Angel City’s Alyssa Thompson at the forefront of change in U.S. women’s soccer

Alyssa Thompson chases the ball during a match between the U.S. National Women's Soccer Team and Ireland.
Alyssa Thompson chases the ball during a match between the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team and Ireland on April 11.
(John Todd / USSF / Getty Images)

Alyssa Thompson has English class on Wednesdays. Nothing unusual about that, a lot of high school students have English class on Wednesday.

What is unique is that she’s the only one in her class who has been excused to play professional soccer.

“I still got my work done,” said Thompson, a senior at Harvard Westlake. “I came back to school, my teacher was super proud that I went and just asked me a bunch of questions, which was cool.”

Two-time World Cup champion Julie Ertz, who stepped away from soccer to give birth to her son, has signed a one-year contract with Angel City.

April 17, 2023

Cool and perhaps soon to be common since the NWSL changed its rules last November, allowing teams to sign players younger than 18. There are now six teenagers in the women’s league, including a pair of 15-year-olds — Chloe Ricketts, who became the youngest player in league history when she signed a three-year contract with the Washington Spirit last month, and Melanie Barcenas, who broke Ricketts’ record when she signed a three-year deal with the San Diego Wave two weeks later.


For many, that’s a sign of the growth and maturity for the NWSL and the grassroots of female soccer in the U.S.

“It’s about time that America got to the same standards as everybody else around the world,” said San Diego Wave coach Casey Stoney, who coached teenagers during her time with Manchester United. “This isn’t new in Europe. So I’m really pleased to see the movement. I’m excited that the league has moved in that direction.”

Freya Coombe, Thompson’s coach with Angel City, agreed.

Alyssa Thompson, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal.
Alyssa Thompson, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring against NY/NJ Gotham at BMO Stadium on March 26.
(Katharine Lotze / Getty Images)

“If you’re good enough, you should have the opportunity to play,” she said. “We see it in Europe all the time where players that are underage go into their first teams. It’s a great way to develop talent.”

The league’s two best teenagers will be on the field Sunday when Thompson, 18, leads Angel City against 18-year-old forward Jaedyn Shaw of the San Diego Wave at BMO Stadium.


The two were teammates at last year’s U-20 World Cup but Thompson now has a bigger target in sight: this summer’s senior World Cup in Australia/New Zealand, where the U.S. will be chasing a third consecutive title.

“I always wanted to be right there,” said Thompson, who made her first start for the team earlier this month in a 1-0 win over Ireland. “I feel like if I put in the work and did enough throughout the season, I have a chance. I’ll work as hard as I can to have a chance for that team.”

In that friendly Thompson became the youngest player to start a match for the women’s national team in nearly seven years. With captain Becky Sauerbrunn, 37, also in the lineup, the 19-year age difference was the largest between two starters in USWNT history.

Angel City's Alyssa Thompson controls the ball against OL Reign.
Angel City’s Alyssa Thompson controls the ball against the OL Reign on April 19.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

That’s a shocking number, but it also underscores the aging nature of the national team and coach Vlatko Andonovski’s uneven attempts to make it younger. The U.S. had the oldest roster in the last two World Cups — both of which it won — and in the Tokyo Olympics, where it finished third. Ten of the players on the team Andonovski called up this month are older than 30, yet eight are younger than 25.

Thompson, the youngest player on the team, got her chance after Mallory Swanson, who leads the U.S. with 14 goals since the start of 2022, tore a patellar tendon, an injury that will keep her out of the World Cup. Injuries also created opportunity at Angel City, with Thompson owing part of her playing time to the loss of forwards Christen Press, Sydney Leroux and Simone Charley.


“I am taking advantage of whatever comes my way,” said Thompson, who played just 96 minutes in Angel City’s last two games, part of an effort to limit her minutes to keep her fresh. “I feel like, as a player, I’m good enough to be there. I think that just my skill set alone will help me get on the team. But I obviously keep having to work hard.”

Carli Lloyd, a two-time world player of the year and two-time world champion, said Thompson deserves to be in the World Cup conversation.

Teenager Alyssa Thompson scored a goal during her pro debut in Angel City FC’s 3-0 friendly win over Club América on Wednesday.

March 8, 2023

“I have been super impressed with the skill set and decision-making Alyssa has,” said Lloyd, now a soccer analyst. “For an 18-year-old to be able to get out of tight spaces, take players on the dribble, know when to play 1-2 touch, have the confidence to shoot and be able to speed up and slow down on the dribble is something not many players have when they enter the pro level.

“She is unpredictable and a smart player for her age.”

That last attribute, Lloyd said, might ultimately determine how far Thompson goes.

“It’s hard to get to the professional level in soccer and it’s even harder to stay there,” Lloyd said. “The amount of pressure and weight that already seems to be following Alyssa is going to be her biggest test.

“She had a high ceiling with her talent, but that won’t be the deciding factor for her. It will all be mental. The players that are mentally strong will continue to have success.”

PLAYA VISTA, CA - JANUARY 12, 2023: Alyssa Thompson, 18, looks at photographs on a cell phone during a photo shoot.
Alyssa Thompson checks her phone a short time before being selected first overall in the NWSL draft on Jan. 12.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Thompson has the tools there too, having attended an academically demanding high school in Harvard-Westlake while committing to Stanford before declaring for the NWSL draft, knowing that she needed top-flight competition this spring if she hoped to remain in the World Cup conversation.

Without the league’s current youth movement, however, turning pro as a high school senior might not have been an option.

“I’ve done everything that I could to be in the position that I am and it definitely hasn’t been easy,” she said. “[It’s] like everything just fell into place. I feel like I was just born at the right time.”

Even her English teacher would agree with that.