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San Diego Wave FC short on midfielders? Casey Stoney says they have options

Versatility a feature, not a bug, she says.

Stoney out on the training field with Wave FC.
Jenny Chuang (Courtesy of San Diego Wave FC)

San Diego Wave FC are a week into their first-ever training camp, and the roster is finding some shape, with head coach Casey Stoney calling upon a group of 34 players to gear up for the NWSL Challenge Cup and regular season.

On paper, you may argue that San Diego’s roster seems pretty stratified, with a robust group or defenders and a robust group of forwards, and sparse options in midfield. However, Stoney believes she has plenty of options in the middle of the park, with several players moving around on the roster.

“We’ve signed Emily van Egmond and Taylor Kornieck, two fantastic midfielders,” Stoney told reporters on a conference call on Friday. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Sydney Pulver and her ability, I think you’re going to be surprised by some of these younger players coming out of drafts. Kelsey Turnbow can play as a 10 or as a forward, Marleen Schimmer can play as a 10 or wide player. Kristen McNabb can play as a 6.”

While van Egmond — who has been delayed in joining San Diego camp due to her participation in the AFC Asian Cup with Australia and for immigration reasons — has been a midfielder in her career, Kornieck began as a towering forward before moving back to midfield at Orlando Pride last year, a somewhat surprising move due to her ability to physically overpower defenders up top.

Turnbow and Schimmer played as forwards for their respective colleges, while McNabb has traditionally been a defender in her pro career. Pulver, however, did play as a midfielder in college, and there’s been some questions over whether top college draft pick Naomi Girma could play in midfield at the pro level or if she will anchor the backline.

But for players who may be recast or move around, positional versatility sounds like the aim for Stoney and Wave FC’s coaching staff.

“We’ve got adaptable players here that can play in many positions which you have to have, because let’s not forget, we play through international windows. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re going to lose players throughout the season because of COVID. So we have to have adaptable players that can play various positions. And I’m really pleased to look at our roster and I am more than happy with where we’re at,” she said.

Turnbow is turning pro after a strong college career, where she led Santa Clara to a NCAA title in 2021 before returning for a final season with the Broncos. Stoney said Turnbow’s profile at pro level shows she should be versatile at several positions: up top, as a “false 9” forward and in midfield.

“I’ve been watching Kelsey since the last [NCAA] final, very closely in terms of performances,” said Stoney. “If you watch her, she drops deep quite a lot of the time, she wants the ball to feet and to turn to feed players. That’s not necessarily a No. 9, if she played as a 9 it would be a false 9, she doesn’t necessarily want to go behind as a forward and you have to have 9s in this league sometimes that can threaten back lines. She’s technically unbelievable, you know the way she can receive and turn, feed. You want her in midfield where she can break lines, where she can open teams up, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to play her in forward areas. We’re just gonna have to be smart about how we do that and utilize her for us.”

While van Egmond is a veteran with playing experience on three continents, Stoney said with a brand-new team, it’s a blank slate for everyone, including the Aussie, who has played multiple roles over the years in midfield.

“I think when I came in here, I think it was very clear that I said to players it’s a blank canvas for everybody. You know, everybody comes in with the same opportunities and I want everybody to fight for spots. So Emily will come in and we’ll look at her strengths obviously looking at her in terms of her strengths and where she plays. Potentially as more of a defensive midfielder, but with the ability to go forward too, dependent on who else we’ve got around her. She’s a very good passer of the ball. She can get your team going forward. She’s very experienced. We’re gonna need that in midfield, especially in this league,” said Stoney.

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