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San Diego Wave FC 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup preview

Expansion side gear up for first steps in their history.

Courtesy of San Diego Wave FC

We are on the cusp of San Diego Wave FC’s first-ever game, when they face fellow NWSL expansion side Angel City FC in the teams’ 2022 Challenge Cup opener on Saturday.

With the big day almost here, let’s preview what’s on tap for the new team in San Diego.

The team

Coach: Casey Stoney

Roster:

Goalkeepers (3): Carly Telford, Kailen Sheridan, Melissa Lowder

Defenders (8): Abby Dahlkemper, Christen Westphal, Kaleigh Riehl, Kayla Bruster, Mia Gyau, Naomi Girma, Taylor Hansen, Tegan McGrady

Midfielders (6): Belle Briede, Emily van Egmond, Kelsey Turnbow, Kristen McNabb, Sydney Pulver, Taylor Kornieck

Forwards (7): Alex Morgan, Amirah Ali, Jodie Taylor, Katie Johnson, Makenzy Doniak, Marleen Schimmer (INT), Sofia Jakobsson (INT)

Stoney has said she’ll be balancing figuring out how to play with this group in their first games with the players’ fierce competitive spirit. If San Diego follow the likely plan of most teams around the league, expect some rotations in the XI from game to game as she gets to know the players in game situations.

The Challenge Cup format

This year’s edition of the Challenge Cup will run mostly prior to the NWSL regular season, with teams scheduled to play home and away against three group opponents. The groups are based on regions and no surprise, Wave FC will take on the other western clubs in their group: Angel City FC (based in Los Angeles), Portland Thorns and OL Reign (based in Seattle). The group winner will advance to the knockout stage of the competition, along with the best second-place team of the three groups, so there is a bit of hope for teams that don’t win their group to advance. But only a bit.

San Diego’s group schedule

  • Saturday, Mar. 19: San Diego Wave FC at Angel City FC (6 pm PT)
  • Saturday, Mar. 26: San Diego Wave FC vs. Portland Thorns (1 pm PT)
  • Saturday, Apr. 2: San Diego Wave FC vs. Angel City FC (1 pm PT)
  • Thursday, Apr. 14: San Diego Wave FC at OL Reign (7 pm PT)
  • Sunday, Apr. 17: San Diego Wave FC at Portland Thorns (4 pm PT)
  • Saturday, Apr. 23: San Diego Wave vs. OL Reign (7 pm PT)

Where will Wave FC play their home games during the Challenge Cup?

As they will do for most of 2022, San Diego’s home games will be at Torero Stadium, on the campus of the University of San Diego. It’s basically a small concrete bowl, but it’s an incredibly intimate venue to watch soccer. Wave FC will play their home games here until mid-September, when they are scheduled to move to the new Snapdragon Stadium in Mission Valley. But for now, set your map programs to Torero Stadium, which can be a bit tricky to get to if you’ve never been before, but is a nice place to catch a game.

How else can I watch the Challenge Cup games?

If you aren’t going to the games in person, you can watch San Diego’s Challenge Cup group games in the United States on the streaming service Paramount+, which also has a bunch of other soccer properties (such as the UEFA Men’s Champions League, among other things) and a slew of non-soccer content, too. The second game against Angel City, on Apr. 2, will also air on CBS, so it will get a national TV audience as well.

The basics are out of the way. Tell me how San Diego will do

Haha, good one. It’s really hard to project an expansion team right out of the gate, and new teams in the NWSL have not fared well in their debut seasons over the years. Having said that, there is a chance that Wave FC are entering the league at just the right time, with 11 of 12 teams changing coaches within the the last year and a ton of player turnover around the league this offseason, some due to the expansion teams, of course, but also a hell of a lot of players asking to move to new situations. In that atmosphere, the conditions may be more fluid than usual and even more parity than what we usually see may give San Diego a chance to do better than prior expansion sides.

That’s the good news. The bad news is I think San Diego have a tough group in the Challenge Cup. Yes, they have another expansion team in their group, but many observers think Angel City looks like a more complete team on paper, although we’ve obviously never seen them kick a ball in public before, either. But beyond that, the Thorns won last year’s Challenge Cup, and while they have undergone changes since then, including a new coach and the loss of several starters, they do still have some very good players remaining for 2022. And OL Reign may be the most balanced and deepest team in the league and have quite a bit of stability in what was a remarkably unstable offseason for most teams. Can San Diego do better than their California rivals, and then get past the Pacific Northwest foes, too?

So you’re saying Wave FC have no chance to advance

I’m not at all saying that! I think the group is tough, but it’s not impossible. Some things would need to break in San Diego’s favor, and one of those would be the other teams rotating lineups liberally and not really caring about Challenge Cup results. Pretty much every coach in the league has said a version of “I’m just planning to try stuff in the Challenge Cup,” so if Angel City, Portland and OL Reign mess around enough and Wave FC can capitalize, they could make a run right away. Again, tough but not impossible.

Player to watch

The face of the team is Alex Morgan, and for good reason. Morgan has done just about everything in her career, is perhaps the most famous team sport female athlete in the United States and plays a sexy position, forward. But, believe it or not, Morgan has never scored double-digit goals in an NWSL season. Some of that is because she’s spent extended time during some seasons with the U.S. Women’s National Team, but this would be a fantastic time for the 32-year-old, with no World Cup or Olympics to worry about this year, to really break out in a major way. Morgan has never been a selfish player and San Diego should have several scoring options around Morgan, but if the superstar really hits form, she could help vault San Diego into a respectable spot, or even better, in 2022.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.