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Tactical Analysis: How the San Diego Wave beat Gotham FC (4-0)

An analysis of the Wave’s triumphant and emphatic win.

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NWSL: NJ/NY Gotham FC at San Diego Wave FC Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Wave FC followed up their win against the Houston Dash by beating Gotham FC at home. The team smashed Gotham 4-0 in front of a crowd of 5,000 and broke several records in the process. It was a truly memorable performance from the team and the perfect way to christen their homecoming.

Here’s a breakdown of how the Wave were able to win that game.

The Formations

San Diego lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and maintained that shape for most of the game. Even with the substitutions of players like Kaleigh Riehl and Kelsey Turnbow into the match, they didn’t break their shape. Gotham, on the other hand, started in a 4-3-3 formation but eventually changed to a 4-2-3-1 around the 61st minute. This was perhaps done to match to mirror the Wave’s shape and to nullify them.

This maneuver, however, did not work out for the East Coast team, as they ended up conceding three goals in the second half.

San Diego: Sheridan; McGrady, Girma, Dahlkemper, Westphal; McNabb, Van Egmond; Morgan, Kornieck, Jakobsson; Taylor

Gotham FC: Harris; Dorsey, Johnson, Krieger, Dydasco; Mewis, Zerboni, Kawasumi; Monaghan, Onumonu, Purce


The Match

The game started with Gotham kicking things off in the center half of the pitch. They would also have the first chance of the game as Midge Purce had a shot on target during the first minute of the game. Her shot sailed over the bar.

After conceding a corner kick to their guests in the second minute, San Diego would eventually turn the tide and get their first chance of the match just two minutes later. Jodie Taylor headed a shot towards goal but it was cleared off the line by Kristie Mewis. Despite this failed attempt, San Diego would gradually take over from here.

One of the ways they did so was by putting pressure on Gotham in the midfield. The Wave employed a high press and used a keen sense of positional awareness to intercept their opponent’s passes. They would then move the ball quickly upfield to begin an attacking sequence.

Though Gotham also tried to employ a high press and make the Wave move the ball faster, San Diego remained composed and dictated the tempo. They would avoid their opponent’s attempts to press them by moving the ball from side to side. The Wave would also bypass the middle by sending long balls over the top to their forwards.


During the few instances where Gotham were able to win the ball back and launch a counterattack, the Wave’s defense would snuff those attacks out. In particular, goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan was one of the heroes of the game, as she made four, crucial saves. Sheridan played a pivotal part in the Wave keeping two consecutive clean sheets in their first two matches.

Sheridan’s save

San Diego’s defense would continue to remain resilient, despite losing their captain, Abby Dahlkemper, to injury. Kaleigh Riehl came in for the defender at the 35th minute. What aided the Wave in their ability to maintain defensive stability was how Gotham’s formation unintentionally benefited the team. As a result of missing key players like Allie Long (who is on maternity leave) and not replacing Carli Lloyd after she retired, the New Jersey side had to come up with a few solutions to these problems. One of the ways they did so was by employing Mewis as a false-nine and having her drop deep into the midfield.

However, whenever she would do so, Gotham would lose their shape as she pushed forward. The Wave also nullified Zerboni by forcing her into uncomfortable spots on the pitch, which would prevent her from completing successful passes. This would allow the team to win the ball back and then launch it forward. San Diego kept Gotham pinned into their back half and would not allow them to turn and get out of the area.

San Diego also neutralized both Mewis and Nahomi Kawasumi in the middle and did not allow them to settle on the ball. This would prevent the duo from creating many scoring opportunities for their team. While the Wave were successful in using their press to nullify their guests, Gotham’s one, big, Achilles Heel, was their lack of communication. Whether it was a lack of clarity over which defender would clear the ball and being disorganized at the back, or Midge Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu not being on the same page for Gotham’s best chance of the half, the lack of communication would prove costly for them.

Gotham’s poor clearance

At around the 12-minute mark of the game, you can hear Gotham coach Scott Parkinson instructing his team to “get organized”. Parkison had a good reason for this, as the lack of defensive organization at the back would allow San Diego to outshoot their guests by a ratio of 31-to-8, with 17 of those shots made inside the box. 14 of those 31 shots were taken by Alex Morgan.

