San Diego Wave FC came into their first-ever NWSL playoff game, against the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, with the feeling they were playing with house money by just reaching the postseason. But that competitive spirit kicked in, and they fought back after conceding early to win 2-1, in extra time at Snapdragon Stadium.
By far the biggest game of San Diego Wave FC’s early club history took place in front of an energetic home crowd. After a supremely successful regular season, Wave took the pitch for the first time ever, in the playoffs. While there were a few question marks coming into the match in terms of availability, when it was time for kickoff, Wave had everyone they wanted on the pitch to start the match.
The Red Stars, who were in the NWSL Championship game just a year ago, came out showing that experience. Despite doing well to settle into the match, for the most part, and not letting the emotions of the moment overcome them, San Diego made a silly mistake in the first half. Unfortunately, the way Chicago’s experience is set up, they were all too willing to capitalize on it in the 10th minute of the match. Yuki Nagasato was in the right place at the right time, as San Diego goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan got caught between two minds and couldn't hit the ball properly, leading to a Nagasato goal to give the visitors the lead.
San Diego didn't panic, and were able to close out the first half only down a goal. If the team was going to extend this magical inaugural run, they'd need a strong second half. It looked like that's exactly what the Wave were ready to provide, coming out to start the final 45 on the gas from the jump.
In the 67th minute, Wave were rewarded with their equalizer. Emily Van Egmond showed why following shots is oh so very important, as she controlled a rebound, then put on a low laser to not only bring San Diego level, but scoring her first NWSL goal in a Wave FC kit in the process.
The whistle blew on regulation, and we were still equal at 1-1. San Diego would need to find a winner in extra time if they wanted to avoid the insanity of penalty kick while locking up a trip to the next round.
The game, fully of balls clanging off the post and bounding just wide of the target for both teams, saw Alex Morgan nearly score off a header seconds into extra time, with only the post saving the Red Stars. San Diego controlled most of the first 15 minutes of ET, but in the 2nd half of the 30 minutes, it got pretty even as both teams looked dead on their feet at that point.
And then, Morgan found the moment of magic, in the 110th minute, as she found space off a corner kick and did not hesitate to take the shot.
From there, San Diego had to see the game out, and they managed to. It was a battle, but they did it, and continued to make history in their first season in the process.
Next up, the semifinal against the Portland Thorns at Providence Park next Sunday. The players will need to rest and look to keep the momentum going against a tougher opponent, but that’s to come. For now, time to bask in the glory of a first playoff win.
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