The newest clubs in NWSL, Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC, made their debuts last night to a rapt audience at Titan Stadium in Fullerton, Calif., for the 2022 Challenge Cup. Both squads gave viewers a high-octane performance in a 1-1 draw that included multiple cross-bar thrillers and a look at some of the promising talent the SoCal clubs will offer this coming season.
ACFC's franchise player Christen Press set the tone forcing SD keeper Kailen Sheridan to make an early block that then ricocheted off the crossbar.
San Diego responded with some narrowly missed chances of their own, including a nailbiting goal-line clearance. ACFC's Jasmyne Spencer (in an uncommon defensive role), Vanessa Gilles, and Madison Hammond were instrumental in holding off powerful attacking play from San Diego's Amirah Ali, the Rutgers alumni making her professional debut, and 6'1 midfielder Taylor Kornieck.
Come second half, it seemed ACFC shifted gears with a stronger midfield presence that allowed for greater link-up play between Japanese winger Jun Endo and Press. The switch-up paid off in the 49th minute when Savannah McCaskill headed in a long cross from Ali Riley, notching the first goal in ACFC club history. On the SD side, international standouts Alex Morgan and Sofia Jakobsson came on second half, but it was centerback Kaleigh Riehl, subbed on for Abby Dahlkemper, who would equalize in the 81st minute off a corner kick that sent both sides scrambling.
With some big names in attendance, including ACFC co-founder Natalie Portman and San Diego Wave president and coaching legend Jill Ellis, both sides have built great anticipation for their inaugural NWSL seasons. ACFC will host North Carolina Courage in their NWSL opener on April 29, while San Diego Wave will hit the road for their first league game against the Houston Dash on May 1.
Challenge Cup play continues this weekend with ACFC v OL Reign on Sat., March 26, 1 p.m. at Titan Stadium, and San Diego Wave v. Portland Thorns on Sat., March 26, 7 p.m. at Torero Stadium.