After a standout rookie season, Messiah Bright is on her way to Angel City, having been acquired by the team in a trade with the Orlando Pride.

In exchange for Bright, the Pride received $130,000 in intra-league transfer funds.

“I am so honored to have this opportunity to join ACFC and call LA my home,” Bright said in a statement. “This group looks so special and I can’t wait to be a part of it. I want to bring the very best version of myself and only push everyday to get better. I’m excited to touch the pitch soon and meet the team and technical staff. I can’t wait to bring the energy to the amazing fans at BMO Stadium…let the fun begin!”

Bright was the team’s 21st overall pick in the 2023 NWSL draft. She scored six goals in 22 regular season matches as well as one in Challenge Cup play – which led all rookies – and was a finalist for NWSL Rookie of the Year. In August of 2023, she became the first player in NWSL history to earn both NWSL Player and Rookie of the Month honors after scoring three goals in four matches and notching her first career brace.

Ahead of the 2023 season, she signed a three-year deal with the club, which will now transfer to Angel City. According to the team, Bright requested the trade for personal reasons.

“While we will miss her in Orlando, we are as committed to [Bright] as a person as we are to her as an athlete,” Orlando Pride VP of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a statement. “Building a culture which supports athletes on and off the field often requires difficult decisions, such as this, but we remain committed to that culture, and are confident that a people-first approach is our competitive advantage.

“We appreciate Messiah’s contributions to the Club and wish her all the best moving forward.”

The move comes after ACFC recently traded for NWSL veteran Rocky Rodriguez from Portland.

Angel City announced the signing of 16-year-old Casey Phair on Thursday, marking the second U18 signing by the team this offseason.

The club previously added Giselle Thompson to its young core, signing the defender just days before she turned 18. She’s the younger sister of Alyssa Thompson, who Angel City drafted No. 1 overall in 2023.

Signings of U18 players have become such a strong occurrence in the NWSL that teams are capped at having four players under 18 on their roster.

Phair already has international experience, having become the youngest player to feature in a World Cup in 2023 as a member of the South Korean national team. The New Jersey resident was also the first dual national to appear in a World Cup for South Korea.

After making her World Cup debut, Phair knew that she wanted to take the next step, and she didn’t know how her experience would translate to U17 and then college.

“I wanted to keep getting better and not just peak at the World Cup, then go down and go to college and then have to get back up to a professional level,” she told ESPN.

While Phair had trained with a number of NWSL teams, she told ESPN that she found LA to be the best fit.

“One of the biggest things I liked about L.A. was that it was similar to Korea, where I felt very comfortable in the environment and just meeting the staff and all the coaches and the other players,” Phair said. “They were just so welcoming. They gave off the vibe that they wanted me there and that they wanted to help me. I thought Angel City had the best plan for me.”

Jumping into the world of professional sports at 18 years old can’t be an easy decision or transition for a lot of young athletes. But Angel City FC’s youngest signed player made her choice to play with someone very close to her, and that made it all easier.

Gisele Thompson, younger sister of Angel City’s Alyssa Thompson, signed with the squad four days before her 18th birthday, and she credits her 19-year-old sister with helping her make the jump to the NWSL.

“I’ve trained with [Angel City] since Alyssa signed, and it’s just been a wonderful experience because everyone’s so welcoming. As time passed, they treated me like family, so I already felt like a part of their team. It was just such an amazing experience,” Gisele told FIERCE.

Besides Angel City being so welcoming, Gisele also witnessed her sister go through the signing process with the club just 11 months earlier. After seeing the steps and meeting the team, the decision was a no-brainer for Gisele. 

“Seeing Alyssa go through it has made my decision easier. Knowing everyone and getting close [to] all the players had made it so much easier,” Gisele said. “I’m super excited to be a part of this team and see what we could do this season.”

As adults, Alyssa and Gisele get to live out their professional soccer dreams together. But these dreams started when they were just girls — girls who spent much of their time playing on club teams and training together.

When the sisters were younger, they didn’t imagine that they would sign a combined NIL deal with Nike. But when Gisele and her older sister became two of the earliest high school players to sign such a deal, the dream became real. 

“Alyssa and I would always talk about it in our room like, ‘This is so crazy. How is this our life right now?’ It feels so unreal.” Gisele said. “So getting that opportunity, especially together, felt so surreal at the moment. We were just so happy and so blessed to have that opportunity.”

Angel City FC announced on Thursday that it has signed Giesele Thompson through the 2025 season, with an option to extend the contract through 2026.

Thompson is the younger sister of Alyssa Thompson, who was drafted by Angel City last year with the No. 1 overall pick. She became the youngest player to be drafted No. 1 overall, and was a part of the USWNT’s World Cup squad this summer.

