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San Diego Wave FC make big adjustments to win in North Carolina

Formation change on two days’ notice? No problem.

NWSL: San Diego Wave FC at North Carolina Courage Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

CARY, North Carolina — With three center backs featuring in Sunday’s 1-0 win over the North Carolina Courage, San Diego Wave FC implemented a big formation change for the first time and players postgame credited it with helping them get the victory.

Kristen McNabb was drafted in late to take the third center back slot, alongside Naomi Girma and Kaleigh Riehl, with Abby Dahlkemper getting injured in training before the game, according to head coach Casey Stoney.

But the players rolled with the changes.

“Switching to the formation that we did, I give huge props to our team for being able to do it in two days, just really running with it, trusting Casey and the coaches on their thoughts and just kind of putting our heads down and grinding,” said defender Tegan McGrady after the game.

“It came out of nowhere,” she explained. “We had not worked on it. You know, just two days ago, Casey kind of said this is what we’re gonna go to, this is what we’re going to try and, we just have to trust in what the coaches told us and kind of just do our jobs around it.”

Stoney, who was back on the sideline for San Diego after missing Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Racing Louisville due to coming down ill with COVID, and admitted after the game she still wasn’t feeling 100 percent yet, explained the tactical switch was made to try and neutralize the Courage.

“Various reasons [for the change], one being their shape,” Stoney said. “They play a box midfield so if we would have gone 4-3-3 it would have asked a lot of our wide players and they’re very, very good through central areas. And Debinha, she’s is an exceptional talent as well as a lot of their other players. So we wanted to kind of deny their strengths. We know their play two up [top] so we kind of went for a three back to deal with that. And we had to have a lot of discipline in there. And we did that and we also knew that we could transition really well central from that shape which ended up in the goal.

“So yeah, it was a tactical decision based on them, based on the fact that we’re on the road. It’s the third game in a week. We knew that we kind of maybe needed to not press as high as they compact and pick out moments to go and this shape allowed us to do that,” she added.

And while Alex Morgan added to her league-leading goals tally with the winning goal late in the 1st half, Stoney reserved additional praise for McNabb, who has previously spent her NWSL career as a fullback but has played nearly every game for Wave FC this year in midfield, before being penciled in as the third starting center back on the day.

“To be able to perform like that she had so late, this shows the talent that she’s got and the character of her and yeah, I thought, listen, they’re a good side, they’re going to create chances. But I thought we did well today,” said Stoney.

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