San Diego Wave FC opened up the Challenge Cup and their inaugural season with a 1-1 tie against Angel City FC on Saturday, March 19.
The match was also the inaugural match for Angel City, which was founded on July 21, 2020. The season-opener took place at Titan Stadium in Fullerton, California.
“I thought the fans were incredible,” head coach Casey Stoney said. “I thought the atmosphere was great. One of the best atmospheres I’ve coached in.”
The Wave started their inaugural match with a 4-2-3-1, much like I predicted in my previous article previewing the Challenge Cup. Although I did make a few mistakes in predicting which players would start as Stoney sent out an experimental lineup.
To the surprise of many Wave fans, star Alex Morgan led the substitutes on the team sheet while young, energetic names such as Kelsey Turnbow, Katie Johnson, and Amirah Ali all got the start in the three spots behind striker Jodie Taylor.
In the post-game conference, both Morgan and Stoney confirmed that Morgan and Dahlkemper planned on only playing 45 minutes each.
Leading the Angel City attack was Christen Press, USWNT star player and former player under Stoney last season at Manchester United. In Press’ 88 previous NWSL appearances, she has 46 goals with the Chicago Red Stars and Utah Royals.
“Christen’s a good player, hence why I signed her at Manchester United,” Stoney said. “She causes problems cutting inside with her pace and running in through the middle of the park. But it’s always good to catch up with players you’ve coached before, and I thought she had a really good game tonight. A player we really need to be mindful of in the return leg.”
The wave opened up their first half of football with proper pressing and attacking soccer.
But with one of Angel City’s first attacks, Christen Press isolated Christen Westphal and managed to slide by her and take her first shot since rejoining the NWSL. The 30-yard effort looked as if it was sailing into the top left corner until Kailen Sheridan reached and tipped the ball onto the crossbar.
In the 11 minute, Turnbow forced two crosses into the box towards Taylor. On the second effort, Taylor forced a deflection off the defender, forcing a corner. The Wave sent the ball in for the corner, but it was countlessly cleared by the Angel defense. There was even a bicycle kick by Johnson at some point that was cleared off the line by an Angel defender.
Another great chance came for the Wave as they continued to attack down the right-wing. Amirah Ali raced down the wing and whipped a cross into Taylor, who managed to get two shots off successively, both saved.
As the half came to a close, it was hard to determine whether either team was the favorite. The wave had more possession and played wide attacking football that opened up a few chances at goal. For Angel City, Press remained a threat with the ball in the Wave’s half. Press ended the half with four shots and three on target.
To begin the second half, Alex Morgan and Kaleigh Riehl both came on, substituting off Amirah Ali and Abby Dahlkemper, respectively.
“I’m very impressed with a lot of the younger players and the rookies that either came on or started,” Morgan said. Amirah is very attacking-minded, and that’s exactly what you want to see in this league. Bella came in and transitioned from forward to the midfield seamlessly, and Naomi kind of looks more like a veteran than a rookie. There’s a lot of players that I’m very impressed with, and I think overall this club and Casey have done a great job in bringing these players together.”
Three minutes into the half, Angel City left-back Ally Riley launched a cross in from deep outside the left side of the box. It sailed above the heads of both Riehl and Naomi Girma and onto the head of Savannah McCaskill, who placed the ball into the bottom left of Sheridan’s goal. Forty-nine minutes in, and Angel City took a 1-0 lead.
In the 55th minute, Christen Press kept the attack moving as she played a beautiful through ball into the path of Tyler Lussi. With a defender trailing and Sheridan coming out of goal, Lussi slid the ball to the left of Sheridan and towards goal. The ball rolled by in what felt like slow motion and then bounced off the post back into the safe hands of Sheridan.
In the 56th minute, Bella Briede came on for Johnson, perhaps suggesting that this Wave attack is still in the testing phase.
In the 69 minute, Marleen Schimmer then came on for Turnbow, and in the 74 minute, Sofia Jakobsson made her NWSL debut, replacing Taylor upfront.
After countless attacking plays from the substitutes. The Wave won a corner. The corner was crossed in by Schimmer and finished by Riehl with her lower stomach to give her her first professional goal and the Wave’s first-ever goal.
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) March 20, 2022
The Wave’s depth from their bench provided them with another burst of energy late in the second half, perhaps giving them the momentum to go get a second.
But time ran out, and the points were shared with a 1-1 tie as both teams fought their hearts out on their inaugural game days.
“Was it our best performance? No. By nowhere near was it our best performance,” Stoney said. “I thought Kailen Sheridan was outstanding, so that kind of tells you the balance of the game but having said that, I think we had a few chances that we maybe could have done a bit better with but to come away with a 1-1 draw I think shows a hell of a lot of resilience from a very young and inexperienced group.”
The Wave will play their next game versus Portland Thorns at Torero Stadium in San Diego on Saturday, March 26, at 7:00 p.m. PST.