One of the ways that San Diego were able to achieve this was by overloading the box. The Wave would overload their opponent’s 18-yard-box with both numbers and crosses into the area. These twin maneuvers would overwhelm their opponents and allow the Wave to take 17 shots in one half.

Wave sending in crosses

Despite all of their scoring chances, the Wave could not find a breakthrough. Their frustration was further compounded when Caprice Dydasco blocked Taylor Kornieck’s shot in the 36th minute. However, it would not take long for them to eventually get on the scoresheet.

Just as the half was coming to a close, Onumonu conceded a penalty by handling the ball in front of goal. Alex Morgan would then step up to take the spot kick, which she then scored. The first half would come to a close and San Diego would go into the locker room with a 1-0 lead.

After the halftime interval, the Wave would pick up where they left off. The key difference between the two halves was the introduction of the team’s “game changers” in the second half. Kelsey Turnbow and Amirah Ali were both substituted into the game in the 64th minute, replacing Taylor and Jakobsson. Ali’s substitution would prove to be pivotal, as, shortly after being sent in, the creative forward would win a penalty after being fouled by Zerboni inside the box. Once again, it would be Morgan who step up to the spot and convert it (66’).

Turnbow would eventually be the furthest player forward for the team as she took Taylor’s spot in the line-up. Kornieck would then take up the space behind her to provide her with defensive cover. Eventually, Katie Johnson was subbed into the game at the 81st minute, and she would take the place of Kornieck as the player behind the lone forward. Alex Morgan then moved into a more central role and became the pivot of their attack.


The change in the formation would suit Morgan in particular, as the striker would score two more goals before the game ended. After forcing Zerboni into making a turnover, Morgan would get her hat-trick in the 70th minute. She would then follow it up by scoring a fourth goal in extra time (90’+1’).

Shortly afterward, the ref would blow the full-time whistle and San Diego would emerge the victors of this contest. They would also be history makers as they broke several records along the way. San Diego would be the first expansion team to win two consecutive games and to keep two clean sheets. Alex Morgan would also be the first player to score a hat-trick for an expansion team in their first season and only the third player in NWSL history to score four goals during a single game.

It was truly a monumental night for them and one they’ll never forget.

The Stats

Not surprisingly, the Wave dominated possession. They had the ball 56% of the time and even had it for as much as 60% of the time during the first half. The Wave’s dominance of possession not only allowed them to create their own chances but also to prevent Gotham from building up their attack. And it worked effectively.


San Diego also had more crosses into the box than their opponents did. As per Wyscout, the Wave had 31 crosses with 13 of them connecting with their intended targets in the first half. Tegan McGrady was the Wave’s most successful and accurate crosser, as she had six during the entire game.


Now, compare the number of crosses from San Diego to the number of crosses from Gotham. You’ll see that there’s a stark difference between the two sides, as the Wave’s defense limited their opponent’s ability to move the ball. This included inhibiting their ability to send passes into the box.


The passing maps for the two sides showed just how effective the Wave were in moving the ball around. This chart from Wyscout shows how San Diego were able to utilize the width of the pitch more through their passing combinations. The intricate passing combinations between the players are why the Wave were able to create so many scoring opportunities.


Gotham, on the other hand, had much shorter passing combinations. This is mainly due to the Wave cutting off their passing channels and pressing the team into making mistakes. With this in mind, one can say that San Diego executed their game plan quite well, as they got the desired result that they wanted.


And there are other stats to consider — such as San Diego breaking the record for most shots in a single match (31). Alex Morgan also holds the record for the number of shots taken during a single game (14). She is also the league’s current Golden Boot leader with four goals, all of which were scored during a single game. San Diego also leads the league in goals, as they now have a total of five of them.

Overall, it was a truly remarkable performance from the team and a glimpse of what the squad is truly capable of. This team has a high ceiling and it will be absolutely thrilling to watch them reach their potential.

Up Next

The Wave will play the Chicago Red Stars at home. The match will take place this Sunday and kickoff time will be at 2 PM PDT. You’ll be able to watch the game on Twitch (international viewers only) and on Paramount+ domestically.

So what do you think? Leave a comment below.