You can count the number of minors to play in the NWSL over the years on one hand, and it was something of a surprise to see 17-year-old Jaedyn Shaw in the starting XI for San Diego Wave FC on Saturday in their road game against the Chicago Red Stars, her first game eligible to play for the club. But Shaw, signed earlier in the month to her first pro deal after being deemed an exceptional prospect who did not need to wait for the NWSL Draft in the winter, not only played, she thrived.
In fact, she had an outsized role in the win, scoring the game’s only goal in a 1-0 victory for San Diego, to keep them atop the Shield standings for at least another weekend.
That ability validated Wave FC head coach Casey Stoney’s decision to start her.
“I’ve seen enough to know she is capable of starting,” Stoney told reporters after the game. “I am a coach that believes in: if you are good enough, you’re old enough. I have watched her for a while before we acquired her signature, so I knew what the talent was, and I think she showed that tonight. I thought her finish was exceptional — she probably could have finished it first-time, but to chop it back and finish so calmly and composed, nothing really phased her. We need to work on how we play our principles and philosophy because she has not been here for long. For a debut at 17 years old, I am so pleased with her. She is a fantastic addition to our roster.”
Probably the most impressive part of Shaw’s debut goal was not the tally itself but how she did it. Putting in a support run as Katie Johnson made a beeline for goal, the rookie was not only in the right spot to receive Johnson’s square pass right in front of goal, but she dribbled to the left to evade Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and get an open target to shoot.
To have the presence of mind and poise to actually see it through is very impressive indeed. San Diego goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan gave Shaw plenty of props in the postgame press conference, and the debutant herself was much as you would expect from a teenager in her first media availability: Cheerful, a bit shy but clearly excited for the moment. At one point she explained she took the dribble on the goal because she wanted to avoid Naeher bearing down on her as she got the ball, laughing throughout her explanation.
At the same time, Shaw’s demeanor in the press conference belied the apparent maturity to get to this point at such a tender age.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Shaw said on her debut. “I’ve manifested and prayed about this time for so long, and I just think it’s an incredible opportunity to play at this stage and be able to score a goal. I think it comes down to just being confident in your ability and in your teammates, and that was a great ball across. I had one job: to put it in the net.”
And if she keeps doing her job once she returns from the U-20 World Cup, Shaw’s sparkling debut could be just the start of something special, for her and San Diego alike.
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