Diversity at the center of Angel City’s 2024 NWSL roster

Becki Tweed can think of a lot of ways diversity helps a soccer team. It introduces different playing styles, highlights different skill sets and brings different ways of solving problems.

Then there are the Highland dance lessons, although they’re more of an added bonus that came with Angel City FC’s acquisition of Scottish attacker Claire Emslie two seasons ago.

“I walked out of my office the other day and the whole team is on the field and they’re doing Scottish traditional dancing,” said Tweed, the Angel City coach. “Claire taught them all a Scottish dance. They were having the best time.”

Whether that pays off in wins during the NWSL season, which Angel City opens at home Sunday against expansion side Bay FC, remains to be seen. But Tweed says it sure adds to the fun.

“You just take 10 seconds to look around and you think, ‘How do you end up in a room where you have so many stories?’” Tweed said. “There’s so many languages that people speak. You have people that have won things, people that have never played a professional minute. People that are doing school classes, people that have left their family halfway across the world.

“There’s not many jobs or places in the world where you can sit in a room and think, ‘How did we all end up together?’ That is what makes this team special.”

Angel City is certainly unique since its 26-player roster is among the most diverse in the league, boasting players from 10 countries. It also has four teenagers, including 16-year-olds Casey Phair and Kennedy Fuller, and five players who are more than twice that age. There are nine World Cup veterans but also four women who have yet to play in a professional game.

“I believe in the power of diversity. And it’s definitely reflected in how we’re roster building,” general manager Angela Hucles Mangano said. “That’s not just racial or ethnic diversity. It’s age. It’s experience.”

It’s also exactly what her coach asked for.

Portland Thorns player Rocky Rodriguez passes to a teammate during a game.

Former Portland Thorns midfielder Rocky Rodriguez is among the new players on the Angel City FC roster this season.

(Amanda Loman / Associated Press)

Tweed took over a team that was 2-6-3 halfway into last season and lost just once the rest of the way, taking Angel City to the playoffs for the first time. But that roster was put together by former coach Freya Coombe. So Tweed and Hucles Mangano looked at the offseason as a reconstruction project.

Six players whose contracts expired were not re-signed, among them midfielders Savannah McCaskill and Dani Weatherholt, who rank 1-2 in appearances in Angel City’s short history. Among those brought in were Costa Rican international Rocky Rodriguez; teenagers Gisele Thompson, Phair and Fuller; and forward Messiah Bright, a finalist for NWSL rookie of the year honors last season in Orlando.

The result was a roster that better matched Tweed’s playing style and preferences.

“Aligning with a head coach is very important,” Hucles Mangano said. “What are the positional profiles? What type of players will she want? So we now are able to look at our roster going into this season very aligned.”

Gisele Thompson smiles and raises her arm as she shows off her new Angel City FC jersey after signing with the. team

Defender Gisele Thompson, the younger sister of Alyssa Thompson, is on the Angel City roster this season.

(Angel City FC)

More than half the newcomers are attacking players, which Tweed hopes will result in a more dynamic offense and one that’s better at keeping the ball since Angel City was 10th in the 12-team NWSL in passing efficiency last season. But the team is also missing a couple of big offensive pieces in forward Christen Press and winger Jun Endo, who will both begin the year on the season-ending injury list.

Press hasn’t played since tearing the ACL in her right knee in June 2022, an injury she’s needed four surgeries to repair. Endo tore the ACL in her left knee last month.

So given those additions and subtractions, what will Becki Ball look like? Tweed said the answer is more likely be found in the locker room and not the playing field.

“I would revert to describing character and culture before I would describe style,” she said. “Every single person will tell you, ‘We want to keep the ball, we want to be a high-possession team that creates opportunities in the final third.’ That’s very generic, right?

“But what is your actual team? I think that comes down to character and it comes down to unpredictability and it comes down to what you do in the moments where people aren’t looking.”

And that character and unpredictability, Hucles Mangano said, is a product of the eclectic roster she and Tweed built.

“The strength of this team will come from its diversity, but also an ability to adapt and be flexible,” she said. “Being able to do what the game needs and what’s been given to you. If that’s more attacking, we have the players who can do that. If it’s more buttoning up on the defensive side, we have the players that can do that.”

Diversity can have it drawbacks though. After a recent practice at the team’s Cal Lutheran training facility, defender Ali Riley, Angel City’s oldest player at 36, stomped away from the weight room where loud music was playing.

“They’ve never heard of Sonny and Cher,” she complained, waving toward her four teenage teammates, one of whom hadn’t been born when Riley was named to her first World Cup team. Tweed, a year younger than Riley, smiled.

“I think they only know it if it’s been on TikTok,” she said.

2024 Angel City regular-season schedule

March 17: vs. Bay FC, 4:30 p.m.; 22: at Orlando Pride, 5 p.m.; 30: at KC Current, 11:30 a.m.

April 13: at Chicago Red Stars, 6:30 p.m.; 21: vs. North Carolina Courage, 4:30 p.m.; 26: vs. KC Current, 7 p.m.

May 3: at Utah Royals, 6:30 p.m.; 12: vs. Houston Dash, 4:30 p.m.; 18: at Washington Spirit, 4:30 p.m.; 23: vs. San Diego Wave, 7 p.m.

June 8: at Gotham FC, 9:30 a.m.; 15: at Houston Dash, 6:30 p.m.; 19: vs. Racing Louisville. 7 p.m.; 22: at Bay FC, 7 p.m.; 30: vs. Orlando Pride, 4:30 p.m.

July 6: vs. Gotham FC, 7 p.m.

Aug. 24: at San Diego Wave, 1 p.m.

Sept. 1: vs. Chicago Red Stars, 1 p.m.; 6: vs. Seattle Reign, 7 p.m.; 14: at Racing Louisville, 4:30 p.m.; 23: vs. Portland Thorns, 7 p.m.; 27: vs. Washington Spirit, 7 p.m.

Oct. 4: at Seattle Reign, 7 p.m.; 12: at North Carolina Courage, 4:30 p.m.; 20: vs. Utah Royals, 4:30 p.m.

Nov. 1: at Portland Thorns, 7 p.m.

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