Angel City didn’t lose a game last week, mostly because the team didn’t play last week.
But then Angel City hasn’t lost a game in the last 10 weeks in which it did play. And that is mostly because of interim coach Becki Tweed.
“There’s a new confidence,” said general manager Angela Hucles Mangano, a two-time Olympic champion. “That’s what wins start doing to you.”
Tweed replaced Freya Coombe, the only manager Angel City had known, in mid-June after the team lost its fourth game in a row in all competition, leaving it winless in six straight. Angel City beat the league-leading San Diego Wave that weekend in Tweed’s head coaching debut, winning for just the second time in 11 games on the road dating to last summer.
It hasn’t lost anywhere since, going 7-0-3.
“She kind of knew what was missing to get us to this point and was able to instill that belief that we are good, we can get results,” forward Jasmyne Spencer said. “It’s all started to click.
“The vibe is different. It’s just been a shift in mentality.”
That shift has had more to do with changes Tweed made to training sessions and in the locker room than with anything she has done during games. Practices are hyper-competitive, with spots in the starting 11 on the line. And in the locker room the new manager has encouraged every player to see herself as a team leader.
“You have to be able to get the best of 24 people every day for us to continue to perform,” Tweed said. “Ultimately what allows you to be successful is that every single person has value to this group.
“The hardest part when you work with elite players is everybody wants to play and everybody perceives value in playing time. But actually value is what you bring to the group. Once you create a competitive environment where one, you’re playing to play, but two, you’re playing to help the squad improve, that makes everybody better.”
Spencer said that message has gotten through.
“Now we all believe that we can be big players at any point,” she said. “That’s been one of the biggest differences in hunkering down and believing that we can get these results because we’re all good and not putting that reliance on a big-name player. Because we haven’t had many of those.”
Indeed, Coombe’s tenure, during which Angel City went 11-21-10 in all competition, was hampered by the absence of key players. Christen Press, the team’s first signing, made just eight appearances before sustaining a career-threatening knee injury, and Sydney Leroux, her replacement, has made just five starts in two seasons. Defender Sarah Gorden missed all of last season with a knee injury and forward Simone Charley has missed most of this one with a ruptured Achilles. Defender Vanessa Gilles is playing on loan in France.
So Tweed has turned the focus away from the players who are missing and to the players who remain.
“She’s been really clear and honest with players in terms of ‘this is the role you’re going to be playing this game and this is what’s expected’ whether you play 60 minutes, 30 minutes, 90 minutes, zero minutes,” said team captain Ali Riley. “During training, those standards and that information is so clear, [on] game day it’s like we’ve rehearsed it. We know what each other is going to do.
“It’s so important that players realize ‘I am important.’ We’re all so important. Even the players who aren’t dressing for games are critical in the success we’ve had.”
Tweed played as a midfielder and defender for two clubs in her native England and two in the U.S. before leaving the pitch for the technical area in 2017, going on to serve as an assistant coach for the U.S. in last year’s U-20 World Cup and under Coombe in the NWSL at Gotham FC. In January, Coombe invited Tweed to join her staff at Angel City.
Six months later Coombe was out and Tweed was taking her place.
“She’s a good friend of mine and will continue to be a good friend of mine,” Tweed said. “We all know that whenever you work in a professional sports environment, it can sometimes be cruel, to be kind. She’s been really brilliant with me, supportive.”
But if Tweed had personal discomfort over taking Coombe’s job, professionally it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“I’ve been an assistant to four head coaches,” she said. “Being an assistant to multiple coaches has allowed me to see part of the game and parts of the process that I think could really work. And things that maybe I would do differently or change.
“There’s never really a right or wrong answer. It’s actually being authentic to who you are as a coach.”
And while that authenticity has led to early success, it might not be enough to get the second-year team into the NWSL playoffs. Only the top six teams in the 12-team league table qualify for the postseason and Angel City (6-6-6) is eighth, two points out of a playoff berth, with four games remaining. Continuing its unbeaten streak through the rest of the season, though, may not be enough to make up that deficit since just one of those final four games is against a team Angel City trails in the standings.
The fast finish may not even be enough to persuade Hucles Mangano to remove the “interim” tag from in front of Tweed’s name. For Hucles Mangano, who inherited Coombe when she took over for former sporting director Eniola Aluko last summer, choosing a permanent manager looms as the most important decision she’s had to make for a club she also has an investment stake in. And she’s not taking it lightly.
“We’re in the middle of a search process. Becki is part of the consideration in that search process,” she said. “She’s having a little bit of live interview right now. However, the most important thing for her is exactly what she’s doing: making sure that the players are organized and prepared going into each match.
“Getting to the playoffs for the first time, that’s where the focus is for both the coaching staff and the players.”
If Tweed writes that chapter in Angel City history, the decision to keep her on will be a no-brainer.
⚽ You have read the latest installment of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. The weekly column takes you behind the scenes and shines a spotlight on unique stories. Listen to Baxter on this week’s episode of the Corner of the Galaxy podcast.