A dose of fortune lifts Wave over Thorns in Challenge Cup

Naomi Girma 2023 Wave

Credit: Nicole Noel/ EVT Sports

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Credit: Nicole Noel/ EVT Sports

The Challenge Cup is back in San Diego!

Yet it was the cup’s first time at Snapdragon Stadium, as the San Diego Wave’s cup games last season were played at their previous home, Torero Stadium.

The match ended in a 1-0 win for San Diego, thanks to a fortunate own goal by the Portland Thorns and important second-half substitutions by head coach Casey Stoney.

“To travel back (from last weekend’s last-minute loss to OL Reign) and have limited prep and be able to get a result against an excellent Portland side is a testament to this team and its character,” Stoney said.

Despite the change in San Diego scenery, there were still plenty of familiarities this match. The Portland Thorns were in San Diego’s group in last year’s Challenge Cup as they defeated the Wave twice, 1-0 and 3-2. The teams faced each other twice during 2022’s NWSL regular season, resulting in a 2-2 draw and a 2-0 win for San Diego before their final meeting in the NWSL semifinals, where Portland knocked off San Diego with a 2-1 win.

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Portland started this match on the front foot, understandably so, as they kept key players such as forward Sophia Smith and midfielder Christine Sinclair in the starting lineup while Wave stars such as forwards Alex Morgan, Jaedyn Shaw, and defender Naomi Girma saw their names on the bench.

Credit: Nicole Noel/ EVT Sports

Sierra Enge, the 13th pick in the NWSL draft, made her debut in the absence of the Wave’s regular starters.

“It was a great way to start my off career here,” Enge said. “It was so nice to be able to debut in San Diego, and I’m just really grateful for the fans that are here to support us each and every day.”

It took until the 17th minute for the Wave to record their first shot; by that time, Portland already had three shots and two on target, and just a minute later, Smith provided Portland’s third shot on target.

‘Twas a relatively uneventful first half for the Wave ending with two shots compared to Portland, who worked all the angles, manufacturing three shots on target and eight shots in total. But the only statistic the Wave were concerned about was the score, which remained balanced at 0-0.

“We had too many turnovers, which allows them to go back on transition and also doesn’t give us any momentum,” Stoney said. “So we needed a bit more quality, and it was about how we can connect and get our build to go up the pitch.”

In the 57th minute came one of San Diego’s best opportunities. Girma, the half-time substitute, found forward Makenzy Doniak, the other half-time substitute, in the box with a beautiful pass. Doniak’s pass flashed through the box all the way to forward Sofia Jakobsson on the left, who launched another pass back across that resulted in a corner. Nothing came from the corner, but the momentum was building for San Diego.

Credit: Nicole Noel/ EVT Sports

The San Diego goal came not too long after, and credit belonged to another second-half substitute. Forward Jaedyn Shaw, the third second-half substitute, hit a pass into the box in the 64th minute. The pass deflected off Portland defender Meaghan Nally and found its way into the back of the net, leaving Portland goalkeeper Shelby Hogan frozen.

The San Diego defense held strong for the remainder of the match. Last year’s Defender and Rookie of the Year, Girma, made some massive tackles while Goalkeeper of the Year, Kailen Sheridan, continued her terrific form in goal.

It ended 1-0 as the Wave evened their all-time record against the Thorns to 2-1-2.

The Wave’s next match is against Angel City FC on Sunday, April 23, at 5:00 p.m. The Wave will travel up the coast to BMO stadium in Los Angeles to face their Southern California rivals, who the Wave lead 2-1-1 in the all-time record.

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