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San Diego Wave FC’s gamechangers take mantle seriously in 1st road win

Team needed more than 11 to get the job done in Houston.

NWSL: San Diego Wave FC at Houston Dash Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

They don’t call them “gamechangers” for nothing.

San Diego Wave FC opened their inaugural NWSL regular season on Sunday with a clash against the Houston Dash in Houston, and in a bit of a smash-and-grab affair, got the game’s lone goal in the 86th minute en route to a 1-0 win, the expansion club’s first-ever road victory.

On a day in which the starting XI struggled mightily in San Diego’s attack, it was three substitutes — rookie Mia Gyau, making her professional debut, Katie Johnson and Jodie Taylor — who combined on the winning goal.

After such a hard-fought game, spirits were understandably high following the victory.

“I’m extremely proud of this team and how far it has come,” head coach Casey Stoney said after the game. “They had more chances than us, but coming here in a heat that we’re not used to … and being able to grind out a result 1-0 … for me the most pleasing thing is we’ve kept a clean sheet and players have come off the bench yet again and made a huge difference to the game. It’s a massive three points on the road for us.”

For Taylor, the goalscorer with a wealth of NWSL experience to bring to the new team, getting the result is what mattered.

“It’s a great relief. Any time you see the ball hit the back of the net, it’s a great feeling as a forward,” she said. “For us to score, keep a clean sheet … I was just in the right place at the right time to put the ball in the back of the net. I’m pleased that we won our first game, making history … and three points on the road is huge in this league. I’m really happy with it.”

Truth be told, Houston looked more likely to find a goal for most of the game, as San Diego had to contend with defenders Abby Dahlkemper and Tegan McGrady both out due to COVID. But the Dash were wasteful with their looks, and unfortunate on one shot from Rachel Daly that clanged off the crossbar, while Wave FC grinded until they found the back of the net.

Stoney has already shown a knack for getting production from substitutes, and with three of them connecting on the goal, that reputation is burnished a little more.

“That doesn’t happen if the first 11 don’t grind the opposition down and open the game up,” Stoney observed. “It doesn’t happen without the players that prepare all week and possibly don’t play any minutes. I’m really pleased, it’s a flick-on by [Katie Johnson] and Jodie [Taylor] scores and it’s incredible that the players are coming off the bench and making an impact in the way that we want. That’s why we call the gamechangers gamechangers, because they’ve come on and done exactly that.”

For Gyau, the Duke product who comes from a family of professional soccer players, making an immediate impact on her debut after being sidelined during the Challenge Cup made the moment that much sweeter.

“It was really exciting. I was injured throughout the Challenge Cup, so it was a bit disappointing not to play in those games,” said Gyau. “To come off the bench and play in a league game, and earn three hard points, it’s so special. I’m so happy that I was able to make an impact along with everybody else who came onto the field. It’s our first league game and we showed so well. Away with three points is a really good showing.”

It is indeed a good start, and hopefully just the beginning of many such celebrations for San Diego Wave FC.

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