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San Diego Wave FC 2022 Player Postmortem: Kristen McNabb

The quiet heart of Wave FC in 2022.

Kristen McNabb was San Diego Wave FC’s second expansion draft selection, from OL Reign, she was the first player they selected that they kept on the roster for 2022, and it’s easy to see why they picked up the versatile veteran.

Playing most of her career as a left back, McNabb had an ability to play in a variety of roles, under a variety of managers at OL Reign over the years, and the Virginia product always put in a shift. For an expansion team, that’s a valuable skill set, and it paid off for San Diego.

To start the season, Wave FC played McNabb primarily as a defensive midfielder, with Tegan McGrady the starting left back. Considering San Diego’s midfield was pretty low in numbers heading into their first season, head coach Casey Stoney opted to pull in some attackers (notably Kelsey Turnbow) to move back, and then brought McNabb into the midfield line to provide some defensive bite. Frankly, I think it worked. With the incredibly impressive No. 8 Taylor Kornieck having a breakout season, and the attacking-minded Emily Van Egmond holding it down in the middle, McNabb could put out the fires in the back to give those midfielders as much time progressing the attack as they could manage, and it worked pretty well.

Here are McNabb’s statistics in 2022 with Wave FC:

Kristen McNabb 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 5 450 0 0 2 1 2 0
Regular Season 22 21 1,913 2 0 17 5 3 0
Playoffs 2 2 210 0 0 3 0 0 0
Total 29 28 2,573 2 0 22 6 5 0

After McGrady was traded to the Portland Thorns midseason, like-for-like replacement Madison Pogarch joined Wave FC in that deal but Stoney opted to move McNabb back to her more typical left back role for the rest of the season. I’m of two minds on this move. On the surface, I think McGrady as the starting left back and McNabb as a defensive midfielder made sense and both players were playing well in their respective positions. I also think that counting on Van Egmond to handle the defensive duties in the midfield was frankly too much to ask, and San Diego are somewhat lucky they didn’t get burned more often after McNabb vacated the midfield.

On the other hand, in the long run it probably makes more sense to have McNabb in her usual position, not roaming from spot to spot to make her a pure utility player, and I think the move to sign Danielle Colaprico for 2023 was a nod that Wave FC know they need to add some reinforcements in the midfield. Plus, McNabb was on the provisional roster for the U.S. Women’s National Team for the Concacaf W Championship this summer — I wouldn’t be surprised if McNabb, who at 28 remains something of a long shot to play for the USWNT but certainly could get on fire at a difficult position to fill on any team, has the goal of getting called up at some point and understands her best shot is to do it at left back. I don’t expect her to be on the plane to the 2023 World Cup, but I could certainly see her getting some senior caps in the future if she continues to perform, so in that the strategic choice to put her in her usual position may be a good risk for player and club alike.

The positional splits in her scouting report graphs show that fullback probably is the best role for McNabb to play on the regular. Here’s her graph as a midfielder, which shows her ability in the defensive side of the game:

And here’s her fullback graph, where she adds a scoring touch and a tackling ability to her other strengths:

Speaking of scoring, McNabb posted a career high two goals in 2022, with this off-speed one-timer against the Portland Thorns probably her best.

McNabb’s versatility, her ability to stay healthy, missing only one game all year across all competitions, and her consistently high level means it’s little surprise that Wave FC didn’t wait until the end of the season to try and bring her back, instead signing her to a new deal in July. I think the timing was indicative of how important she was to the squad, as she likely would have been a popular player for teams around the league if she had hit free agency this offseason and San Diego would not have been certain of being able to bring her back. But they were smart, locking up McNabb through 2024 with a club option for 2025.

I think that new contract and McNabb’s role(s) on the team showed she’s probably the beating heart of this Wave FC team. She doesn’t have the flashiest game, she may not win the awards, but she provides the platform for the stars to shine, and I think she’s a player who is respected around the NWSL. I expect McNabb to continue to play a key role with Wave FC moving forward, and we’ll see if she can find greater heights yet in her career.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.