San Diego Wave FC head coach Casey Stoney has gone from her native England, where rain is the stereotypical weather condition, to San Diego, a place where it only rains a literal handful of days each year.
The manager jokingly admitted that her ability to drive around the local roads improved substantially as she learned Southern Californians struggle to drive well in the rain, speaking to the press on Friday during the club’s media availability.
Three weeks into preseason, the NWSL expansion team is finding some rhythm in their first preseason but Stoney isn’t worried about the process. This whole thing isn’t new to her, after all.
“I don’t really have any concerns because I’ve done this before,” Stoney told reporters. “You know, I built a team from scratch at Manchester United. I know what it takes. I know there’s going to be clunky moments. We’re going to have obstacles, we’re going to have things that we get wrong. Absolutely. And we come in here with complete honesty, knowing we’re going to make mistakes and things are gonna go wrong, but we’re gonna learn together, grow together and we’re gonna make it right for the players.”
While players, coaches and staff are still getting to know each other, Stoney continues to drive home the theme of helping her players at Wave FC lighten up and not fear the manager.
“I think one of my biggest challenges is the way they’ve been coached over here is very command style. ‘You do as I say!’ They’ve had a lot of challenges in their youth environments where they have such a fear of making mistakes because they get berated or belittled,” Stoney said, with numerous examples of such conduct coming to light around the NWSL in recent months. “And that’s not who I am as a coach. I’m a massive believer in where you make mistakes is where you learn and you grow. So we need to create an environment where there is no fear of making mistakes. We don’t want mistakes. Absolutely. But that is where you learn and you grow. You have to get things wrong to learn from them to get them right. So that is is a huge challenge for me and enabling them to be decision makers. Creating practices and designs where the player is the decision maker because I don’t want a team that looks to the bench every time there’s a problem.”
Defender Tegan McGrady, coming off a league title with the Washington Spirit last season but having played under Richie Burke, who was fired midseason for verbally abusing players, among other misconduct, says playing under a coach like Stoney is already paying off for her.
“I’ve talked about this so much with family and friends that I feel like a completely different player in this environment,” McGrady said. “I don’t feel the need to look over my shoulder every time I make a mistake. I don’t feel that pressure of needing to impress every second, but just being able to work on what I know that I came here to work on and getting the feedback in such a positive light is so different than I’ve experienced in the past couple of years. Just over my entire career. So I’m really loving her style of coaching and I think it’s already helping me grow as a better player.”
Another San Diego player, forward Jodie Taylor, has the distinction of previously playing with Stoney, the duo sharing a stint together at Lincoln and on England’s national team. Taylor is an NWSL veteran, and said she’s happy to work with Stoney in her current role.
“It’s been great. To be honest, I haven’t played with Casey for a number of years now. As I got into the national team, she was at the tail end of her international career,” Taylor said. “As a teammate, she was just a natural leader. And she essentially was a kind of a coach that was still playing. So my experience with Casey has always kind of been that. It’s just great to be here now, being able to have the opportunity to play for her. Obviously, she’s been a manager at Man United for a few years and I heard great things about her as a manager and, I’m just so excited to be here and have the opportunity to play from and to learn from her.”
While Stoney has spent much of her time since arriving in San Diego comparing and contrasting the pluses and minuses of soccer culture between the U.S. and England, she admitted the strength of the culture stateside is impressive.
“I came down here before we started and I’ve seen a lot of tournaments going on when you drive in over the hill [in San Diego], and there’s hundreds of little girls playing soccer. It’s a world away from what I grew up and we were told you shouldn’t and couldn’t play. So to come here and be part of a soccer culture that’s thriving, where girls are encouraged by their parents and by the environment about a culture to play, I’m really, really privileged to be here and be in this position,” she said.
But while there are new experiences in a new league and new culture, Stoney cited her track record at Manchester United and how the job in San Diego is ultimately pretty similar.
“Listen, Man United, promotion with two games to spare in year one; finishing fourth in the WSL in year two; and then obviously one point away from Champions League in year three. I think I couldn’t say we got too much wrong there in terms of the club and the support staff I had around me,” she said.
“What I want to learn from here is the differences of their experiences and what they’re coming into this team with, as probably clearing up a little less mess over there with the individuals and the experiences that they’ve had. Whereas here I think you’re listening a lot more, you’re learning from the players’ experiences, you’re trying to make sure that they feel this environment is different. And also the way you build a team here is different. You know, I signed every single player over there individually, over here it’s college drafts, Expansion Drafts. So how you build the team here is different, but how you create a culture and how you get that togetherness and how you fit and you look after the player care side of things, that doesn’t change for me,” Stoney added.
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