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Heating up: San Diego Wave FC 2, Chicago Red Stars 1

Expansion side stays atop standings after another victory.

NWSL: Chicago Red Stars at San Diego Wave FC Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego Wave FC continued their flawless start to the 2022 NWSL regular season, as two 2nd-half goals led to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday at Torero Stadium.

A sleepy 1st half for the hosts made way for a more aggressive approach after the break, and once again it was effective, although injury-ravaged Chicago made San Diego work hard for the result.

Abby Dahlkemper was not in the XI for this game, the veteran making the bench with Kaleigh Riehl getting the start in central defense for Casey Stoney’s San Diego squad.

After a tense opening stretch in which San Diego struggled to get possession, rookie Amirah Ali, getting the start on the day, provided a release valve on the right flank, taking a ball over the top, dribbling upfield and testing Chicago GK Alyssa Naeher in the 6th minute.

But good looks on both sides were few and far between in the first half, as both sides tried to control the game and struggled in the first 45. To add to the struggles for San Diego, Ali appeared to have an injury in the 1st half, had her leg wrapped and continued several more minutes, before she could not carry on, with Sofia Jakobsson replacing the rookie in the 34th minute.

Wave FC had a gilt-edged chance in the 42nd minute. Jakobsson won a 50-50 in space, dribbled upfield and hit a centering pass to Taylor Kornieck, whose shot sailed wide of the mark. And so the teams went into the halftime break scoreless, with San Diego holding a slight edge in possession but both teams posting only one shot on target in the 1st half.

San Diego tried to find a new gear in the 2nd half, with last week’s hero Alex Morgan forcing a save from Naeher in the 50th minute.

From there, Morgan got her goal in the 56th minute, as she scored a penalty after Jakobsson drew the spot kick off a foul from Kayla Sharples. The goal was Morgan’s fifth of the regular season.

Kelsey Turnbow entered the game just after the hour mark in place of Jodie Taylor for Wave FC.

The home side nearly got an insurance tally in the 65th minute off a set piece, with Kornieck nearly stabbing the shot home, but Naeher stepped up to make the save to keep it a one-goal game. Moments later, Morgan scored again but the tally was chalked off for offside.

Morgan exited the match in the 82nd minute for rookie Belle Briede, the league’s leading scorer putting in another good shift for Wave FC. Katie Johnson also came in at the same time, replacing Kornieck.

San Diego pushed hard to add to the scoreline, with Chicago struggling to play into Wave FC’s half of the field in the 2nd half. But without their gamebreaker in Mal Pugh available on the day, the Red Stars’ attack lacked any real bite and they seldom tested San Diego. Jill Aguilera did score for Chicago in the 84th minute, but it was called back for offside.

The game got wild in the dying minutes. Kaleigh Riehl hit a beautiful insurance tally in the 89th minute off a set piece routine, and it seemed as though she may have been offside considering she was in acres of space, but the tally stood.

Good thing, too, because Chicago immediately answered, Ava Cook scoring her first career goal at pro level. It was the first goal that San Diego allowed in the regular season.

The win takes San Diego to 3W-0L-0D on the regular season so far, which means they’ll keep their place atop the standings for at least a few more days. I think this was another grinding result, and San Diego do seem to rely quite a bit on penalties to generate their attack, but they also do turn up the intensity in the 2nd half and seem to get the floodgates to open up from there. The ending was a little crazy but credit to San Diego for seeing out another win, who knows where they can end up this season if they keep picking up victories.

It’s a short turnaround for San Diego, who also have a long trip to make midweek, when they’ll head to Kentucky to face Racing Louisville on Wednesday. It will be the teams’ first-ever meeting, of course, but it’ll be another big test for Wave FC, who did not do great in the Challenge Cup on short rest. But we’ll see what happens!

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