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San Diego Wave FC 2022 Player Postmortem: Kelsey Turnbow

Rookie played heavy minutes for expansion side.

SOCCER: JUL 30 NWSL - San Diego Wave FC at Chicago Red Stars Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kelsey Turnbow was drafted by the Chicago Red Stars in 2021, but she took an extra year in college at Santa Clara before turning pro, in the process beginning her NWSL career with San Diego Wave FC instead after they traded for her.

As a key member of the 2020 national champion Broncos side, Turnbow was a promising forward who looked like she may have a path to the lineup in San Diego under head coach Casey Stoney. A position switch and a year later, she certainly became a key player.

Turnbow played all but two games all season (she was suspended for both of them) and started the bulk of them, while moving to an attacking midfield role on the pro side. She did occasionally push into a forward role, but most of her minutes came in midfield, and Turnbow kind of had to figure it out as she went along. For the most part, she did.

Here are Turnbow’s stats with San Diego in 2022:

Kelsey Turnbow San Diego Wave FC 2022 Statistics

2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2022 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Challenge Cup 6 5 397 0 1 7 3 1 1
Regular Season 21 14 1,196 0 2 19 4 2 0
Playoffs 2 1 54 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 29 20 1,647 0 3 26 7 3 1

On the bright side, I think Turnbow adjusted pretty well to the pro game, she never seemed to hit a rookie wall, and maintained Stoney’s confidence throughout the season, while dealing with the position change. Stoney noted she liked Turnbow’s skill and composure on the ball and wanted her to be playing the ball more often, as justification for moving her back on the field. Turnbow co-led the team in key passes on the season, and was in the top 20 in the NWSL for shot creation actions and SCAs per 90. Given the NWSL is not a league where assist leaders really rack them up (the co-leaders this year had six each in the regular season), Turnbow’s three assists look pretty good. And she had a lot of close calls with scoring, although she seemed to be frustrated by never quite getting the ball in the net in her first year, even though she was doing stuff like this:

But because San Diego didn’t really have a destroyer of a defensive midfielder in any fashion for a good chunk of the year, Turnbow had to do a lot of defending. To her credit, she was tenacious, she pressed opponents hard, and her defensive work is the highlight of her scouting report graph.

On the flipside, Turnbow was able to hang with the pros because she was ready for the physical side of the game. She’s a player who seems well-suited to baiting opponents into dumb fouls, but she got got a few times along the way, too. I think many of the best players need to play with an edge, and I suspect that’s also the case for Turnbow. In her rookie year, a retributive elbow here and a red card there, on occasion, are probably part of the game. But hopefully with time she learns when to turn up the heat on the field and when to rein it in.

Turnbow remains under contract with Wave FC for 2023 and I think she had a good start in the pro game. Expectations for her were high, and she ended up being more of a good team player than a mercurial star, but I suspect there’s more growth to her game and I look forward to seeing her back next season. She had a hard assignment in year one and came out of it unscathed. Hopefully from here she truly shows what she is capable of at the NWSL level.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.