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Angel City banking on culture to help Alyssa Thompson thrive

Alyssa Thompson poses with Angel City co-founder and president Julie Uhrman after being selected No. 1 in the NWSL Draft. (Courtesy of Angel City Football Club)

If No. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson was the most excited person to hear her name called on NWSL draft night, her new Angel City FC teammates might have been a close second.

“Christen [Press] texts me today like, ‘Let me know when we’ve drafted players and I can reach out. I’m excited to have them on board,’” Angel City head coach Freya Coombe told Just Women’s Sports on Thursday, an hour before the Los Angeles club secured the forward of their future.

Thompson’s upside is sky high, with her career trajectory pushing forward almost as fast as the 18-year-old can run a 100-meter sprint. There’s natural risk involved in betting a significant amount of money on a teenager who’s unproven at the higher level, but the NWSL has a strong recent track record with its young players, with 18-year-old Jaedyn Shaw thriving in San Diego and 17-year-old Olivia Moultrie making steady progress with the Portland Thorns. And Thompson already has experience with the U.S. women’s national team, earning her first two caps last fall and making her debut at England’s Wembley Stadium.

Coombe feels Angel City has the locker-room culture necessary for Thompson to feel supported and live up to her potential. To the coach, moments of growth happen not only in conversations off the field but in real-time situations during games.

“I think our culture has been absolutely brilliant, and it’s led by our captain, Ali Riley, who’s absolutely brilliant in terms of how supportive she is,” Coombe said.

“We’ve got players, the informal leaders that will grab any game by the scruff of the neck, like [Savannah McCaskill], and she’s like, ‘Let’s go,’ and she leaves it on the field. I think that’s a great way of protecting the culture, and I’m excited to bring young players into such a great positive culture so that they can grow and flourish.”

For Thompson, who took in the draft with family and friends at a watch party in Los Angeles, Thursday brought an emotional high. The SoCal native, though, had an even-keeled approach to the evening. Thompson might be the NWSL’s newest star, but she’s also still finishing her senior year of high school at Harvard-Westlake Prep.

“I’m like an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ person,” she told Just Women’s Sports. “So before, I wasn’t really thinking about it that much. I was just trying to get through school because I have a bunch of other distractions to keep me busy.”

Growing up in the area, Thompson got a chance to experience Angel City’s inaugural season first as a fan, and she says attending a match got her hooked on the club.

“I think a couple things excite me [about Angel City], but one is just the fans. I think they’re the best in the NWSL,” she said. “I went to a game and they were just super loud, nothing like I’ve ever seen before in a woman’s game.”

The match between player and club might have felt destined, but Angel City had to give up a lot to lock up Thompson’s future in L.A. ACFC sent a total of $450,000 to two separate clubs as part of a three-team trade that secured Angel City the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, which they used on Thompson.

“It’s a credit to Angela [Hucles] for being able to negotiate and pull off the trade and move all the chess pieces in order to make it happen. So she did a great job,” said Coombe, while acknowledging that the club paid a price for their top draft choice. “There’s always limitations when you’re working with a salary cap, roster caps, international spot caps and everything. I think it’s about prioritizing what you want. And that’s something that the club has shown, that this is a priority for us.”

Thompson hears her name called during a draft party with family and friends, including sister Gisele. (Courtesy of Angel City Football Club)

Ultimately, Angel City was willing to take a big swing to select the player they’d set their sights on and to continue to set a financial standard in the league.

“In terms of salaries and everything, we have to start showing our intent,” Coombe said. “I think the quality of the league, we’re attracting players in terms of, they want to come and play in the stadiums that are packed out, they want to come and play at Angel City, they want to go to Kansas City, they want these environments.

“And then we’ve got to be able to pay the money to match it.”

With the pick in and her rookie contract signed, Thompson can now focus on the task at hand. That includes beginning to build a relationship with her future frontline partner and the player she said she’s most excited to play with at Angel City: Christen Press.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.