The younger Thompson inked the contract on Nov. 28, four days before her 18th birthday – and before she would have had to enter the draft. Instead, Angel City signed her through the NWSL’s U-18 entry mechanism, which requires the consent of the player and their parent or legal guardian.

Thompson told ESPN’s Charlotte Gibson that she always thought she would go to Stanford and play there for college, never imagining she’d go pro so early.

“It feels surreal,” Gisele told ESPN. “I could have never imagined going pro at this young age. … This was never even a thought in my mind that I would go pro this early, but I’m so excited.”

Gisele practiced at points over the past two seasons with the team, alongside Alyssa. In a statement, she said watching her sister go pro has helped her see that she, too, could bring a valuable piece to ACFC.

“I’m thrilled to be joining Angel City to take this next step in my soccer career,” Gisele Thompson said. “It’s such a great organization with an awesome fan base. Being from Los Angeles, I’m really looking forward to trying to bring a championship to my hometown.

“Having been able to watch Alyssa’s pro transition this past year, I’ve been able to really see what it takes to succeed at that level. I’m confident I can come in and contribute, and am also excited for all the growth and learnings ahead.”

General manager Angela Hucles Mangano called Gisele “an incredibly exciting player with endless potential.”

“The opportunity to discover and develop talent from our own backyard is really important to us, and Gisele’s success on the field in her youth career speaks for itself,” she said. ““While she will be joining her sister on our squad, Gisele will no doubt make her own impact on our environment and among the team.”

She also told ESPN that this year will count as Gisele’s first contract year, being that she signed in 2023. The option to extend keeps Gisele with the team for three years.

“Given how high Gisele would’ve been drafted [if she entered], we probably wouldn’t have gotten her with our current selections,” Hucles Mangano said. “We were very intentional and knew the player that we wanted to guarantee and fortunately, we were able to make it work.”

Gisele, who is a highly-touted senior national team prospect, has been a fixture on the U.S. youth teams, winning bronze at the Pan American Games, silver at the 2023 CONCACAF U-20 championship and gold at the U-17 championship. She also was a member of the U-17 World Cup team.

The 2023 NWSL Championship is just around the corner, with Gotham FC and OL Reign facing off for the title.

No matter which team wins, the league will see a first-time champion. Gotham had not won a playoff game until this season, while the Reign claimed their first postseason win since 2015.

Gotham squeaked into the playoffs with the sixth and final berth, but they upset the No. 3 North Carolina Courage and then the No. 2 Portland Thorns. The No. 5 Reign bested No. 4 Angel City FC in the quarterfinals, then upset the No. 1 San Diego Wave in the semifinals.

The NWSL Championship is set for 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 11, at San Diego’s Snapdragon Stadium.

2023 NWSL playoffs: Seeding

Six teams will compete in the 2023 NWSL playoffs, with the top two seeds receiving byes to the semifinal round.

  1. San Diego Wave — 37 points, 11-4-7 W-D-L
  2. Portland Thorns — 35 points, 10-5-7
  3. North Carolina Courage — 33 points, 9-6-7
  4. OL Reign — 32 points, 9-5-8
  5. Angel City FC — 31 points, 8-7-7
  6. Gotham FC — 31 points, 8-7-7

Six teams did not make the cut for the postseason.

  • Orlando Pride — 31 points, 10-1-11
  • Washington Spirit — 30 points, 7-9-6
  • Racing Louisville — 27 points, 6-9-7
  • Houston Dash — 26 points, 6-8-8
  • Kansas City Current — 26 points, 8-2-12
  • Chicago Red Stars — 24 points, 7-3-12

2023 NWSL playoffs: Schedule

Quarterfinals

Semifinals

NWSL Championship

  • (4) OL Reign vs. (6) Gotham FC
    • 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Nov. 11 — CBS

If any question remained about whether Becki Tweed deserves to have the interim tag removed from her head coaching title, it may have been answered Sunday when Angel City FC secured its first-ever playoff appearance.

Angel City FC did so with a resounding 5-1 win over the Portland Thorns, who have been one of the league’s best teams all season long. The win put an exclamation point on one of the greatest turnarounds in the NWSL.

After starting the season with a 2-3-6 record (W-D-L), the team fired head coach Freya Coombe and elevated assistant coach Tweed to interim head coach in her place. Since then, Tweed has proven she deserves a shot at a more permanent role, leading the team to the No. 5 seed in the NWSL playoffs.

Tweed started her tenure with an 11-match unbeaten streak across all competitions, and she finished with a 6-4-1 record in the regular season. Tweed spoke after Sunday’s win about the buy-in from players, and she shouted out her assistant coaches and her “incredible group of staff.”

