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    Swanson: Angel City FC makes NWSL postseason with Hollywood grit
    • October 19, 2023

    Going Hollywood isn’t meant as a compliment.

    It’s a knock on superficiality, a dig suggesting image trumps substance. “Hollywood” being all glitz and glamour, life-of-luxury stuff.

    Except that’s a facade. And a good one.

    Because Hollywood is hard.

    You probably know some of them, so you’d agree: Like athletes, people in that business rely on resilience and guts as much as talent and luck. Without it, they couldn’t survive the near-constant rejection, and they wouldn’t put themselves out there to chase their dreams in the first place.

    And if you know one thing about Angel City FC club, it’s that it is the professional women’s soccer team in L.A. with the star-studded majority female ownership group, right? Natalie Portman, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Chastain, America Ferrera and so on …

    That gives it the appearance of a glitzy, glamorous operation, yes. And it made for an effectively splashy introduction last season, for sure.

    But it also makes Angel City a fantastic representative of its city. Especially if you stop and consider the grit and determination that’s being represented by by the A-gamers on the pitch and the A-list owners in the stands.

    Together, they’ve delivered a NWSL playoff berth to L.A. for the first time: Angel City is the fifth seed, facing the No. 4 OL Reign at 7 p.m. Friday in Seattle (watch on Paramount+).

    “What we have here is people who are ambitious,” said Becki Tweed, Angel City’s interim head coach (interim in name only, I’d assume, considering the team is campaigning for her to win NWSL Coach of the Year after she engineered a momentous midseason turnaround).

    “People who are really intentional about growing women’s sports and about visibility and being seen.”

    And also winning. Clearly.

    “We play in L.A., they’re not very nice to you if you don’t win,” defender Madison Hammond said on a video conference with reporters Thursday. “That’s what the whole point of this has been … and now to kind of translate all of what people call our off-field hype and translate that onto our on-field hype, that’s why it was so special for us to make playoffs.”

    Believe it. Angel City ran an 11:11-make-a-wish play to perfection, going on an 11-game unbeaten streak that lifted it from 11th place in the standings into the running for the postseason, all while it navigating injuries and the absences of four World Cup players. (Alyssa Thompson and Julie Ertz played for the United States, Jun Endo for Japan and Ali Riley for New Zealand.)

    Angel City’s resurgence began as soon as Tweed took over for Freya Coombe, who was fired halfway through the 22-game season, back when Angel City did look like it was all hype, with a record of two wins against three draws and six losses.

    The reversal came with a bit of foreshadowing: a 2-1 comeback thriller over the top-ranked San Diego Wave, Angel City’s rival, on the road at Snapdragon Stadium.

    And it continued Sunday with the best performance in the franchise’s young history, a most-validating 5-1 regular-season-ending victory over the Portland Thorns FC – Angel City’s biggest margin of victory in its biggest match yet, because the win nudged the team off a crowded bubble and into the postseason along with five other squads.

    But this is no fairy tale. It’s not as if the other NWSL teams have been sticking to a script on Angel City’s behalf.

    This is the result, Tweed said, of buy-in and belief. Of players being able to be honest and vulnerable in their roles. And of dealing with so much pressure since June that pressure doesn’t feel much like pressure anymore.

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    And so I get it when Angel City players like Riley, the team captain, say they want to ditch the “Hollywood” label.

    “This team just fights,” she told reporters earlier this week. “I don’t think that would be the first image people think of when we have this Hollywood atmosphere, but that’s been the defining identity of this team.”

    Or as defender Sarah Gorden put it postgame Sunday: “I know we’re in Hollywood, but we’ve never, ever played like that.

    I think, though, if we’re talking about the real Hollywood, the cutthroat and competitive town that rewards outsized resolve and requires enormous drive?

    They are so Hollywood.

    So get your popcorn ready, because the way this much-ballyhooed upstart of a team is trending, we might see a fitting ending on this location.

    POV: You just clutched a playoff spot after scoring a historic FIVE goals in a match


    — Angel City FC (@weareangelcity) October 16, 2023

    ​ Orange County Register