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Tactical Analysis: How the San Diego Wave beat Angel City FC

Analyzing the Wave’s first-ever, triumphant win.

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NWSL: Angel City FC at San Diego Wave FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Wave secured their first-ever win as a team against Angel City FC before the recent international break. The Wave trounced their cross-freeway rivals by a score of 4-2 and best of all, they did it in front of a nationwide audience. Though the win was fraught with flaws, it should still be heralded for how remarkable it was.

Here’s a breakdown of how the Wave won this game.

The Formations

Both San Diego and Angel City lined up in similar formations, as both teams took the field in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Wave’s formation was comprised of Kailen Sheridan as their number one, while captain Abby Dahlkemper, Naomi Girma, Tegan McGrady, and Christen Westphal protected the area in front of her goal. Kristen McNabb and Taylor Kornieck occupied the midfield while Kelsey Turnbow played as a mezzala in front of them. Sofia Jakobsson and Alex Morgan played on the wings while Jodie Taylor was the lone, advanced forward.

Angel City lined up in a similar formation with a different set of personnel. DiDi Haračić was in goal and in front of her were a trio of defenders comprised of captain Ali Riley, Vanessa Gilles, and Madison Hammond. Jasmyne Spencer, who is normally a forward, had to fill in as a defender due to the team’s ongoing injury crisis. Dani Weatherholt and Cari Roccaro were the midfielders while Christen Press and Jun Endo played on the wings. Tyler Lussi was their furthest player forward.

The main difference between the two sides was that San Diego has more players and was willing to go to their bench. This was evident in how they substituted Amirah Ali for Kelsey Turnbow at the 67th minute. It proved to be a masterstroke, as Ali scored the Wave’s fourth goal of the game.

San Diego is in blue on the left while Angel City is in white on the right.


The Match

The San Diego Wave started the match well as they were on the front foot from the very beginning. They were the first to attack, as they were buoyed by the fact that they were playing at home and on national television. The Wave were able to put pressure on Angel City in their own half and forced them to give up the ball repeatedly. The fact that ACFC had played a game just three days earlier also helped the Wave, as their opponents came into the match with less rest.

The Wave launched a wave of attacks in the first 20 minutes as they created a couple of chances before scoring their first goal of the match. It was an action that started from the left-wing in an attempt to serve Morgan who was waiting inside the box before deciding to ask for the ball and move to her left at the last second to escape from marking. Morgan was playing on the left during this game, as it was where coach Casey Stoney thought she could hurt the opposition the most. The coach’s theory proved to be a correct one, as Morgan’s intelligent movements allowed her to anticipate the defender’s clearance attempt and to collect the ball from them.

Taylor and Jakobsson made runs into the box and asked for a cross on the far post. Morgan then opted to cross the ball instead of going for a shot, mainly because she was surrounded by opposing players. Taylor then headed the ball towards the goal and after Haračić saved her first attempt, the English forward would pounce on the rebound and kick it into the back of the net.

The good times only lasted for about seventeen minutes, as the Wave would find themselves on level terms after Tegan McGrady accidentally scored an own goal. Nonetheless, the team didn’t panic. They kept pressing forward to regain the lead and eventually, they pulled ahead just at the stroke of halftime. Alex Morgan pounced on Savannah McCaskill’s poor clearance and put her team ahead 2-1. It was also her first goal of the game.


Shortly after the halftime break, the two teams were on level terms again. Christen Press made history and scored her first goal for Angel City in the 59th minute. Press managed to score despite having two defenders on her, as both Westphal and Dahlkemper failed to shut her down. However, San Diego would eventually retake the lead. Angel City’s defense had become spent by this interval, as they could not deal with the relentless pressure from their hosts. They had problems doing simple things, including marking players. Here’s a breakdown of Alex Morgan’s second goal in the 72nd minute, which was a result of the opposing defenders’ failure to mark her.

Amirah Ali also benefited from this, as she ran through Angel City’s midfield virtually unchallenged and scored the Wave’s fourth goal. It was also her first goal as a professional player. Madison Hammond tried her best to stop Ali but alas, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place as she was defending two Wave players at once.


