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San Diego Wave FC 2022 Player Postmortem: Kaleigh Riehl

Center back played a surprisingly central role for new side.

Portland Thorns FC v San Diego Wave FC Photo by Jenny Chuang/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Kaleigh Riehl went from being penciled in as San Diego Wave FC’s reserve center back to a key member of the lineup for most of the season, as injuries and international absences took the expected starters out of the lineup at various points.

Riehl joined Wave FC after one full season of NWSL experience, on a disastrous expansion Racing Louisville side that endured a sexual predator and general abuser as head coach, and a roster construction that was frankly out there. But little surprise that players like Riehl have since moved teams in the league and looked substantially better, and hopefully with the Yates Report and NWSL/NWSLPA Joint Report dropping this year, chronicling the multitude of abuses around the league, we won’t see players’ careers and lives get habitually wrecked again.

Back to Riehl, she was San Diego’s final pick in the Expansion Draft, confusingly coming after Jill Ellis passed twice, but the Penn State product got to swap Kentucky for California, and ended up making history right away.

Riehl scored Wave FC’s first-ever competitive goal, in the Challenge Cup opener against Angel City FC to tie up the game.

Not bad for your first professional goal!

Here are Riehl’s stats for Wave FC in 2022:

Kaleigh Riehl 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 5 2 292 1 0 2 1 0 0
Regular Season 20 17 1,677 1 0 4 1 3 0
Playoffs 2 2 210 0 0 0 0 1 0
Total 27 21 2,179 2 0 6 2 4 0

Riehl had a second goal, during the regular season to beat the Chicago Red Stars at home, on a rehearsed play where she sneakily scores a banger. Great finish here.

But the goals were admittedly bonuses for Riehl, who was a center back, so defense was the name of the game. Credit to her for stepping up — projected backline anchor Abby Dahlkemper was in and out of the lineup all season with injuries and illness, and when she was available, rookie Naomi Girma missed a month of action while out on international duty. While Girma adjusted to the pro game quite possibly like no rookie we’ve yet seen in this league, Riehl was a needed insurance policy, and it turned out it was for Dahlkemper, who really never hit a regular rhythm in 2022.

Admittedly, the advanced stats on the year aren’t particularly kind to Riehl’s game. She had a team-low -1.60 Goals-added mark according to ASA, and her scouting report graph shows her defensive strength is in winning aerials but she doesn’t otherwise stand out.

In spite of all that, when it comes to the eye test, I think she looked like she could hang just fine in playing major minutes, and Wave FC head coach Casey Stoney complimented Riehl’s improvement over the course of the season when speaking to reporters this offseason about the defender. Remember, Riehl entered the NWSL during the pandemic year, so her rookie season was shot to pieces, then she took a loan move in France to get some playing time, got picked up by one expansion team that was a basketcase, and (hopefully) finally found some stability with Wave FC. Given that there really weren’t any options behind Riehl in terms of ready-for-action center backs, she not only survived, she thrived.

And it’s therefore not surprising that San Diego immediately offered Riehl a new contract at season’s end, and she signed a two-year extension. Given Girma is likely headed for the World Cup, and Dahlkemper has a shot herself if she gets healthy, San Diego will need to stay afloat while the internationals are away, and Riehl is absolutely the kind of player who can be a dependable option in this league. She may be 26 but I also think she has some growth left in her game, too, especially with Stoney, a former center back, as her manager. Don’t be shocked if she continues to play heavy minutes over the next couple years and solidifies her standing as a good pro in the NWSL. Every good team needs players like that, and in seeing a lot of playing time while displaying a surprise scoring touch, Riehl may have solidified her spot as a key member of the core for Wave FC for years to come.

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