San Diego Wave FC will begin their inaugural foray into the NWSL Playoffs on Sunday when they host the Chicago Red Stars at Snapdragon Stadium. Before seeing the postseason unfold, let’s take a look at San Diego’s previous games against the Red Stars.
All-time record: San Diego lead 2W-0L-0D
Yeah, two wins out of two is certainly a good start for Wave FC. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting the wins were each by a goal and somewhat nervy in their own way.
May 15: San Diego 2, Chicago 1
Chicago’s star Mal Pugh did not play in this game, played at Torero Stadium, and that unquestionably limited the Red Stars on the day. Still, San Diego can only play the team in front of them, and they grinded to victory.
After a rather dull first half, Alex Morgan started the scoring early in the second half with a penalty converted to give San Diego the lead they would not relinquish.
Still, that goal was not the winner, as a set piece routine converted by Kaleigh Riehl ended up being the game’s pivotal goal, even though it was scored in the 89th minute.
That’s because Chicago, which looked pretty well dead on their feet in attack through about 75 minutes, finally woke up and scored about a minute after Riehl’s goal, courtesy of rookie Ava Cook.
It’s kind of a “junkyard ball” goal, but the kind of strike that nearly undid an otherwise routine win for San Diego. Fortunately for them, they had the insurance goal and it was needed.
Jul. 30: Chicago 0, San Diego 1
The other match came in a new venue for both teams, Chicago’s historic Soldier Field, as part of a doubleheader with the Chicago Fire. While Wave FC got the win, it was a full-on smash-and-grab result.
Jaedyn Shaw made her NWSL debut and immediately showed why she was highly sought after in the league as she opened her account and scored the game winner for San Diego midway through the first half.
Honestly, that was a great goal, any veteran would have been proud of the finish there.
And then it was basically “hold onto your butts!” for Wave FC. This was the first game back for the large international cohort, and in spite of earning a shutout, this was pretty much the roughest game for the central defenders all season. Abby Dahlkemper picked up a yellow card on an orange card play in the first half, before she was sent off for a second yellow just before the hour mark for impeding Pugh on an aerial. Then, Naomi Girma conceded a penalty in the final 10 minutes of regulation, but Kailen Sheridan preserved the win with the penalty save of Pugh.
Sheridan’s a big time player and that was a big time play to earn the win.
Takeaways from these games
First, I think Chicago will feel heartened in spite of losing both games, as they really were “horseshoe” games for San Diego. Sure, Wave FC played well enough, but they also got all the bounces their way in those games and they were narrow results in the end.
On the other hand, San Diego benefitted both from their stars showing up and the rest of the team coming together. Morgan scored a goal, Sheridan had the penalty save, but Riehl scored a surprise goal, and obviously Shaw came out of nowhere to score a vital goal from the jump. Neither of these games were the most impressive San Diego performance on the season, but they both epitomized the combination of skill and guts, individual and team to get the result that Wave FC carried all season.
The big difference here is that San Diego have never played a playoff game before, and the Red Stars were in the NWSL Championship final just last year. The experience imbalance, particularly with Wave FC’s large rookie class, is not small here. Still, San Diego know how to get results against Chicago, but they have to actually prove they can make it three out of three this year on Sunday if they want to continue on in the playoffs. Bring it on.
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