San Diego Wave FC went on the road to Portland, Oregon, on Saturday, Sept. 30, to decisively beat one of their rivals, Portland Thorns FC, 2-0 to take first place in the NWSL and clinch a berth to the 2023 NWSL playoffs.
“I can’t speak highly enough of my squad tonight. I think they bought in, they were engaged, they were focused, they worked so hard, and I thought they deserved the win tonight,” Head Coach Casey Stoney said. “We had some scares, obviously, Portland are a good side; they’re going to create chances, but every single one of them, even the ones that have been away and have come back in on short prep time, and the ones that have been here over the last two weeks and prepped, unbelievable.”
“Now it’s about that mentality next week because yeah, we’ve clinched playoffs, great, but what can we now achieve? That’s the standard that we set tonight, and I’m really, really proud of them.”
Last match, the Wave came out flat-footed defensively, giving up too much space and possession to the opposing team and subsequently conceding two goals in the first half. This match was an entirely different story where they came on very strong defensively before eventually finding the back of the net with crucial finishes that have eluded the Wave the past few matches.
The first goal came in the 20th minute off the foot of the San Diegan and Del Norte high school alumna Kyra Carusa, who was already on a streak with two goals scored across two matches last week with the Republic of Ireland women’s national team.
Jaedyn Shaw made a run down the pitch just outside the box, while Alex Morgan drew two defenders toward her closer to the goal, which left Carusa wide open at the top of the box for Shaw. Without lifting her head, Shaw heard Carusa call for the ball and sent it to the center, where Carusa shot it into the opposite side of the net to make it 1-0.
Carusa said after the match that the goal-scoring run where the ’10,’ in this case Jaedyn Shaw, makes a run down the field to cross it into the center for her had been practiced all week.
“When (a play) comes off, it’s because the players executed. You can have ideas, but if they don’t execute it, it doesn’t matter,” said Stoney about the play. “It’s amazing when it comes off, but it’s all down to them tonight, their work ethic, their application, what they applied in the game, and it worked for us tonight.”
The second goal came for the Wave fell in the 37th minute after some great moments by the Wave midfielders to keep the ball in the opposing half before Danielle Colaprico passed a ball back to Christen Westphal, who sent a long cross high in the air to a jumping Alex Morgan who headed the ball backward toward the goal. The Thorns goalkeeper, Bella Bixby, was too close to the near post and got tripped up on the turf, allowing the ball to bounce in, making it 2-0.
Morgan, who led the league in goals last season, was in a scoring drought since May 20 across all competitions. Stoney said about the drought that she told Morgan that, “It will come, but sometimes it doesn’t matter how it comes. You need a little bit of luck, and there was a little bit of luck on that turf tonight, and she’ll take it.”
The second half, the Wave were unable to add to their lead but kept Portland at bay for the next 45 minutes. Olivia Moultrie, an 18-year-old, was the best player in the second half, testing Wave Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan in goal multiple times with great shots and crosses to teammates, but it was not enough and put the Thorns in second place just behind the Wave in the NWSL standings with 32 points.
The Wave will play their next match on Oct. 7 against the North Carolina Courage before returning home to Snapdragon Stadium on Oct. 15 to face Racing Louisville in their final match of the NWSL regular season.
Abraham Zepeda is a bilingual Chula Vista Native covering the Tijuana Xolos for EVT. He spent the summer of 2022 covering San Diego Loyal SC and San Diego Wave FC. He is also currently a student at the University of Oregon pursuing a degree in journalism.