When San Diego Wave FC found out they would be missing nearly half their starting XI for most of the month of July due to international duty, it was clearly a “sink or swim” moment in an inaugural NWSL season full of them so far.
And while expecting the team to keep on dominating with their starting forward, winger, midfielder, center back and goalkeeper all out was probably unrealistic, the aim, at least from the outside, was for Casey Stoney’s remaining squad to keep their heads above water. They certainly did that, posting a 1-1-1 record in the three games played.
And while it was a team effort throughout, the likely MVP of the players drafted in to start in July? It has to be goalkeeper Carly Telford.
The 35-year-old likely knew this would be her role when she signed with San Diego ahead of the debut season. With Kailen Sheridan perhaps the best goalkeeper in the NWSL, the Canadian would get the majority of the minutes in the season. But Sheridan was projected to become the No. 1 for Canada this year, which she did, and won the best GK award at the recent Concacaf W Championship. San Diego knew Sheridan was likely to miss time on international duty, and having a backup as experienced as Telford was a solid coup.
But when we saw a dress rehearsal of this arrangement earlier this year in the Challenge Cup, it didn’t go quite as well. Sheridan missed two games in that tournament due to international duty and a positive COVID test, and Telford got an early taste of NWSL soccer. It did not go well, with San Diego conceding three goals in two straight games. They were, admittedly, both on the road and to two strong teams, in OL Reign and the Portland Thorns, and while Telford wasn’t solely responsible for all the goals, she looked pretty rusty in those games.
On the bright side, unlike most backup goalkeepers who don’t know when they may be counted upon next, Telford did have July to target for her probable return. After the learning experiences of the tough Challenge Cup losses in April, the English GK had two and a half months to get ready for her next chance.
And judging from her last three games, she did. Telford allowed three goals total across three games. While the second of the three matches, a road derby against Angel City FC, ended in a 2-1 loss, Telford certainly wasn’t a liability in that game and that one was largely lost because Wave FC were missing too many starters in a raucous and emotional atmosphere.
Telford’s best performance was San Diego’s most recent game, a 0-0 draw at home against Racing Louisville that was widely acclaimed as a thoroughly entertaining clash, even for a scoreless draw.
The highlight, of course, was Telford blocking a penalty in the 2nd half that preserved the draw for the home side.
In all, Telford had six saves in the shutout.
“You know you don’t play for ages and then you get thrown in, and it’s difficult, so she’s had back-to-back games, and she has proved her worth tonight,” Stoney said after that game. “There were some massive saves in key moments, and she kept us in the game, so I’m really proud of her and her performance, and I hope it’s something she can build on.”
While San Diego both have an absolutely enormous crop of rookies in their inaugural season and plenty of veteran knowhow sprinkled around the team, Telford seemed to provide the confidence and leadership from the back to help the team weather what could have otherwise been a very difficult month for the team.
“I think in games like that where the pitch is a little bit bubbly and everyone’s maybe a little bit nervous and not everything’s going right the way you want it to, everyone in their head wants to play that perfect game from start to finish, but that doesn’t really exist, and I think it’s just reminding each other,” Telford said after the Louisville game. “We spoke this week about trying to keep our nerves and trying to keep each other in the game when maybe one or two of us are struggling, and I think that’s really important, and I think we pulled each other through. I think the importance of how we spoke to each other and how we drove each other through difficult moments allowed us to grind out a 0-0 draw. I think in those moments if you turn against each other or you don’t help your teammate out, that’s when people struggle, and I think we really reflected on that as a group. And you can see the togetherness of the crowd that drives us through those moments. So, I think we’ve really grown in these last three weeks when the girls have been away, so when they come back, they’re coming back into a really good environment and that we can push and go again.”
Remarkably, San Diego Wave FC remain atop the NWSL standings even after what may have been a “make or break” month. There’s still plenty of soccer to play, of course, but Wave FC are on track for a historic season by an expansion team.
And while the Challenge Cup may have raised a few eyebrows at the time, Telford’s play in the regular season showed she was prepared for the challenge and fully did her part to keep San Diego atop the pack when her name was called again.
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