Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

At the midway point of the NWSL regular season, Angel City FC had two wins from 11 and felt a managerial change was in order. Out went the team’s head coach Freya Coombe and in came her assistant Becki Tweed in an interim role.

Four months later, the team clinched their first-ever playoff berth in the most dramatic fashion — by playing spoiler on Decision Day and climbing out of a bottom-half spot into fifth place by creaming the Portland Thorns 5-1. The foundation for that result, though, was built off a 13-game run in which Tweed’s side lost just once that she argues prepared them for their first postseason appearance at the OL Reign on Friday at 10 p.m. on Paramount+

“It might be the most complete performance that we’ve had,” Tweed said in a press conference on Thursday. “When I look at the Portland game, it was like everything we worked for came together. I think our goals and the goals that we scored weren’t a coincidence. They’re things that happen every day in training. They’re things that we pride ourselves on … I think the Portland game came at exactly the right time to say, ‘This is how far we’ve come and this is who we are.’”

It also makes a statement about who Tweed is. She spent several years as an assistant coach to Coombe at Angel City and before that at NJ/NY Gotham FC, but the first-time head coach was relatively unknown in terms of her managerial style on and off the field. Tweed, though, settled into her role in impressive fashion, perhaps because she was almost forced into it years earlier.

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She was a player first, beginning her career in her native England at Bristol in 2005 but closing it out in the U.S.’ WPSL in 2019, where she had stints with New Jersey-based sides Jersey Blues and Millburn Magic. It was not a lucrative profession and coaching became one of the few ways to make ends meet and stay involved in the sport.

“Me and Eleri [Earnshaw, Angel City assistant coach] talk often about where we’d come from and playing back in England 15 years ago and where the game was and how we couldn’t make money from it and what we had to do to become coaches,” she said. “It kind of forced your hand into coaching because if you loved the game that much and you couldn’t play it, there was only one pathway.”

If her adjustment to her new role was swift, the buy-in from her players was perhaps even faster.

“The first thing that she did that we had been looking for and what we really needed to make the turnaround was just structure, and that started with how we approached team meetings, film sessions, training overall,” midfielder Madison Hammond said. “I think because of that repetition and routine and stability that we were provided in our training environment, we’ve been able to focus on other things on the field and so I think that her leadership has really allowed us to start expressing ourselves on the field because we’ve been given the structure in training. The standard’s risen.”

Tweed’s system also allows the team to shoulder the burden together, she argues. Across all competitions this season, the team has had more than 10 goalscorers and no one has more than four goals to their name. The coach sees that as an example of the team’s depth, which could come in handy during a playoff run.

“If you rely on one or two players to get your results, that’s where things can be really up and down and we don’t have that,” Tweed said. “It takes pressure off one or two and it puts it into a team performance and we’re really proud of our performances being a team performance.”

The group mentality, coupled with the nearly unbeaten run before Friday’s match, also allows the team to shake off the nerves of their first-ever playoff match — even if it comes amidst Megan Rapinoe’s retirement tour.

“For 12 games now, we’ve been really intentional about playing every game like it’s the final,” she said. “We had no room for error. We had to be the best versions of ourselves in a different way every single game and actually, that’s led to us feeling less pressure, I would say … We can actually just focus on the game.”

Despite being the postseason newcomers, Angel City is intent on dominating the game against the Reign and preparing for the threat that Rapinoe and company bring.

“Pinoe had come in, was whipping in her crosses,” Hammond said about earlier meetings this season. “We need to be more prepared for that tomorrow, being on the front foot defensive and just putting on the pressure on them as opposed to allowing them to put pressure on us.”

Angel City also hopes to prove that the result against the Thorns was not a fluke, but a sign of their true identity under Tweed.

“We wanted to cause problems for teams and not win a game by one goal,” the coach said. “We wanted to put ourselves in a position where we score multiple goals in a game and that’s starting to happen now.”


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