The San Diego Wave heralded their first season in the NWSL by winning their first-ever game in the regular season. The team managed to beat the Houston Dash thanks to a solitary goal from forward Jodie Taylor. It was the ideal way for the team to start their journey in the league.
Here’s a breakdown of how they won the game.
San Diego Wave: Sheridan; McNabb, Girma, Riehl, Westphal; Van Egmond; Turnbow, Kornieck, Briede, Jakobsson; Morgan
Houston Dash: Campbell; Chapman, Naughton, Prisock, Hanson; Viggiano, Schmidt; Sánchez, Daly, Prince; Abam
San Diego initially started in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Alex Morgan as the lone forward. In a change from their previous games, Kelsey Turnbow occupied Morgan’s spot on the left. Sofia Jakobsson occupied her usual spot on the right, while Emily van Egmond was the midfielder who sat behind five players and connected the offense and the defense. Kristen McNabb started as a left-back in place of Tegan McGrady, who had to miss the game due to COVID-19 protocols. Kaleigh Riehl once again took the place of Abby Dahlkemper, as the latter was later revealed to have remained in San Diego to prepare for the Wave’s next game.
Later, they switched to a 4-4-1-1 formation after a series of substitutions to see out the game. Those subs would end up being smart moves as they ultimately helped the Wave win the match.
The First Half
The Wave were under pressure from the first minute of the game. Though the possession stats would be even amongst both teams, the Dash moved the ball around faster than the Wave did. They not only did this by passing through the middle, but by spraying pinpoint accurate passes across the field. One example of this is when the Dash’s Katie Naughton lobs a long ball towards her teammate, Allysha Chapman.
San Diego had no one who could do the same for them, as both McGrady and captain Dahlkemper were both absent. Girma would try to be the one to make the long passes for the team. However, most of her passes failed to reach her intended targets. Fortunately, she made up for it in other ways, most notably with her defensive performance.
Here’s Girma making a well-timed header to deflect a cross away from Sheridan’s goal.
Though Girma put on a good performance, she couldn’t do it all alone. A few seconds after her clearance, the Wave failed to collectively clear another ball that found the head of Houston’s Michaela Abam. Thankfully, she was unable to score. Though they were fortunate that time, it’s been the small lapses in concentration that have ultimately come back to hurt the team in the end.
San Diego didn’t have many scoring opportunities in the first half. Their only chance came in the 7th minute after Jakobsson found herself in front of goal. Unfortunately, she failed to convert her chance.
The Wave were limited by Houston’s aggressive, high press. They would force the Wave into making several turnovers, as the team would run into the Dash’s traps. They seemed to have been dispossessed quite easily, particularly in the midfield.
To their credit, the Wave did a good job of defending narrowly. This forced the Dash to try to bypass their press by passing down the flanks. Houston would try to make runs into the half-spaces before running back into the channels, where they utilized the twin, tornadic forces of Maria Sánchez and Marisa Viggiano to try to breakdown their opponents’ defense.
In the end, Houston’s finishing let them down. The team often took too many touches in the 18-yard-box and failed to find the back of the net. No more was this evident than in the 44th minute, when Rachel Daly and Sophie Schmidt had back-to-back chances to put their team ahead. And despite their golden opportunities, neither of them scored.
San Diego, on the other hand, were much faster in transitional play and were able to make inroads into their opponents’ penalty box. However, their final touch also let them down, thus allowing the Dash to regroup and clear the ball away. It didn’t help that defenders would often gang up on Morgan, thus neutralizing their most potent threat.
This would carry on until the end of the first half. It’s also quite fitting that the half ended with Van Egmond getting a yellow card, as it was reflective of how scrappy the first 45 minutes had been. The Wave would carry that energy with them into the second half, where they took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Casey Stoney is a coach that has shown a great deal of trust in her rookies. This was quite evident by how she was willing to substitute a few of them, alongside the vets, into the match. The players are aptly named “game changers”, and they demonstrated just why during this half.
After subbing in Jodie Taylor in the 66th minute, the Wave changed shape and switched to a 4-4-1-1. Taylor was their lone forward up top. Turnbow moved to the attacking midfielder role, while Van Egmond moved forward and occupied the middle alongside Belle Briede. Amirah Ali, who came into the game alongside Taylor, took Jakobsson’s spot on the right.
Once Morgan moved back to the left, she became more of a threat than she did during the first half. The forward nearly scored in the 54th minute but her shot bounced directly off Daly.
Later, Mia Gyau and Marleen Schimmer would come on in the 74th minute in place of Morgan and Christen Westphal. Katie Johnson would then come into the game in the 85th minute, as she replaced Turnbow. The subs would allow the team to turn the game around and Gyau’s substitution, in particular, was pivotal in more ways than one.
Gyau kicked off the sequence that led to her team’s goal by brilliantly evading her marker and sending a cross into the box. The cross eventually found the head of Johnson, who put it in the path of Taylor. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Wave would then stave off all late challenges from the Dash and eventually emerge as the victors of this match. And just like that, San Diego has their first-ever win in their first-ever NWSL season.
Though the stats would show that both teams split possession, they also showed that the Dash outshot the Wave by a ratio of 11 to 5 (Opta). What’s also surprising is the number of shots they took inside the penalty area. This chart from Wyscout shows that they took six inside the box. And though they took six shots in front of goal, none of them were on target.
The absences of both Dahlkemper and McGrady were felt during this match, as they could have prevented the Dash from being so adventurous inside the Wave’s 18-yard-box.
The Wave, on the other hand, took three shots inside their opponents’ box, with two on target. Jodie Taylor had one of those shots, and her’s ended up being the game-winner. Unlike their opponents, San Diego were much more efficient in front of goal.
Taylor has proven herself to be a super-sub and she reinforced that notion with her performance during this match. Here’s a map of the shots the forward has taken in the last five games she’s played. Of all the shots she’s taken, two of them have resulted in goals. The English forward seems to be finding her form in San Diego.
Naomi Girma also deserves to be heralded for her performance. The rookie plays like someone wise beyond her years. The defender won all three of the duels she took on during this game and made seven clearances throughout the match (Wyscout). Here are two graphs of her successful, on-the-field actions, which show just how much she commanded the left side of the pitch.
Let’s face it, this match wasn’t pretty to watch. The Wave played in a manner that left a lot to be desired. However, it is important to note that they were missing two of their best defenders in Dahlkemper and McGrady. Playing in the sweltering Texas heat also did not help, as the humidity most likely played a part in slowing them down.
The team is also a work in progress, as they are working on finding their form and more importantly, establishing their identity.
However, the squad mustered up enough will to overcome these setbacks and find a way to win. And in the end, that win is all that matters. The victory was perhaps a harbinger of things to come, as it wouldn’t be surprising if San Diego won the majority of their matches this season in this way.
San Diego will play their first-ever regular season game at home. The match will be played at Torero Stadium and kickoff time will be this Saturday at 7 pm PDT. You’ll be able to watch the match on the NWSL’s Twitch channel.