For the first time this NWSL regular season, the San Diego Wave FC have lost back-to-back games. Their first loss at home came two weeks ago against the Kansas City Current. Their second consecutive loss came last Saturday against the Orlando Pride. As a result, the Wave are now in third place as the Houston Dash have surpassed them in the standings.
Here’s a look at what went wrong during that game and how they can hopefully turn it around for the next match.
San Diego (4-3-3): Sheridan; McNabb, Girma, Riehl, Westphal; Van Egmond, Kornieck, Johnson; Turnbow, Ali, Morgan
Orlando Pride (4-2-3-1): McLeod; Strom, Pressley, Oyster, Jiménez; Listro, Villacorta, Abello; Dougherty, Tymrak, Doyle
As the game progressed, the Pride would make a few tactical changes. One of them included Jordyn Listro and Viviana Villacorta switching from the left to right flank. At around the 60th minute, the Pride switched to a 4-4-2 and finish the match in this formation.
San Diego would maintain the same formation for the entire game. The only tactical changes for them were the wingers, Amirah Ali and Kelsey Turnbow, switching places on the left and right channels. Eventually, Sofia Jakobsson entered at the 60th minute to occupy the space on the right and the Wave saw out the rest of the match that way.
The First Half
The match started with the Wave on the front foot. It only took 22 seconds for the team to create their first chance of the game as Kelsey Turnbow’s cross was sent into the box. It flew over Alex Morgan’s head but then fell to Amirah Ali, who then shot it right at the goalkeeper.
Morgan came agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock in the fifth minute. Unfortunately, her shot ricocheted off the crossbar. Morgan herself had seven shots, with one on target, while her team made a total of 19 shots. Unfortunately, none of them found the back of the net.
Their opponents, on the other hand, would not suffer from such a similar fate.
The dagger in the heart for the Wave FC came in the 21st minute. After a handball hit Kaleigh Riehl’s arm, the ref decided to award a penalty to the Pride. Though Kailen Sheridan has saved two penalties this season in the last two games (and eight overall in the NWSL), Orlando’s Meggie Dougherty Howard found a way to thwart her and put her team on the scoreboard.
A Pride PK to start the scoring!@ORLPride | #PrideOfOrlando pic.twitter.com/C4nq2tlixh— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) August 14, 2022
San Diego tried their hardest to respond but couldn’t get anything back in return. In their urgency to get an equalizer, the Wave found themselves dispossessed in the midfield. And when they weren’t being dispossessed, they didn’t take advantage of their chances in the final third. Perhaps it was a combination of poor choices coupled with exhaustion and a mental block, but the Wave just couldn’t find the back of the net.
The Pride, however, deserve some credit for their dogged defending and for maintaining a compact shape. Their defenders always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to intercept passes from the Wave.
This was the main reason why Orlando were able to win the game and hand San Diego their second loss in a row at home. The match did not end well for the Wave, as — aside from the loss — words were allegedly exchanged between Kailen Sheridan and the match officials after the game had ended.
As a result, Sheridan will miss the next game, while Carly Telford will have to step up in her place. The Geordie goalkeeper has already proven that she’s more than capable of slotting into Sheridan’s slot. She’ll need to bring her A-game with her on Saturday as she attempts to keep the Houston Dash at bay.
The Bright Spot
Though Amirah Ali didn’t net a goal, she performed quite well during the match. The player was a constant thorn in the opposition’s side, as her dribbling, speed, creativity, and off-the-ball movement created problems for the Pride. As a result, Orlando largely resorted to fouling her in an attempt to thwart her efficacy in attack.
And like Simon & Garfunkel’s protagonist in “The Boxer,” she got knocked down but then immediately fought to get back up. It’s a testament to her endurance and both her mental and physical fortitude that she kept going despite suffering so many blows.
Ali had a total of five attempted crosses, three shots (two on target), and two successful dribbles (Opta). The forward also played a total of 60 minutes as she’s working her way back to full fitness. Despite this, she managed to put on an impressive display, which can only bode well for her future.
As per Opta, the Wave had more possession (55.9%). They also had an xG of 2.24 and outshot their opponents by a ratio of 19 to 8, with six shots on target. And despite all this, they couldn’t find the back of the net. San Diego has to work on their profligacy in front of goal.
As for the players’ individual stats, Alex Morgan had the most shots, with seven. Taylor Kornieck had the second most, with six of them. Ali had three but two of her shots were on target. Christen Westphal and Kornieck were tied for chances created (three). Surprisingly, Naomi Girma also created one chance. The defender was solid in front of goal, as per usual, as she made two clearances and four recoveries. The chance created was the cherry on top of her performance.
Although Sheridan received a post-game red card, the shot-stopper did make one save during this match along with four recoveries. The keeper has made a total of 35 saves during this season. All things considered, Sheridan played well during this match. And what these stats show us is that San Diego were thoroughly dominant throughout this game.
However, statistical dominance means nothing if you don’t put balls into the back of the net. They’ll need to remedy that against the Dash if they hope to make a top-two finish this season.
Should we start to worry?
In short: No. Slumps are a regular occurrence for all teams. That is especially true for teams in a league like the NWSL, which has an “any given Sunday” feel to it. It’s also hard for a team like the Wave to consistently keep up their high-octane performances without running out of gas at some point. Coach Stoney herself is not worried, as, during a post-game press conference, she stated that:
“We know we’re in a difficult moment. We’re an expansion team, this was gonna come. Everyone starts panicking, I don’t; we had a really good first half of the season, people have started to look at what we have now and nullify it a little bit, but I’m keeping perspective. I thought we created enough chances to win that game twice over and we didn’t take them. We need to do more work in the final third and keep building enough confidence to score goals.”
Now, the Wave will have to refill their tanks as they gear up for the next match. If the team has learned their lessons from this game, then they can begin their redemption arc against the Houston Dash. During a pre-game press conference for the match, Stoney stated that while the Dash are in “great form,” there are a few “chinks in their armor” that they plan to exploit. Time will tell if they will successfully pierce the hearts of the Texas knights.
San Diego will play the Houston Dash this Saturday. It will be their last game at Torero Stadium and kickoff will be at 7:00 PM PDT. Afterward, they’ll head on the road to play the Portland Thorns on August 27th. The Wave will have the fortune of playing both teams while their opponents are on three days’ rest. However, that advantage will mean nothing unless they can capitalize on both opportunities.
So what do you think? Leave a comment below.