“We’ve won games in these moments that haven’t just come down to the head coach or the player,” she said. “It’s a bigger squad than that. We say every day in the film room and at training, it’s not about 11 players, it’s about 26 people. We have players that graft and grind every day and don’t make a squad, but they keep going and they believe in the team.

“I can’t speak highly enough of how the group has come together. … I think the buy-in comes down to everybody being on the same page and having the same goal. I can’t speak highly enough about the team, the players and the staff that we have in and around every day that continue to push all the standards and the boundaries.”

For Angel City players, though, much of the success leads back to their head coach.

“I mean, Becki has done, can I say the eff word? Becki has done f—ing fantastic,” defender Sarah Gorden said. “She’s done a great job at holding us accountable, pushing us, knowing when to just manage players.

“She’s done great. I mean, you’ve seen the difference.”

In recent weeks, players have spoken about wanting to see Tweed take over the head coaching job on a permanent basis, noting that she has established a winning mentality and has given Angel City an edge they didn’t have before.

On Sunday, defender M.A. Vignola echoed that sentiment.

“She knows how we work. She knows the things [like], how she can say things to us and how each different player works,” she said. “You can even just tell at training that she’s very in tune with everyone individually and that kind of helps as a collective. Because it helps us be able to talk to each other in certain ways or push each other, get through s–t – the nitty and gritty – and that’s what she does best.”

Christen Press wants to close the clear gap between supply and demand for women’s sports.

The demand for content is there, but media outlets are not keeping up, Press said at the 2023 Fortune MPW conference this week. As an example, the Angel City FC forward spoke about the difficulty of finding her own club’s away games on TV and streaming services.

“I can’t find my own team play. I’m injured right now, and when the team is away it takes me 10 minutes trying to find the content for my own team,” she said. “And so it’s like, how many people does that deter? I think that’s where the investment comes in.

“And that’s where the belief that, this isn’t a charity — we’re far past the time that we want people to come in and say ‘Oh, I’m doing this for my daughter.’ We want people to come in because they see the business opportunity, because they see the potential that we have in women’s sports.”

She also called Angel City FC games – and the fans – unlike anything else she has ever played in front of, which she attributes to the community that has been created around the club.

“I think that’s because everybody that comes to a game comes for more than sport,” she said. “They come for the community, they come for the fight for equity and progress, and they come for the belief that women from all industries can rise. And when we do, we create a better world for everybody.”

Press, 34, also touched on her career overall, with the USWNT and in the NWSL, which she has spent for a better future for players that come after her. She pointed to 18-year-old USWNT and Angel City forward Alyssa Thompson, and how her entire experience as a professional is exactly that.

“The goal that we had for the whole fight for equal pay with the USWNT, and now with the NWSL following that, the goal is that the next generation doesn’t have to fight,” she said. “They don’t have to spend their entire careers doing two jobs.”

The fight for progress and equity continues. And it’s something that has reached other national federations. It’s something that Press wasn’t expecting when initially handed the torch, instead thinking her job was just to “pass it to the next generation” for the USWNT.

After the USWNT lost this year’s World Cup, though, she began to understand the magnitude of what another team winning could mean for the fight for equality.

“Both in England and in Spain, the two finalists, are having massive fights with their federations about basic rights,” she said. “And so, I think we hope as the USWNT that our fight was able to inspire the fight. I always think about walking towards equality with a torch in my hand. When I joined the USWNT, I was handed a torch because there was a whole other decade, a generation of players, that had already been fighting.

“I continue carry that torch as far and high as I can. In one way, I thought my job was to pass it to the next generation, but in a lot of ways over the last 10 years, we were able to light a little fire and let it spread out … and I think that’s a lot more powerful.”

NWSL team valuations continue to soar, according to new calculations from Sportico.

Not a single team’s market value is below $40 million, per Sportico’s market value calculations. The Chicago Red Stars are at the bottom of the ranking at that amount, and the median valuation sits at $51 million.

Angel City FC is atop the table with a valuation of $180 million, double that of the second-place San Diego Wave. The two California clubs joined the league in 2022 but have established themselves as premier franchises — a promising indicator for Bay FC, which will join the NWSL in 2024 with a $125 million investment from the start.

In terms of revenue, Angel City is bringing in an estimated $31 million in 2023, while San Diego is bringing in $16.3 million. Angel City is raising money at valuations approaching $200 million, according to Sportico, and has the goal of becoming the first billion-dollar club in women’s sports.

For Angel City investor Alexis Ohanian, the increase in valuation across the league shows the commitment of the league’s new era of owners. Four franchises have joined the league since 2021, and two more are coming in 2024.

“There was pent-up energy for treating women’s professional soccer in America like a real business with big enterprise value ambitions,” Ohanian told Sportico. “There’s now a lot more people who see this potential and have been pushing forward on it, and I love it.”

