The NWSL is back! This season, TheMastermindSite.com aims to bring more coverage to the NWSL and the women’s game, including tactical analyses, player profiles, and as much as we can pull off within the scope of all the other exciting football around. So with that, let’s kick off the NWSL season in style, with our match analysis of the very first fixture in this league for Angel City FC, as they secured a fashionable win over the NC Courage.
ANGEL CITY’S EXPLOSIVE TRANSITIONSEmbed from Getty Images
In their debut match in the NWSL proper, the LA based club started the match on the front foot, full of explosiveness and adventure, and never slowed down from start to finish.
The match started off with North Carolina Courage claiming control of the ball, where Angel City responded in constructing a 4-4-1-1 defensive stance, that sometimes shifted into a 4-4-2. The new NWSL club looked to play on the break and explode in attacking transitions through their front four, using Christen Press’ exceptional hold up play and back to goal dribbling to release pressure and open gaps in behind North Carolina’s defense. They immediately used this approach to their advantage, winning a corner kick early on that was eventually converted by Vanessa Gilles after Jun Endo fought to keep the ball in play.
With the energetic dribbling and running power of Endo, the other members of the front four all worked to combine down the right through wide overloads, with Jasmyne Spencer only compounding matters through her overlapping runs down the right. They combined excellently in tight spaces against a sturdy North Carolina defense, often before switching play to the other side where Endo held the width. The narrow 4-3-1-2 pressing shape Nahas deployed worked against them in this way, with North Carolina’s midfielders having too much ground to cover out wide against all the wide overloads.
As she glided around the field with ease, USWNT member Christen Press had a particularly impressive evening, remaining a constant outlet for attacking transitions where she could hold up the ball and bring others into the mix. The 33-year-old forward had one of the greatest games I’ve seen from a striker without scoring, constantly making herself a nuisance both in the channels, and through the middle with her exceptional dribbling, trickery, and creative energy. If only she had her finishing boots on, North Carolina could have been put to bed far earlier, as only one of her five shots found the target.
While the Courage had 60% of the possession and greater ball retention, they couldn’t generate sound chances of note. This was in large part down to Angel City’s organization in their 4-4-1-1 defensive shape, with Cari Roccaro particularly combative and energetic up against Debinha. The Brazilian playmaker roamed side to side to create space in between the lines and receive, but couldn’t find any space to do so with Roccaro breathing down her neck. North Carolina had the most joy through Abby Erceg’s carrying and progressive passing diagonally into Jaelene Daniels. But once Daniels progressed further down the pitch, a host of players often worked to swarm around her, and Danielle Weatherholt expertly covered across to turn 1v1 situations into 2v1’s for her team. Megan Reid swept up any further danger in behind, with both Kerolin and Taylor Smith having quiet evenings.
NORTH CAROLINA’S SLOW ATTACK
If the LA attack could be described as explosive and energetic, the North Carolina version would be best described as slow and consistently stunted.
The Courage defended in a 4-3-1-2 shape, also pressing high up the pitch to limit Angel City’s time on the ball out from the back and force the likes of Gilles and Reid into long passes. Further down the pitch, Merritt Mathias often found herself too narrow alongside Kaleigh Kurtz and Abby Erceg, leaving too much space for Jun Endo to receive. With Tyler Lussi and Christen Press occasionally shifting wide left to compound matters, Mathias had a particularly difficult evening in dealing with all the pace and firepower around her. Abby Erceg found herself constantly required to come out and sweep in behind, even in situations on North Carolina’s right-side of defense.
As already mentioned, Erceg was the key figurehead and focal point of attacking play, spreading diagonal passes to Daniels, whilst Kurtz remained far more safe and simplistic with her passing.
Both Berkely and O’Sullivan held reserved roles both in build-up and in the team’s rest-defense, allowing Emily Gray to be more box to box, and Debinha to continue to roam side to side. This 2-4-4 attacking shape couldn’t be used to muster many solid scoring opportunities, despite the attempts from fullbacks to get up the wings and create chaos. Ali Riley stuck to her tasks well up against Merritt Mathias down the right, and Jasmyne Spencer also handled her 1v1 duels against Jaelene Daniels expertly well (winning 7/7 tackles). In the second half, as Angel City played even more on the break and NC Courage gained more control, Debinha simultaneously found more room to breathe. She shifted left of the Angel City midfield, gaining ground away from Cari Roccaro’s tireless work ethic. It was the Brazilian who found the back of the net to give the Courage hope of finding a route back in, after Mathias’s nice run forward took defenders away from Emily Gray to whip the ball into the box.
Unfortunately for the Courage, this would be their final chance of note on the day. Instead of going for the jugular, Angel City regained control of the play and persisted in using their quick transitions and firepower up front, limiting NC Courage’s ability to progress through the thirds in the process. Sean Nahas introduced hopeful yet ineffectual substitutes to change the match, whilst Freya Coombe boldly kept her team the same and allowed her players to fight to death for the result. They achieved that result with room to spare, kicking off their first NWSL season in style.
So there it is! A match analysis of Angel City’s 2-1 win over North Carolina Courage on the opening night of the NWSL season. Be sure to check out more Tactical Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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