National Women’s Soccer League expansion team Angel City FC made history by naming Freya Coombe as its first ever head coach.
The former NJ/NY Gotham FC manager left the East Coast team to take on the exciting new project and face the challenges of building a side from scratch.
Coombe explained exclusively to 90min that leading Angel City was not an opportunity she could turn down, adding: “I wanted to be with this club that’s hoping to really increase the standards for provision of not just the NWSL, but women’s football globally.”
As the team prepares for kick off on March 19, Coombe shared her thoughts on the journey thus far.
How did you first get involved with Angel City FC?
“I think it was just looking at what they were doing, you know? I say this a lot, but at that point, no one really had that communication with people in the organization. So it was just seeing what they were putting out on social media, and that’s how everyone kind of got to know what they were doing and seeing what was in the press. And it just sounded amazing. It really did, in terms of the commitment that they were putting forth to the community, and all the issues and missions outside of playing the game. And it was just infectious.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to be part of this project, I want to be with this club that’s hoping to really increase the standards for provision of not just the NWSL, but women’s football globally.’ But then it was everything that they’re doing off the field as well with some of the initiatives and how they’re supporting women in the community in leadership and business. You know, it was just something I was like, ‘Yeah, this, this is a great fit for me’.
“It’s a huge honor, to be honest, to be the coach that they’ve chosen and how the fans there are just the most. And I know, everyone probably says it’s about the fans of the club, but the Angel says the fans are so dedicated, so motivated, so loyal, so kind of crazy. But everything and to be, you know, the person that is choosing the players along with, you know, the other staff and the sporting director at the club, but to be putting their team out and to have their trust, and their faith is something very special. And I think to be that first person that’s always going to be associated with Angel City, being the first head coach of the club with such a big brand that is, let’s face it, gonna go to the moon.
“There’s no ceiling on this club. I think it’s just a very humble-like moment to be like, ‘I’m part of something special,’ and it’s a huge honor.”
What have been some of the challenges of building a team from scratch?
“I think one of the ones is sometimes just as people think when you’re building a team, it’s like, ‘Ok, you can take anyone,’ and it’s even as you’ve seen with the Expansion Draft. And it’s like, there is an element where you can start from scratch and go, ‘You know, if we could have any players here, who would we like?’ And you can go after them. But let’s face it, some of those who know the players that everyone would want on their team, they’re just simply not available.
“It’s not even whether they would want to come or not, it’s that they’re inked into contracts for another three or four years. We can’t pay one player the salary cap for the league, which is what some of the players are on in other countries. So I think there’s been some challenges there in terms of building that roster and even the Expansion Draft process. So that was a bit of a challenge, but saying that, incredibly excited with the players that we’ve picked up for expansion and doing the trades, and, you know, I think it was a case for a number of players that they did ask to be available to come to us, because of either they’ve got family in California or they’re really excited about what we’re doing. So we were able to make it work.”
What are the goals going into the team’s debut season in 2022?
“I think that one of the biggest ones that we’ve got and we want to do as well as we can, I think playoffs is always that standard that you want to try and hit going into any season. But truthfully, I also just want to put a really good product on the field so that the fans that, you know, it’s no secret how many season tickets we’ve sold.
“And if I can put an exciting product on the field, which, you know, keeps those people coming back and keeps the fans coming back each time buying, you know, another ticket and another ticket, that’s a really good goal for us to have as well. Because the gameday experience with 20,000 people in the Banc is going to be unreal. So if I can put a team out there that people want to continue to come watch and support, then that’s really a goal of mine for the season as well.”
What do you hope to build both on and off the pitch?
“I think the biggest one is building a culture, like the culture piece becomes really important. So you know, reinventing the league a little bit and the club experience for players within the league. So can we provide a really secure culture and a safe culture where the players can then feel challenged within the sport? It’s all about being supportive of them, so that they can achieve their goals in their career and also outside of their career.
“So I think having that good culture in the locker room and providing an environment where we can help the players to succeed, help to build their brands as well, and kind of change the game in that way. So that they are doing extra work because they were doing endorsements, and they’re getting money and they’re getting what they deserve, rather than doing extra work because they got to take a spin class at 6 a.m. before they come to practice. That’s going to be important for us.”
Do you think the inclusion of Angel City FC and the San Diego Wave is a turning point for the league?
“Yeah, I think it’s the timing of the inclusion of these clubs with everything that’s happened, I think it has to be a turning point for the league. Because we can’t go back to where we’ve been, in terms of the league and the year that the league has had, with some of the issues. So I think with the clubs coming in, and the new kind of feel around the league is ‘Ok, we have to now do something,’ we can’t just talk about it anymore. I think that will, in combination, be a turning point. But I think it’s hard. I think we’re going to drive the standards up. And that’s part of our mission. And it might ruffle some feathers, and I think we have done it in our journey so far. But, I think it’s okay to ruffle a few feathers when you go in as long as the league and the players are going to benefit from it.”