Welcome to The Shack, this is your one-stop spot for a summary and my thoughts on all things revolving around the San Diego Wave Futbol Club and the National Women’s Soccer League. In this edition of The Shack, we’ll look back at the formation of San Diego’s first Women’s Professional Soccer Club in 19 years, the hot start to the season, some players being recognized for their play on the field, an exciting announcement from the club that takes place in 100 days, and my thoughts as I start “Playing in the Sandbox”.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: June 8, 2022, marked one year since San Diego Wave FC was announced as the twelfth team joining the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the announcement marked the return of Women’s Professional Soccer to America’s Finest City in 19 years. The San Diego Spirit of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) was the most notable recent incarnation of Women’s Pro Soccer in San Diego, having played three seasons from 2001 until 2003 before the league suspended operations. The club was led by a notable trio of 1999 World Cup Champions in Julie Foudy, Shannon McMillian, and Joy Fawcett. The Spirit averaged over 5,000 fans at the 6,000-seat Torero Stadium on the campus of the University of San Diego, ironically enough it is currently serving as the temporary home of the Wave until mid-September when the club moves to the brand new 35,000 seat Snapdragon Stadium in Mission Valley.
THE NWSL COMES TO SAN DIEGO: Things began to fall into place in January of 2021 when NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird announced that the league granted an expansion franchise to Sacramento, California led by Ron Burkle, who has part ownership of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins and who was the main player involved in leading a group to bring a Major League Soccer (MLS) club to Sacramento. However, just a month after being granted the NWSL club, Burkle chose to depart the Sacramento MLS bid group as the bid hit snags along the way, including ramifications from the COVID-19 pandemic in California, and instead, he elected to bring the NWSL franchise to San Diego in June 2021.
GREAT NAME GAME: In December of 2021, the team officially unveiled the club’s name, crest, and color palette. Part of the team’s press release read in part, “The crest, encased in a shield, is a symbol of strength, for the city and team, to proudly stand behind. A powerful wave, cresting in the rich blues of the Pacific Ocean, sits front and center as the iconic mark of Wave FC. And under the proud banner of the city’s name, are the vivid colors of the horizon, celebrating the beauty, fun, and vibrant culture of the city and its people.” The club’s crest contains a two-tone blue wave against a magenta, orange, and light blue crest with SAN DIEGO arched above with a setting futuristic sun included.
JILL ELLIS JOINS SD WAVE FC: March 2021 brought the first hire in club history in the form of two-time Women’s World Cup Champion Jill Ellis being appointed the first club president. Ellis was at the helm of the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) from 2012 until 2019. During her seven seasons as the head coach, Ellis guided the Stars and Stripes to a 106-7-19 record, two FIFA World Cup Championships (2015, 2019) and a 5th place finish at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ellis also had five different collegiate stops before joining the U.S. Soccer with Assistant Coaching duties at North Carolina State, Maryland, and Virginia before taking over the Head Coaching role at Illinois and UCLA.
CASEY STONEY IS NAMED HEAD COACH: Entering July, San Diego found their first head coach in Casey Stoney. She spent 19 seasons playing with numerous clubs in Europe, notably with two stints with Arsenal along with a stint with Chelsea and Liverpool. Stoney had managed the 2009 Chelsea squad as a player-manager, then for three seasons, she was in charge of Manchester United before taking the job in San Diego. Stoney also appeared in 134 matches with the English National Team from 2000 until 2017, she scored 6 goals in 130 matches for England before playing for Great Britain in 2012 where she scored a goal in 4 matches.
USWNT STAR POWER: The week of Thanksgiving gave the Wave the first piece of the puzzle for their inaugural season roster. San Diego signed defender Abby Dahlkemper from the Houston Dash on November 22nd to become the first player in club history. Dahlkemper spent NWSL time with Western New York in 2015, North Carolina in 2017, and Houston last season. She made 79 appearances for the USWNT since her debut in 2016 and also had two loaned appearances to Adelaide United in the Australian Women’s League in 2015 and Manchester United in 2021.
Arguably, the biggest roster move made by the Wave was bringing home one of their own from Southern California in Alex Morgan. Morgan, a Diamond Bar native was traded to San Diego from the Orlando Pride in mid-December with $275,000 in allocation money, and Angharad James was sent to Orlando. Morgan has appeared in the NWSL since 2011 with stops including Western New York, Portland, and Orlando. Overseas stops for Morgan included Lyon and Tottenham Hotspur. The 32-year-old has tallied 162 career goals across her NWSL and USWNT careers, along with capturing two World Cups alongside Ellis in 2015 and 2019.
INAUGURAL MATCH – SD 1, HOU 0 (5/1/22): In their inaugural regular season match, San Diego Wave FC etched the first win in club history into the record books thanks to Jodie Taylor’s goal late in the second half that lifted San Diego to a 1-0 win on the road over the Houston Dash. Mia Gyau and Emily van Egmond controlled possession on the right corner of the box in which Gyau lofted a cross into the area, it found Katie Johnson open to head a ball to the near post to Jodie Taylor who beat her defender to the ball and tapped a shot past Jane Campbell in the 86th minute for the first-ever regular-season goal in Wave FC history.
