NWSL teams shine at Coachella Valley Invitational

Coachella Valley Invitational logo

Over on the Stateside, spring football is nearly in bloom. The 2024 NWSL season is fast approaching, and you can practically sense the excitement in the air. NWSL preseason matches are beginning, and one particular competition has captured the attention of women’s football fans.

Since 2022, the Coachella Valley Invitational has consisted mainly of MLS, MLS Next Pro, and USL Championship teams. But this preseason, the tournament widened its scope by adding four NWSL teams to its invitational lineup. Angel City, Bay FC, Portland Thorns, and San Diego Wave joined the mix for the two-day event.

The Coachella Valley Invitational took place at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, showcasing top-tier men’s and women’s soccer teams in preseason action. A highlight of this year’s event was the NWSL match on Saturday, February 24, between the San Diego Wave FC and Portland Thorns, which aired on the Women’s Sports Network. Viewers enjoyed pregame coverage as well as the match itself.

Match day one (Feb. 20)

During the invitational, a slew of NWSL players were missing in action after being called up for international duty. Key players eliminated from these teams meant a different pool of players could pick up game time in the Coachella Valley.

Match day one hosted a single game where the San Diego Wave FC took on the newly-founded expansion team, Bay FC. There has been a lot of talk about Bay FC within the last few months due to their extraordinary signings — making them, on paper, look like a threat within their inaugural season.

Preseason is when teams can try new things and assemble the best tactics leading into regular-season play. These matches are pivotal in testing the waters, exactly what San Diego and Bay FC did in their first match.

Wave FC came out ready to go and maintained that control through the first half, with the score reading 1-0 after a goal from Elyse Bennett. The momentum continued as San Diego tacked on another goal from Amirah Iman.

Bay FC added to the score sheet when a recent first-round draft pick, Maya Doms, chipped one into the bottom corner — creating the club’s first-ever goal. The final whistle rang out with the scoreline at 2-1, as Wave FC moved on victorious in their first preseason test.

Match day two (Feb. 24)

Match day two provided viewers the chance to catch a doubleheader. Wave FC faced a familiar opponent, Portland Thorns, and the free Women’s Sports Network streamed the match online.

The anticipated matchup issued the suspense as expected. Level at the half, both clubs suspected this would not be an easy game. Wave FC already had one preseason game in the books, so Portland had to sort out any kinks that would pose as a weakness in their first game of 2024.

Portland struck first, but it was not long until Wave FC equalized. Down to the wire, Portland pulled ahead via Olivia Wade-Katoa — securing a 2-1 victory to start the preseason.

In the second match, Bay FC met their new in-state rival, Angel City. It was an excellent preview of the season-opening game, where both sides will face off in Los Angeles on March 16.

Although the match resulted in clean sheets across the board, both teams created chances. It also featured the long and anticipated return of Merritt Mathias, who made her ACFC debut after a 2023 season injury. She came onto the pitch in the game’s final minutes, showcasing how her availability could be vital for the Angel City backline this season.

Looking ahead

Fans worldwide are excited to see how the upcoming NWSL season unfolds. With the league expanding to 14 teams, there’s much to anticipate on the pitch. Further excitement surrounds the league’s new TV broadcast deal and the upcoming Paris Olympics. Add in the start of the USL Super League — another division-one US football league starting this fall — and 2024 is shaping up to be an action-packed year.

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