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Tactical Preview: San Diego Wave FC vs Angel City FC in Challenge Cup

A portent for the second meeting between the two sides.

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San Diego Wave FC v Angel City FC - 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The San Diego Wave and Angel City FC will meet again this Saturday. Kickoff time for the game will be at 1:00 PM PST / 4:00 PM EST and the match will be streamed internationally on Twitch, and domestically on CBS and Paramount +. This will be the second match between the two sides after their first match on March 19th. That encounter was a blockbuster that was characterized by end-to-end action. As a primer and a preview of the possible tactics they’ll use for their next game, let’s take a look back at their past two matches.

The Formations

San Diego has chosen to line up in a 4-2-3-1 and maintained that shape for most of their matches. Angel City, on the other hand, has varied between a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation. Part of the reason why Angel City has switched formations is because of injuries and suspensions. Look for the two teams to field similar formations on Saturday, with the Wave adding in Alex Morgan and Sofia Jakobsson from the start.

The two players did not start the first game against Angel City but did start the last game against Portland. Coach Casey Stoney has been managing their minutes and has gradually integrated them into the side. The two will most likely be deployed from the start on Saturday to bolster the Wave’s attack.

Wyscout

The High Press

Against all predictions, San Diego started their first game against Angel City on the front foot. This was because the team was set up to press effectively, win the ball in their opponent’s half, and spring an attack from there.

The Wave had more possession during the first half, as they had the ball 52% of the time. It wasn’t until Abby Dahlkemper was substituted out of the game did they begin to lose their footing. With their captain in the game, the Wave were able to maintain control and execute their game plan.

Wyscout

Their game plan was to be as organized as possible to prevent their opponents from playing into their own half. As you can see from the stats below, one of the ways that San Diego did this, was by forcing Angel City to take shots from distance. ACFC’s average shot distance was 19.4 meters outside of the box, while the Wave’s distance was 11.2 meters. The Wave’s compact structure and organized defense prevented their opponents from getting too close to goal and forcing them to take their chances outside of the penalty box, thus reducing their chances of scoring.

InStat

San Diego will, once again, rely on being defensively organized to keep their opponents at bay on Saturday.

Isolating Christen Press

During a post-game press conference after their game against the Portland Thorns, coach Casey Stoney said that the Wave would focus on shutting down Christen Press on Saturday. Indeed, Press has been the most dangerous player for Angel City and is their main focal point of attack. The talented forward has not only contributed to their offense but also drops back to help in both the midfield and defense. She is truly the definition of a well-rounded player.

Press’ ability to come inside the field was vital to Angel City maintaining an attacking presence during the first game, with the only drawback being her inability to finish her chances. This chart from Wyscout shows that Press had seven shots during the first game, which was the most out of all the Angel City players. Even if most of the shots weren’t on target, it still shows how effective the forward is at creating her own scoring opportunities.

Wyscout

During the Challenge Cup, teams have been ganging up on Press to prevent her from scoring. The strategy has, so far, been effective, as Angel City have no other real threat that can create the same scoring opportunities. Look for the Wave to implement the same strategy against their cross-freeway rivals on Saturday.

Other Key Battles

Though Angel City doesn’t have many options when it comes to their attack, they do have players that can hurt the Wave. One of them is Savannah McCaskill. McCaskill was also the first person to not only score a goal for the Los Angeles based-side, but she also bears the distinction of scoring the first goal against San Diego. And unlike the rest of her teammates, McCaskill did not play during their last game against Portland last Wednesday. The midfielder was suspended for the game due to receiving a red card in their previous match against OL Reign. Therefore, she will be rested and fully fit for this game.

During the first game against San Diego, it was both McCaskill and Jun Endo who exploited the space in the Wave’s defense to take control of the second half of that game. If the Wave don’t maintain their defensive shape and their discipline, then they run the risk of the game being as open as it was during that first encounter.

One of the players that will help the Wave prevent this is their attacking midfielder, Kelsey Turnbow. Turnbow’s energy, aggression, and speed have been vital to the team’s pressing game. Look for Turnbow to combine with the physical presence of Taylor Kornieck, who will be the Gattuso to her Pirlo, as they seek to win key battles in the middle of the park.

San Diego will also need standout performances from their defenders, including Naomi Girma. So far, we’ve seen glimpses of Girma’s potential, as the defender has shown her intelligence through her ability to read plays and break up attacks at pivotal intervals. Girma looks to be forming a solid partnership with captain Dahlkemper, and it’s also not a surprise that the two have recently been called up by Vlatko Andonovski to the USWNT’s April training camp.

San Diego’s defense also has the fortune of having Kailen Sheridan in-between the sticks for them. The Canadian international has been monstrous for San Diego and has at times singlehandedly kept them in the game. Sheridan will have to have another big performance on Saturday if the Wave are to have any chance of winning this game.

Prediction

It’s hard to predict a final score for this game, but if San Diego doesn’t win while playing against an exhausted Angel City who are just coming off of two days’ rest, then it will be a major letdown for the team. However, the team is still in preseason form and just finding their footing, so don’t be surprised if several mistakes are made along the way. Expect Angel City to lash out like a wounded beast as the Wave attempt not to get bitten in their quest for all three match points.

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