CAPTAIN MORGAN – SD 4, NJ/NY 0 (5/7/22): Alex Morgan sent the San Diego faithful into a frenzy on May 7th in the club’s inaugural regular-season home match by recording the first Hat Trick in San Diego Wave FC history and adding the fourth goal in stoppage time as San Diego cruised to a 4-0 victory over NJ/NY Gotham FC. Morgan became just the third player in NWSL history to log four goals in a match. She said postgame to the assembled media “To be able to put on a show like we did tonight, to get a clean sheet which is extremely important, and scoring goals, I think we couldn’t have asked for a better game for ourselves and for this city.”
DIMMING THE RED STARS – SD 2, CHI 1 (5/15/22): San Diego Wave FC completed its opening homestand of the season by grinding out a hard-fought and well-earned 2-1 victory on May 15th over the Chicago Red Stars. San Diego got another Goal from Alex Morgan, her fifth goal in two matches while Kaleigh Riehl added the insurance marker on the brink of stoppage time to extend the Wave lead before Chicago finally put a dent in the armor with the first conceded goal of the season by San Diego who saw their clean sheet streak end at two matches, but they added two more goals on offense to give them seven goals in just three matches played. Riehl emphasized how much time and effort the club has on their substitutes coming into a match and delivering. “We put a lot of emphasis on that. Every game our subs have come in and made a huge difference and they’re all so valuable, every person is so valuable whether you’re on the field, whether you play a minute or 90 (minutes), they always give us a big lift every time they come in.”
ON THE ROAD – LOU 1, SD 0 (5/18/22): After a successful start at home in their first two home matches of the season, San Diego hit the road on a four-match road trip that began on May 18th in Louisville, Kentucky against Racing Louisville FC. A match full of physical play and four issued yellow cards saw just one goal scored for the home side as Savannah DeMelo tallied a 27th-minute marker for Louisville who kept the San Diego offense at bay and secured the 1-0 victory, giving the Wave their first loss of the season.
KEEP CALM AND CARY ON: NC 0, SD 1 (5/22/22): Just four days later, the Wave headed to Cary, North Carolina to face off with the North Carolina Courage. Alex Morgan cashed in the lone tally after a beautiful pass from midfield by Taylor Kornieck roughly four minutes before Halftime to put Wave FC on top 1-0, and that’s where the scoreline stayed at Full Time with San Diego winning their fourth win in five matches.
BLAME IT ON THE REIGN: OL 1, SD 0 (5/29/22): The next to last stop of the road trip was in Seattle, Washington at Lumen Field where the Wave met up with the OL Reign. San Diego’s offense was stifled on May 29th with Rose Lavell’s 75th-minute Goal being the only goal for either side, as the Reign held off the Wave for the victory.
RIP CURRENT: KC 2, SD 2 (6/4/22): In the final match of a four-match road trip, Alex Morgan scored her 7th and 8th goals of the season, including the match tying goal in the 90th minute as the Wave were able to rescue a point in a 2-2 tie against the Kansas City Current at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. San Diego ended the road trip at 1-2-1.
TAYLOR TO THE RESCUE: SD 2, POR 2 (6/8/22): Things looked bleak for the San Diego Wave Futbol Club in their first home match since mid-May against a worthy adversary, the Portland Thorns. Facing a 2-0 deficit late in the second half of what was a frustrating evening for the Wave’s offensive attack in which it seemed they had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Thorns’ goal on June 8th. It included a goal that appeared to cross the goal line getting waved off, a shot from 20 yards out hitting off the post, and a goal waved off for an Offside, it would be Taylor Kornieck scoring a pair of goals in seven minutes to rescue a point for San Diego who roared back for a hard-earned 2-2 tie before a loud, energetic and sold-out crowd of 6,100 at Torero Stadium.
Wave Head Coach Casey Stoney said post-match that “Being down 2-0 we could’ve sat down, we could’ve laid down and given up. I thought their goalkeeper [Bella Bixby] was outstanding tonight. To concede that early in the second half, I thought we showed real character.”
WHERE THEY STAND: San Diego Wave FC is 4-2-2, 14 Pts. and is in 1st Place in the NWSL table.
MONTHLY AWARDS: Three members of San Diego Wave FC were recognized by the NWSL on June 9th for their play during May. Alex Morgan, Taylor Kornieck, and Naomi Girma were all named to the Best XI of the Month while Morgan took home Player of the Month honors.
The Diamond Bar, California native Morgan became just the third player in NWSL history to log four goals in a match back on May 7th against NJ/NY. She added another goal the following week against Chicago for her fifth goal of the season on May 15th, took a beautiful pass from the aforementioned Kornieck on May 22nd for the game-winning goal just before halftime against the Courage for her sixth goal of the season, and the month of May, more than impressive numbers for the Player of the Month honors.
