Ethan Dumper reports on debut of rookie Thompson and use of VAR
By Ethan Dumper
KidScoop Media Correspondent
On Sunday, top NWSL draft pick Alyssa Thompson and VAR made their NWSL debuts and both impacted the game. Angel City FC opened up their second season with a loss against NY/ NJ Gotham FC. In a game with a lot of new faces for Angel City, Los Angeles’s women’s soccer team, VAR (Virtual Assistant Referee) played a big role taking away a goal from Angel City, and awarding a penalty to Gotham FC. The club played its inaugural season last year where they finished 8th of 12 teams with 8 wins.
In her debut, Thompson scored the only goal for ACFC off of a shot from outside the box in the 11th minute. She is only 18 and is still a high school student at Harvard-Westlake. This winter, Angel City made two trades and paid nearly half a million dollars to get the No. 1 overall pick from Gotham FC, which they used to draft Thompson. She won the Gatorade National Player of the Year award in 2021 and scored 48 goals in 18 games for Harvard-Westlake.
Early in the game, she had a couple bursts of speed into open space, but failed to capitalize, until the 11th minute when she received the ball on the left wing, cut across to the middle and struck in a shot from 20 yards out. It was her first NWSL goal.
Angel City opened the game dominating possession and the game pace, and looked to be in the driver’s seat. In the 16th minute, already up 1-0, Jun Endo, who was one of the dominating forces for Angel City last year after USWNT star Christen Press was injured, received the ball in space around the midfield, saw the keeper was standing just outside the 18 yard box, and struck a beautiful shot over the defensive line and the head of the keeper before bouncing off of the outside post and into the goal. Angel City could not have dreamed up a more perfect opening 20 minutes, leading 2-0, dominating in possession, and having goals from both veterans and rookies. Alyssa Thompson was not the only one making a debut though, VAR was used for the first time in an NWSL match.
VAR has been used with varying degrees of success across most major soccer leagues now, and it was being implemented in the NWSL for the first time this season. After the Endo goal, the ref went back to VAR where he disallowed the goal for an apparent foul in the build up to the play. “When we had our VAR training, it was understood that for a decision to be overturned, there had to be a clear and obvious error by the referee,” said Angel City Head Coach Freya Coombes. “My question is, if it is such a clear and obvious error, why does it take so long to make a decision looking at replay after replay after replay on the halfway line,” she continued, indicating frustration at the overturned calls.
The game was not over yet though. In the 51st minute, Angel City captain Ali Riley made a poor pass back to the keeper that was intercepted by a Gotham FC attacker. ACFC goalkeeper Didi Haracic charged off her line and dove for the ball, and originally appeared to end up taking out the legs of the Gotham attacker, but the referee did not call a foul. Play ensued for a few moments more, before the referee signaled a VAR check. Upon further review, it did not appear that Haracic touched the attacker, but rather missed her legs completely. Nonetheless, the referee came back and pointed to the penalty spot, awarding Gotham FC a penalty.
At this point, the Angel City team began yelling at the ref, which eventually warranted them three yellow cards between the time the referee called the penalty, and when the penalty was taken. Most memorably, Haracic turned around to watch the replay on the big screen, did not like what she saw, and turned back around to scream at the ref. At this point, boos rang out across the stadium as the fans believed it was not a penalty. “We need to look at our experience with VAR tonight and learn from it. For many players on the team, it was their first exposure with VAR and the emotions that come with it and I think that it is just a learning moment for us,” stated ACFC Head Coach Coombes after the game. Gotham converted the penalty to tie the game 1-1.
Shortly afterwards, Gotham FC pushed numbers forward where Lynn Williams found herself open on the right sideline, and she buried a shot to make it 2-1 Gotham FC. By now, the Angel City morale was low along with their energy, and they struggled to rally back. “We can’t let things that are out of our control affect us so much. I do think we saw a little bit of that on the mental side,” said Angel City captain Ali Riley. ACFCs best chance came in the 90+6 minute when Simone Charley raced forward into the penalty box and was taken down hard. She asked for a penalty kick, but the referee alleged that she was fouled outside the penalty area and therefore had to take a freekick outside the box. The fans did not appreciate this call, and after all of the VAR calls against them, they wanted one in their favor. Chants of “V-A-R” rang out across the stadium from the sold out 22,000 person crowd, but no VAR check was initiated. The freekick was struck wide of the goal, and that was the end of the game. The referees were booed off of the field.
Angel City FC fell to NJ/NY Gotham FC in the season opener for the 2023 NWSL season. Alyssa Thompson made her NWSL debut and scored a goal in the 11th minute, and VAR was used in the NWSL for the first time ever, where it made a few controversial calls. Angel City dominated early but appeared rattled by the lost VAR calls and they lost momentum towards the end. Nonetheless, it was a great environment and a sold-out match.