In front of 30,854 fans at Snapdragon Stadium for its first-ever home-opener at the new palace, the revamped roster of San Diego Wave FC had a housewarming party to remember as they left it late to defeat the Chicago Red Stars 3-2 on Saturday, March 25.
An 89th-minute penalty by who else but the star herself, Alex Morgan, secured the Wave victory in its second-ever NWSL opening game.
“We were the better team today, but we kind of played a little sloppy here and there,” Morgan said. “I’m glad we were able to clean it up and get that final goal to win it.”
Midfielders Danny Colaprico and Meggie Dougherty Howard both made their debuts in a Wave jersey while attacker Amirah Alli saw a surprise start after spending much of last season as a late-impact substitute. Stand-out midfielder from last season, Taylor Kornieck, oddly saw her name left off the starting line-up.
Following the match, head coach Casey Stoney cleared the air on Korneick’s absence from the starting lineup, stating that “It was nothing to do with Taylor’s form,” but rather the fact that Dougherty Howard was recovering from an injury and was only allowed to play 45 minutes. Dougherty Howards also sat deeper than Kornieck tends to, giving star-in-the-making attacker Jaedyn Shaw plenty of space to roam up front.
With the amount of talent and depth this Wave team has, these are the tough types of decisions that are going to be made and probably dreaded by Stoney.
The first 10 minutes were the typical start to a season, players misplacing passes and getting back into the flow of play. Yet San Diego looked the more confident and likely to score first.
But soccer is not about percentages or ‘looking more likely to score’, it’s about making the most of your opportunities — precisely how Chicago took the lead.
During the Red Stars’ first corner, as a result of almost their first proper attack at goal in the 18th minute, the ball bobbled around the box and was lashed into the net by the left foot of attacker Yuki Nagasato.
Chicago had been pinned on defense up until that point, clearing the ball 14 times to San Diego’s one before the goal was scored.
Not much long later, a goalkeeping error gave San Diego an avenue back into the game. Right-back Christen Westphal saw her tame shot saved onto the crossbar, but as it glanced off, it came falling back down across the face of the goal in slow-motion when Alli headed the ball in for San Diego’s first goal of the season.
In the 31st minute, San Diego built on the momentum, a Wave corner was cleared out to the top of the box before Shaw placed her shot into the bottom right corner.
Just before the end of the half, during eight minutes of stoppage time, the new arrival Colaprico made a mistake she will definitely want to leave out of her San Diego scrapbook. She bumped over a Chicago player in the box, sending the lethal attacker Mallory Swanson to the penalty spot to equalize.
The match was 2-2 at the half.
Kornieck made her way onto the pitch at the start of the second half, to the crowd’s delight. Dougherty Howard exited in her place.
In the 58th minute, following more stalemated play, attacker Sofia Jakobsson also made her way onto the pitch, replacing the goalscorer Shaw.
Ali was next to be substituted, being replaced by attacker Mackenzy Doniak followed by attacker Kesley Turnbow who came on for Colaprico 10 minutes later.
“I was really pleased with her performance,” Stoney said about Colaprico. “She started to cramp, so that’s the reason she came off.”
Morgan sang praises to both Colaprico and Dougherty Howard following their debuts with the Wave.
“They did great,” Morgan said. “They were stars for their teams last year, and they come in and fit in right away.”
The second half was much less entertaining than the 4-goal frenzy that made the first. Both teams looked to have solidified their defenses after the halftime break and came out with much more stability.
But just when it all looked over, attacker Alex Morgan made a darting run into the box and saw her shot flash off a Red Stars defender’s arm, penalty San Diego.
In the 89th minute, to win the game for San Diego as she has already done multiple times in this team’s short history, Morgan capitalized — never in doubt.
The Wave held strong for the remaining minutes in stoppage time to secure a massive win to open its NWSL season.
The Wave will again come crashing on the San Diego shore as they return to Snapdragon Stadium next week to face the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, April 1, at 7:00 p.m.
Morgan Prickett is currently studying Journalism at San Diego State and is on pace to graduate in 2023. He was born in Libreville, Gabon and lived in Pretoria, South Africa for 7 years until he moved to the Bay Area. He’s a massive soccer and basketball fan; mainly supporting Arsenal of the English Premier League and any team Chris Paul is on. He’s also an avid supporter of all sports teams in San Diego and loves watching all San Diego State sports.