When you do something historic, something nobody before you was able to achieve, it’s mostly good. You get all the praise, the accolades, forever etched in history as the first — an honor that will live on until the day the sport ceases to exist — it’s great. Mostly. There's also the other side to that coin. The side that, for all intents and purposes, forces you to play guinea pig. No experience of others to learn from, no past examples to lean on, everything from this point forward is brand new not just for the San Diego Wave FC, but for everyone. Never before has an expansion team reached the NWSL Playoffs in year one, so nobody knows how this will go for the Wave. What we do know is anything can happen in the playoffs, and often times, chaos reigns supreme, which could be really great for an expansion side wading into the waters for the first time. Or it could go really bad.
San Diego did well to spend a majority of this season atop the league standings before faltering a bit down the stretch, finishing the season in third place, but still securing home field advantage for their maiden voyage into the postseason. The Wave will play host to the Chicago Red Stars, the lowest-seeded team in the bracket, and a team Wave have beaten twice already this year.
Oddly enough, this will be the third match, and third different venue for the matchup between these two teams. The first meeting held at San Diego’s temporary home earlier in the season, Torero Stadium, while the second match was an historic one, held at Soldier Field, with the match this Sunday serving as the first-ever playoff match to be played at the Wave’s permanent home, Snapdragon Stadium.
Head Coach Casey Stoney is also making her playoff debut, having come from England where, as we all know, they deal with relegation and promotion systems that have no need for playoffs. However, she's far from a stranger to the win-or-go-home format that the team face in the NWSL.
“They’re always one-off games aren't they? I would liken it to an FA Cup game. When I was in England you lose, you're out of the FA Cup” said Stoney while speaking to media ahead of the match this weekend. While she might not be familiar to the playoff system this side of the pond, there are members among this expansion side that have been through the NWSL postseason before, and Stoney will very much lean on them when need be.
“These players have way more experience in playoff situations than I do, I don't have an ego, so anything they can share with me that will help the team I will ask, I’ll listen, I’ll learn, and try to make sure everybody’s got that knowledge. We know it's a big game, but at the same time, I believe the pressure is all on Chicago. They’ve been in this position before, they played at this stage last year. We haven't, but what an opportunity for us” she went on to say.
Stoney isn't wrong either, just last season the Red Stars were facing off against the Washington Spirit in the NWSL Championship game. As we all know, the Red Stars came up short and the Spirit lifted the trophy. However, that experience is invaluable and for teams like Chicago, being the last-seeded team in the playoffs means absolutely nothing. They are still a very good team, and with the experience they have in these exact situations, makes them very dangerous going up against a team making their playoff debut, regardless of how talented they are.
The pressure may be on Chicago to get past the expansion, but the bigger question mark going into Sunday are the Wave. Chicago will be looking to not only start on the road to making up for the defeat in the Finals suffered last year, but they will undoubtedly be looking to make those two regular season losses to the Wave seem irrelevant. For the Wave, they not only face the first defense of their home field in the playoffs, but they’ve already beaten this team, twice, now the third time not only has to be the charm, but gets them even closer to pulling off an inaugural season for the ages.
What do you think? Will San Diego wipe out or will they keep making waves into next round? Leave a comment below!