Angel City beats San Diego as teams look to boot up rivalry

The best rivalries take years, if not centuries, to mature into something special.

Red Sox Yankees, Coke and Pepsi, even Will Smith vs. Chris Rock didn’t happen overnight. They were all built on story, emotion and sometimes bad blood.

Compare that to the upcoming battle between Angel City and San Diego Wave, the two NWSL expansion franchises in Southern California. Both teams only played their first games five months ago. And they only met in a regular season game on Saturday night.

Is that enough to build a rivalry? Maybe not.

But it is a start.

“When Ali and Frasier first started doing it, people were like, ‘Wow.’ And out of that grew this amazing rivalry,” said former USWNT coach Jill Ellis, the President of the Wave. “I don’t think it matters that it’s not 100 years old. There is nothing bigger than playing against the team next door.

“These rivalries have to start somewhere.”

This started with a hard-fought 2-1 win in Angel City before 22,000 was announced at Banc of California Stadium. Claire Emslie, a newcomer from Everton in the English Women’s Super League, scored the decisive goal two minutes after Tyler Lussi’s second yellow card left the team outnumbered.

Ali Riley had the other goal in the ninth minute, her first in the NWSL, for Angel City (5-4-2). Kristen McNabb played for league leaders San Diego (6-3-3) early in the second half.

Angel City's Ali Riley (left) and Sydney Leroux are on fire after Riley scored in the ninth minute against San Diego.

Angel City’s Ali Riley (left) and Sydney Leroux are on fire after Riley scored in the ninth minute against San Diego.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Although Saturday’s game marked the first time the teams had faced each other in a league game, they met twice in the preseason NWSL Challenge Cup, with San Diego winning once and the other game ending in a tie. But the front offices of the two fledgling franchises have been fighting each other to sign players and recruit staff for more than a year.

“We lost players to San Diego,” said Julie Uhrman, co-founder and president of Angel City. “If you were a player and you want to play in Southern California, you have two options now. So it’s definitely a rivalry.

“We have a lot of the same ingredients, but it’s the differences that will draw people in.”

In fact, the two teams have more in common than they do apart. Both are ambitious first-year franchises that together have planted the NWSL flag in California’s fertile soccer soil, soil the league has long ignored. Both have respected, well-funded owners, billionaire Ronald Burkle in San Diego and a sprawling group of more than 100 in Los Angeles, led by a glittering band of Hollywood A-listers, world-champion soccer players and well-funded corporate capitalists.

And both front offices are seen as progressive and forward-thinking, interested in transforming the sometimes staid NWSL while also being a force for social change in their communities. This has resulted in the two rivals working together off the field more often than they competed on the field.

“We were actually pretty transparent with each other; What works, what doesn’t work,” Uhrman said. “We have common financial models, we have common strategies because we want them to be successful.”

But that collaboration ends when the whistle blows.

“I really want to win,” said Uhrman. “We want to be the best in Southern California. We want to be the best in the league. So yeah, we consider that a rivalry.

“I’m a competitive type. We are a competitive club.”

And competition, like rivalries, thrives when both sides care about more than just the bottom line.

“I haven’t been in California that long, but I’m starting to sense the vibe around LA vs. San Diego. This is a rivalry that does exist,” said Freya Coombe, Angel City coach who grew up outside of London.

Ellis is convinced Saturday was the start of something special – and Emslie made a memorable start when she came on as a substitute in the 36th minute of her NWSL debut and scored.

“The reality is this is going to grow and grow and grow,” Ellis said. “This will only increase over time.” Angel City beats San Diego as teams look to boot up rivalry

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