traffic.

“I think it’s really cool that the team is predominantly women-owned and -operated,” Al said. “I love that they’re doing programs for girls to get into sports, and I’ve read that they do programming for women who retire from professional sports and give them career development so they can still work in sports. I just think it’s rad what Angel City Football Club is doing.”

ACFC captain and L.A. native Ali Riley feels just as strongly about the team’s mission as the fans.

“I saw a lot of families,” Riley said. “I saw a lot of men, women. The point is that women’s soccer belongs, and it belongs in this city. And I think for this club to do it is perfect, because it’s not just about inspiring young girls. It’s also about impacting the community and helping underserved communities. That’s really a big part of what motivates this team. For us to get that win tonight, with 22,000 people, I hope we really sent a message.”

Message received.

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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