Angel City loses control of their playoff fate after falling to Racing Louisville

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 25: Angel City FC huddles together after losing.
Angel City FC players and coaches huddle together after their final regular-season home match against Racing Louisville FC at Banc of California Stadium on Sunday night. (Meg Oliphant / Getty Images for Angel City FC)

Angel City FC started Sunday with its playoff fate in its hands. By the end of the day, that had slipped through its fingers and now the team needs help if its first NWSL season is to extend beyond next weekend.

What happened in between was a 3-1 loss to Racing Louisville that flipped Angel City from hopeful to desperate with one game left in the regular season.

“It’s in the past. We can’t do anything about it,” said midfielder Savannah McCaskill, who scored Angel City’s only goal. “Obviously, we would have loved to come out of this game tonight with the win and still in control. But we still have a job to do.”

That job is beating the Chicago Red Stars next Sunday — and cheering archrival San Diego to a win over North Carolina on Friday.

The top six teams in the 12-team NWSL qualify for the postseason and Angel City is eighth, two places and two points below the playoff line. To get over it, the team needs both a North Carolina loss and a win of its own.

“I think that’s doable,” McCaskill said. “I think it’ll be the only time that we root for San Diego.”

Much of that wouldn’t have been necessary if Angel City simply had taken care of business. Instead, it has won just one of its last five, hasn’t posted consecutive victories since May and gave up seven points on goals conceded in the 82nd minute or later.

“It’s been rough if we think about some of the late goals that we conceded, in terms of where that might put us in a table,” coach Freya Coombe said. “But at the same time, I feel like it’s a process we needed to go through as a team and learn because now we know what’s expected of us. We know if we meet the standard, how good we can be. We know if we fall short of that standard, what happens and the consequences of that.

“I don’t think that we came out and played our best soccer in the first half, and we got punished.”

Coombe’s team, playing for the fifth time in two weeks, went ahead in the 14th minute when Jun Endo drilled a low, right-footed shot into a crowd in front of the goal, striking McCaskill in the midsection.

The ball caromed off McCaskill, struck the left post, then eluded Louisville keeper Katie Lund on its way across the goal line at the far side.

Louisville, playing without leading scorer Nadia Nadim, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee last week, responded with three unanswered goals, each following an Angel City mistake.

The first came in the 37th minute, with Kirsten Davis burying a shot from the left wing following a turnaround deep in the Angel City end. Five minutes later, Racing went ahead to stay after Angel City’s Paige Nielsen flattened Louisville’s Lauren Milliet in the box, drawing a penalty that Alex Chidiac converted.

Then with Angel City pushing for the tying goal in the final minute of regulation, Emina Ekic iced the game for Louisville, bending a left-footed shot over the outstretched arm of Angel City keeper DiDi Haradic. The three goals matched the most Haradic has given up in a game this season.

“Whenever there’s a goal conceded, there’s usually a mistake involved. That’s how the ball goes in the back of the net,” Coombe said. “We made mistakes in both ends of the field tonight. And that proved costly again.”

Yet regardless of what happens with the playoffs, Angel City’s first season has been a successful one. The team announced Sunday’s crowd at 22,000, its fourth sellout in 11 home dates, making Angel City just the second NWSL team to average more than 19,000 a game. And the team will make more history if it reaches the postseason since only one expansion team in history has done that.

That team was the San Diego Wave, who reserved their playoff berth Sunday.

“We’ve shown we do deserve to be a playoff team,” Coombe said. “I would much rather be in the driver’s seat controlling destiny. But it’s now down to the state of California to help each other out. I’m not sure if the rivalry will extend that far, but we’ll see.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.