Ali’s goal sealed the deal for her team. In the end, the game would end in a 4-2 victory for the hosts. The Wave made history by getting their first-ever win as a team.

The Stats

The Wave broke from the way they played in previous games by ceding possession against Angel City. The Angelinos had 53% of possession while San Diego only had the ball 47% of the time. The Wave knew that their opponents would likely not be able to do much with the ball due to the limitations of their midfield. And they were right about that.


The main reason why the Wave were willing to cede possession was to put their opponents under pressure and force them into making mistakes. San Diego utilized a high press that suffocated their adversaries when they had possession. This chart from Wyscout shows that for every 7.6 actions, the Wave would press Angel City, meaning that they wouldn’t allow them much time to settle on the ball.


The high press would also allow the Wave to create more scoring opportunities than their opponents. This chart below shows that San Diego created more chances and took more shots on target. Out of the eighteen shots they took, four of them resulted in goals.


The Wave’s defense, on the other hand, did a good job of keeping Angel City at bay. In comparison to their opponents, ACFC only had ten shots. Only half of those shots were inside the box and only one of them was converted. Angel City does not have a lot of variety in their attack, as it mainly flows through Christen Press. And while Press scored, it also demonstrates how easy it is to disrupt Angel City’s attack, as they don’t have too many options in their front line.


Once again, San Diego’s defense limited Angel City’s chances by keeping them out of the penalty area. Angel City’s average shot distance was 22.6 meters, which means they generally took their chances outside the 18-yard box. In contrast, San Diego’s average shot distance was 16.6 meters, which means that they took more shots inside the box. Overall, San Diego took twelve shots inside the box with nine of them on target, while ACFC only took three within that area, with only two on target. The Wave not only dominated the match offensively but were also dominant in defense.

The only downside to the Wave’s performance is their failure to convert any of their corners. San Diego had twelve corners during this game and did not convert any of them. They were also offside at least four times, so in addition to scoring from set-pieces, they’ll need to work on timing their runs better.


During a post-game press conference, coach Casey Stoney praised her frontline and cited their versatility as being their most valuable asset. There is no clearer example of this than how she converted Kelsey Turnbow from a forward to an attacking midfielder. Turnbow has thrived in her role as she both builds up her team’s transitional play and disrupts their opponents in the midfield. She’s also been the Wave’s most accurate crosser of the ball, as she has made a total of thirteen crosses across three games for the team. She has proven to be quite the pick-up for the Wave.


Stoney also mentioned how she does not always play her players in their perceived “set positions”. As a demonstration of this belief, Stoney moved Alex Morgan onto the wings, as she felt that it was where she could truly hurt the opposition’s fullbacks. The strategy paid off, as it led to Morgan scoring a brace during this game.

The main pivot for the Wave’s attack was their number nine, Jodie Taylor. The pairing of Taylor and Morgan proved to be a fruitful one, as the two players fed each other. This graph from Wyscout shows that the two players frequently passed the ball to one another. It also led to Taylor creating several chances for the team.


The two players played with each other at the Orlando Pride and will carry their chemistry from those days to the Wave. And the Wave will only benefit from their continued growth.


This was an emphatic first win for the Wave. Though the team’s victory had a few flaws, most notably their inability to capitalize on corners. The team will also need to work on timing their runs better to avoid being offside. The defense will also have to work on some of their lapses during this game, including the breakdown in communication that led to the own goal. McGrady also received a yellow card during this game after fouling Jun Endo. She will, therefore, miss the Wave’s next match, so the team will have to learn to cope without their starting left-back.

Nonetheless, these mistakes can also be viewed as being a part of the growing pains of a burgeoning franchise. The Wave will have several positives to take away from this game, and the team can only get better from here.

Up Next

San Diego will take on OL Reign this Thursday. The game will take place at Lumen Field and kickoff time will be at 7 PM PST / 10 PM EST. Both teams will most likely see their best players play limited minutes, as the likes of Naomi Girma and Rose Lavelle will be returning from international duty.

The match will herald the first time that these two teams will play each other and will also be a good opportunity for the Wave to test their mettle against one of the tournament’s favorites.

You’ll be able to watch the game on both the NWSL’s Twitch channel (international viewers) and domestically on Paramount +.

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