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An Abridged Analysis: How the San Diego Wave beat the North Carolina Courage

The Wave’s willingness to adapt to their circumstances fuels their early success.

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

After winning four out of five matches, the San Diego Wave are currently on top of the NWSL standings.

While the team’s early success can be attributed to a variety of factors, the Wave’s ability to adapt to their circumstances has played a large part in this. Here’s a closer look at how they varied their tactics against the North Carolina Courage and beat the current Challenge Cup champions.

The Formations

The Wave have employed a variety of formations this season. As per Wyscout, San Diego usually lines up in the shape of a 4-2-3-1, as they’ve fielded that lineup around 60% of the time.

Wyscout

However, in their last match against the Courage, the team switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation.

Wyscout

The formation change was done to clog the middle and to prevent their opponents from building up play centrally. It was also done to allow the Wave to maintain a compact, defensive shape while not exhausting themselves by relentlessly pressing their opponents. As coach Casey Stoney herself noted, “[...] it was a tactical decision 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.”

During that same press conference, Tegan McGrady confirmed that the change in shape was a last-minute idea.

“It came out of nowhere. 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.”

Though the team was given a short timeframe to adjust to the change, they executed their coach’s game plan quite well.

How the changes helped them win the game

One example of how well they implemented their game plan is how they kept North Carolina’s offense at bay. Though the Courage outshot the Wave by a ratio of 15 to 9, over half of their shots were outside of the 18-yard-box.

North Carolina Courage
InStat

In contrast, San Diego took nearly all of their shots inside their opponent’s box. One of them resulted in a goal and it was Alex Morgan’s strike in the 41st minute.

San Diego Wave
InStat

In a break from the Wave’s previous matches, Morgan was deployed as a centre-forward for this game. This allowed her to use her speed to lose her marker and make a run towards goal. Credit must also be given to Taylor Kornieck, who broke the lines with one single pass.

With the absence of Kelsey Turnbow for this game, as the forward was suspended for elbowing Lauren Milliet in the previous game against Racing Louisville, Kornieck was deployed further up the pitch in an attacking midfielder role. This allowed her to create the assist that led to Morgan’s game-winning goal. Kornieck was not the only player who played in a different position during this game. As these charts from InStat show us, Sofia Jakobsson played as a left-winger while Mia Gyau took space on the right flank.

InStat

Jakobsson normally plays on the right. However, the winger came into the match to relieve Tegan McGrady, and thus took her spot on the left. Gyau, on the other hand, came in to relieve Christen Westphal. And, despite being played out of position, both players did their part to help the Wave maintain a clean sheet.

It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for the team though, as they faced a late onslaught from the Courage. Fortunately for them, North Carolina didn’t score any goals. Credit must also be given to the other defenders on the team, most notably Naomi Girma. The centre-back made a total of ten interceptions and three clearances during this game (Wyscout). Once again, the rookie has stepped up in a big way for her team and has lived up to the expectations that were placed upon her after being selected as the number one pick in the draft.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan must also be given plaudits for her performance, as she made two, vital saves to keep the Wave in the game. The shot-stopper has played a key part in her team’s early success, as she has made a total of 15 saves this season. Overall, the Wave have only conceded two goals while having scored eight against their opponents. They lead the league in not only goals scored but are also tied with Angel City FC for the least amount of goals conceded.

Conclusion

Though the season is still young, what the team has accomplished so far is truly impressive. The team has thus far defied the early predictions for an expansion team, and they’ve broken a few records in the process. They’ll also have another chance to keep the winning streak going, as they will take on the OL Reign this Sunday.

Kickoff time will be at 12 PM PDT and you’ll be able to watch the game on Twitch (internationally) and domestically on Paramount+.

So what do you think? Leave a comment below.