HBO premiered the self-titled docuseries about Angel City FC on Tuesday, providing an inside look into the creation of the Los Angeles-based club that made its National Women’s Soccer League debut in 2021.
The documentary provides unprecedented access to an NWSL team (a documentary about the North Carolina Courage was previously filmed a few years ago but never aired anywhere), and sheds light into some of the tensions within the NWSL as the club tries to push for higher standards.
Within the first few minutes of episode one, the documentary addresses multiple incidents of the club breaking rules in 2021 — for announcing the signing of Christen Press before she actually signed her contract, and for tampering with Gotham FC midfielder Allie Long.
Later in the series, Angel City co-owner Natalie Portman is seen speaking with NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman about the need for better cameras and broadcast quality for the league. Portman also asks Angel City FC president Julie Uhrman if the club can support ticket sales efforts for other teams, stressing the need for better attendance across the league.
The documentary provides a level of storytelling still too rare in women’s soccer, and among the interesting moments are newsworthy items that serve as the first public acknowledgement of how things played out with two key staff positions at Angel City.
Early in the first episode of the three-part series, the documentary addresses Angel City’s hiring of its first coach, which was eventually Freya Coombe, who they hired away from Gotham FC. However, the documentary addresses what happened before that, even though it does not mention names.
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Sean Nahas, the current coach of the North Carolina Courage (who was an assistant at the time), was to be the coach they hired. But after that news leaked that summer, Angel City fans lashed out at the idea of a straight, white man being the coach of a club marketing itself as an inclusive champion of women.
The team never officially addressed that they changed course from their plans (before any contracts were signed), but the documentary clearly paints the picture that they did (which has long been well known behind the scenes). Catherine Dávila, the team’s head of community, was quoted about the moment in the documentary as some of the tweets from fans appeared on screen.
“Before we had a coach, I know there were multiple straight, white, male candidates,” Dávila said. “And so, when there was a rumor that we were going to hire a specific coach, the supporters responded pretty vocally on social media. Coming out of the Time’s Up movement, we had said, ‘we need to elevate women.’ The supporters basically just pointed to our words and said, ‘Is this in keeping with what you told us we are about?’”
Also illuminating in the HBO documentary is the exit of Eniola Aluko from the club. Aluko, a former England international, was hired as the team’s first sporting director in 2021 but was demoted to director of recruitment in August 2022. The club used the term “evolve” for the change of role for Aluko, but it coincided with Angela Hucles’ promotion to general manager, which gave her oversight of the entire technical side. Uhrman also says on camera in a chat with Portman that the reality of the change is it meant less of a role for Aluko.
“At this point in my career, leadership is what I want to be doing, and I don’t think this new role is going to allow me to do that, so I think I’m not the person to take this forward,” Aluko says in the documentary.
The HBO documentary shows tension between Aluko and Coombe as early as the fourth Challenge Cup game in 2021 (which the producers somewhat amusingly and mostly accurately just reference as “preseason”), a 4-2 loss to fellow expansion club San Diego Wave FC.
The third episode of the series then opens with a Zoom meeting that features Aluko and Coombe arguing about how to replace Christen Press after the forward tore her ACL. Coombe says she’s keen on trading for Sydney Leroux, which the team eventually did.
Aluko wanted to have Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel step into a bigger role — “you’ve got to give players a chance to prove yes or no whether they can play in that position, otherwise it’s just a waste of a player,” she says in the meeting — before Coombe disagrees that Ferrer Van Ginkel is ready to be a starter. Aluko and Coombe start talking over each other before Uhrman expresses some frustration and the cameras cut away.
“When we first started hearing that there was friction between Eni and Freya’s approaches, I was very concerned,” Portman says later in the episode. “But then people on the board were saying, ‘no, that’s good, that’s normal. That’s how people challenge each other and move things forward.’ But at certain point in the season we started hearing that it’s not that productive friction. It’s becoming much, much more negative.”
Much of the high-level storylines — the club’s origin story, early business success, and on-field struggles — from the documentary won’t be new to those following along closely, but that also is not the point. The target audience for HBO and Angel City is the person who has heard of neither the club nor the NWSL. Attracting that casual fan is the play for scale, just as it was for F1’s “Drive to Survive” and golf’s “Full Swing” shows.
Still, there is something there for the hardcore fan: a rare window into what is really happening within a team, in a league that likes to put up artificial walls around basic information.
There is even a window into some real talk from coaches that would never get said publicly in the moment. After that 4-2 Challenge Cup loss to San Diego in 2021, which was another horrendous defensive performance from Angel City at the time, Coombe turns to Uhrman and her twin sister (who works for the team in the marketing department) to express her frustration.
“The way we’re defending is atrocious,” Coombe said. “It’s not even like professional level; it’s really bad.”
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