Angel City had just one player under contract when it traded the rights to Julie Ertz, a two-time World Cup champion midfielder, and Sarah Gorden, a 2021 finalist for the National Women’s Soccer League defender of the year.
That was 15 months ago. The team has played an entire season since then, and neither Ertz nor Gorden have yet taken the field.
Ertz, who gave birth to a son in August, is not under contract with Angel City and may never play for the team. But Gorden, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee less than two weeks before the team’s first training session, is expected to make his debut Wednesday night in a preseason friendly against Mexico’s Club América at BMO Stadium.
And while missing an entire season to knee surgery at the height of his career wasn’t how Gorden saw his time with his new team, he’s convinced Angel City is getting a better player than the one it acquired in December 2021.
“I absolutely feel like this recovery year has prepared me mentally in a way that I never would have if I hadn’t been injured,” he said. “When recovering from a major injury, there are ups and downs. It’s a lot of isolation, a lot of time alone. And there are so many other mental battles in there.
“When the little tough times (come), I feel a lot more prepared to deal with it.”
The year off benefited Gorden in other ways as well. Having given birth in college, then embarking on a professional career, finding quality time to spend with her son Caiden, now 9, has been difficult. But last year she had the opportunity to go from being a soccer player to being a soccer mom.
“I definitely didn’t get to give my son the attention he obviously deserves because I was juggling being a single mom and being a professional athlete,” she said. “Last year, I had to dedicate myself so much to those little things, like going to games, being there to cheer him on, not having to worry that I’m going to be out of town.”
Sarah Gorden passes the ball during the NWSL Championship game between the Chicago Red Stars and the Washington Spirit in November 2021.
(Jeff Dean/Associated Press)
“It was really difficult. I was playing the best football I’ve ever played, so the move to LA was something I really wanted.’
– Sarah Gorden, Missing Angel City’s inaugural season
“So it was a blessing in disguise in a way,” he said of the injury. “I had more time to spend with my family. I had more time to devote to my son. I also had more time to work on my mental health, to work on the mental parts of the game and to recover my body, not just the knee, but the whole body, because it has been playing professionally for a long time.’
Rehab from the surgery also allowed more time for her fledgling modeling career and HoodSpace Chi, a nonprofit she founded two and a half years ago to address mental health challenges faced by girls of color using yoga and meditation.
“I saw the disparity of resources in those communities when it came to mental health. That’s why I started,” said Gorden, who has been one of the NWSL’s most persistent voices on racial injustice. “That’s really my biggest pursuit of social justice. Meditation and yoga and creating space in your life can help everyone.’
However, it took a career-threatening injury for Gorden to create that space. In his last season with the Chicago Red Stars, the NWSL’s only team, Gorden logged more minutes than any player in the league. The following season, he did not play at all.
Instead, he had to watch Angel City, which also lost former national team stars Christen Press and Sydney Leroux, fall five points out of a playoff spot in its first season.
“It was really hard,” Gorden said. “I was playing the best football I’ve ever played, so the trade to LA was something I really wanted. I came into this band with this vision of what I was going to be. There was a lot of excitement from the city and the community for our team. I felt like I was missing out on something I should have been a part of.”
Gorden admitted to having a brief pity party after the injury, then went into his rehab with the same intensity he used on the field. Coming back from a serious knee injury at the age of 30 will not be easy, but Angel City coach Freya Coombe has been impressed with Gorden’s progress and attitude.
“It looks fantastic,” Coombe said. “He’s still defensively and his body is as ready as it’s ever been. He reads the game very well. And he knows what it’s like not to play now. He has spent the entire season away. I think that gives you a different angle and appreciation for the game.”
“I see sports differently,” he said. “I feel much more grateful to be a part of it. In the past, I always felt like I was chasing something. Now I feel (I am) and I enjoy the moments”.
“I feel like a more present person and player,” he added. “I feel like I’m in a great place.”
⚽ You have read the first episode of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. Our weekly football column takes you behind the scenes and spotlights unique stories. Find him every Tuesday morning at latimes.com/soccer.