Angel City players thrive thanks to NWSL club’s ‘family vibe’

Angel City FC forward Simone Charley, right, celebrates with defender Ali Riley after scoring a goal against Club América in a preseason friendly. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Since its inception, Angel City FC have strived to be one of the more special places to play in the NWSL. And while some teams may talk about wanting to have a family atmosphere, the Los Angeles-based club is one of the places where those wishes have become reality.

From sold-out stadiums to programs meant to help players in their careers and beyond, Angel City FC have set a standard off the field while being one of the better-faring expansion teams on it. The club finished eighth in last year’s standings, just outside of a playoff spot in their first season.

“There are so many reasons why I think Angel City is special but for me I think it’s just given me a platform to talk about what’s important to me,” captain Ali Riley told Just Women’s Sports. “It’s given me so many resources, I’ve been able to connect with a community that’s given me so much. I’m just really proud to represent my city of LA and give back to the community.”

Such a stellar first year could be tough to beat – but not impossible.

“It’s really hard because last year exceeded all expectations, it was just one of the best years of my life,” Riley said. “But I really want to start to play even better soccer, score more goals and to make the playoffs.”

Sydney Leroux, who was traded to Angel City halfway through last season from the Orlando Pride, has enjoyed getting to experience her first preseason with the club. She adds that the family environment has been “amazing.”

The 32-year-old forward is focused on staying healthy this year after dealing with an ankle injury last season. She hopes to play a full season in Angel City’s frequently sold-out home stadium, she said.

“The moment that I stepped on the field for the first time, it was unbelievable. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life,” she said of her first game with Angel City. “It’s such a family environment, I love being part of this team, part of the club…

“The family vibe we have here, I think it’s amazing to be a part of. Our stadiums are full, and our fans really love us and we love them back.

As the team looks the game from its debut campaign, it will be able to lean on new additions such as No. 1 overall pick Alyssa Thompson, who already made waves in her professional debut despite being just 18 years old. Other rookies also have been making an impact, Riley said, and she has noticed a higher level of play compared to last year.

“The rookies are great, Alyssa [Thompson] is a sensational player scoring her first goal in our first game back at BMO. And I think they’re just gonna push the level even higher, set the standard higher so that we can compete, and again have a better season this year,” she said.

Leroux concurred with Riley’s assessment.

“I think we stepped our game up a little bit, and I’m really excited to see what we put together on the field,” she said.

This year also likely will include some time away for the World Cup for Riley, who plays for the New Zealand women’s national team, and for other players. But Riley notes that her club team has been instrumental in helping with preparations for the upcoming tournament.

“It is a privilege to be splitting time because I am so excited for this World Cup, especially being at home [in New Zealand],” Riley said. “And I have the benefit of having such amazing Angel City teammates, so when I’m here training it’s preparing me for when I go away with the national team.”