Michele Kang is one of the league’s newest owners, having bought the Spirit for $35 million in 2022. Now, the club is valued at $54 million, with Kang planning even more investment for the team.

Laura Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, led a group in purchasing the Red Stars at a $35.5 million valuation. The group intends to invest $25 million in upgrades, which could up the Red Stars’ value.

And all of the clubs could see an even bigger increase beyond their own revenue and fundraising, as the league is in the midst of securing new media rights deals that could represent a financial windfall.

“We’re still in the early days,” Ohanian said about the league overall, “and there’s a lot more.”

Christen Press shared her “raw emotion” in the aftermath of her fourth knee surgery in 13 months as she continues her recovery from an ACL tear.

The U.S. women’s national team and Angel City FC forward tore her ACL in June 2022. Since then, she has had an “unfathomable” four surgeries — “one ACL repair, three scopes,” as she described on the latest episode of “The Re-Cap Show.”

The latest surgery came on July 18, and she remains hopeful it will bring a better result than the previous procedures. Still, she admitted the difficulty of coming to terms with a fourth surgery.

“The hardest thing about the news was really just like, the feeling of insanity,” she said to Tobin Heath. “Like how do we keep having a scope? Like how do we keep doing the same thing and expect a different result? And like the fear that starts to sink in of, well, this is just going to happen again.”

Still, she says she’s remained “incredibly optimistic” and has complete faith in her surgeon and physical therapy team.

“I believe every single time that I’m going to have the best outcome to the point where like now I’m like, I think I might be naive. Like, it’s too optimistic,” she said. “But that’s how I have to go into surgery to get through.”

Ahead of the surgery, Press took to Instagram to update fans on her status. While she had posted videos of herself training throughout the 2023 NWSL season, she had been told in February that an additional surgery might be required, she wrote. While Press still held out hope that she could play in the World Cup team for the USWNT, she did not recover in time to make the roster.

Yet while her journey has been, “on paper, an athlete’s recovery-nightmare,” Press remains upbeat about “the mountain” she has to climb to return to soccer.

“It’s been a week of highs and lows and all the things. I’m glad my post-surgical brain fog is subsiding,” she said on “The Re-Cap Show.”

“I think that I see myself as very in tune with my emotions. And also I see myself as very honest,” she said of her Instagram post. “I wanted to tell people how I was doing while I was doing it. … I thought it was a new perspective to say like, I have to have surgery, I’m sharing that I have to have surgery, not that I had a successful surgery. And just give a little bit of the raw emotion of what that was like.

“Literally, it was a couple days after we came from the doctor’s office. And we were trying to process how this could possibly be.”

Still, she admitted that the hardest part of her recovery has been dealing “with what everybody else thinks” and the swirl of news coverage surrounding her injury.

“That’s so weird to me. But I do it because I want to control my narrative,” she said. “And even though that’s why I’m doing it, I don’t get to control the narrative. So I put out this piece and my whole thing that I wanted to write was like, from the outside world, this looks like a recovery-nightmare. But I believe that I am living the dream because climbing the mountain is the dream. And that was really important to me to say.”

Alyssa Thompson’s face contorted in disgust during Angel City FC’s 0-0 draw Sunday with the Houston Dash. The culprit? HotShot, the spicy cramp prevention concoction wreaking havoc on NWSL taste buds.

The 18-year-old rookie was stretching out her right leg with help from an Angel City trainer late in the match. The trainer handed her a HotShot, which Thompson drank and then immediately regretted.

Billed as “muscle cramp supplement,” HotShot’s ingredients includes sugar and lime juice concentrate but also ginger extract, pepper abstract, sea salt and cassia oil. How does it work? The spicy shot of liquid stimulates the nerves in the athlete’s mouth, which then tricks the nerves in the rest of the body (including those causing the cramps) into stopping their signals.

Kansas City Current rookie Michelle Cooper, who tweeted the video of Thompson’s reaction, received her own unpleasant introduction to HotShot in her team’s 2-1 win Saturday against the Orlando Pride.

“I was just texting Alyssa before the game telling her how shocking that HotShot was. NOW SHE KNOWS!!” Cooper tweeted Sunday.

Thompson confirmed the text exchange between the rookies, though it did not prepare her.

“I texted her and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve never had one of those, thank god. I won’t have one,’” Thompson told Equalizer’s Taylor Vincent after the match. “And then I just cramped up and my trainer was like, ‘You want it?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And (then they told me), ‘You need to have it.’ So then I had it and it was really gross and I did not like it at all.”

Cooper agreed with Thompson’s assessment, tweeting of her own HotShot: “I don’t know if you guys have ever had one of those….but NEVER again.”