Kornieck was recently named as a member of the roster pool for the USWNT. Head Coach Casey Stoney told the media post-match on June 8th that “Taylor’s been called up to the [USWNT] National Team for a reason. She’s performing well. I think in 18 weeks the progress she’s made is a credit to her. She was outstanding tonight [June 8th].
Girma was the number one overall pick of the 2022 NWSL College Draft by San Diego out of Stanford University and she has been both a steady presence and a staple of San Diego’s defensive corps that has sadly not had the services of Abby Dahlkemper for a good chunk of the season due to COVID-19 and a rib injury. Regardless, Girma and the Wave’s defense have conceded just seven goals this season and are +5 in goal differential.
KEEP IT 100: June 9, 2022 marks another milestone in the year-old history of San Diego Wave FC. The day marks exactly 100 days until the Wave rolls into their new home stadium. Snapdragon Stadium, the under-construction 35,000-seat stadium on the former site of San Diego Stadium in Mission Valley is set to open on September 3rd as the new home of San Diego State University Football, San Diego Wave FC, and San Diego Legion of Major League Rugby. The Wave will play their final two matches of the regular season in their new digs, including the final leg of the SoCal Derby against Angel City FC on September 17th at 6:30pm. San Diego will conclude their regular-season schedule on September 30th also at 6:30 pm against the North Carolina Courage.
PLAYING IN THE SANDBOX: If there were ever any doubts about if Women’s Professional Soccer would succeed after San Diego was without a club for 19 years, all that chitter-chatter, doubt, and noise can be thrown out the window and muted. In three home matches so far, San Diego has drawn a total of 16,100 fans to the 6,000 seat Torero Stadium on the campus of the University of San Diego with an average crowd of 5,367 and a season-high 6,100 who attended the club’s inaugural Pride Night match on June 8tht against Portland, where $1 from every ticket benefited San Diego Pride and their commitment to fostering pride, equality, and respect for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities locally, nationally, and globally.
I have said from the get-go when this club was formed a year ago, the NWSL placed their two newest teams in markets like Los Angeles (Angel City FC) and right here in San Diego which has had established Soccer franchises, whether it be in Major League Soccer or other Professional Soccer leagues, but most importantly, it finally gives West Coast Women’s Soccer fans their own clubs to root for as opposed to rooting for clubs in the midwest or the eastern United States. But especially in a market like San Diego, a city that is consistently ranked in the Top 5 and Top 10 when it comes down to World Cup Television ratings, where bars and pubs across the city are opened at 4am for UEFA or EPL matches along with the USWNT or USMNT playing, San Diego’s Soccer community cannot be overlooked anymore, and the sport of Soccer should no longer be a sport that “nobody watches” nor should it be considered an afterthought or a sport that doesn’t matter.
Much like the early 2000s when those Spirit teams had Foudy, Fawcett, and McMillian, that essentially sold the team to the city, and as I mentioned earlier, along with the fact the Spirit drew a near sell-out crowd every home match even having a Local TV contract with Cox Channel 4 San Diego to broadcast games locally helped grow the team’s popularity. It’s a parallel I’m willing to draw, but when you can acquire big-name players like Abby Dahlkemper, Alex Morgan, and Kailen Sheridan along with the rest of the cast and crew assembled by both Jill Ellis and Casey Stoney, you already have sold your product which goes along now with league-wide streaming and Television deals with Paramount+, Twitch, CBS and CBS Sports Network plus a rabid fan base who brings the noise and energy level to every home match they’ve seen the club play. A number of Wave players have sounded off about how much it means to them to put on that Navy Blue or White jersey with “SAN DIEGO” across the top of the club’s shield.
Alex Morgan and Kailen Sheridan both echoed statements about how much it means to them to be playing and representing San Diego following the club’s inaugural home match on May 7th.
Morgan said that “To be able to put on a show like we did tonight, to get a clean sheet which is extremely important, and scoring goals, I think we couldn’t have asked for a better game for ourselves and for this city. There’s no doubt about it. I am…Home (in San Diego).“
Sheridan said they want to make it tough on the opposition to come into San Diego and win. “It’s really important to us that we represent our home really well and that we keep clean sheets at home. When people come here, we want it to be a really hard place to play and a hard place to score. We accomplished that today [May 7th], I think people aren’t going to second guess us anymore and they’re not going to take us for granted. That’s two games in a row (recording clean sheets).”
Casey Stoney added her thoughts on the San Diego fan base following their 2-2 come from behind tie on June 8th against Portland by telling assembled media “Listen, we’re a different team at home. And it’s because all of these thousands of people get behind the players. They give us the extra energy and motivation, they’re unbelievable. It’s like a Cauldron in here, and we love playing here, we love it because of our home fans.”
This is a city with a rich, diverse and growing Soccer community spearheaded by three professional clubs, the San Diego Loyal of the USL, the San Diego Sockers of the MASL, and San Diego Wave FC of the NWSL, all of whom have and continue to foster beautiful relationships to ensure that local soccer continues to thrive in a market like San Diego. Much like the city did with the Spirit during the early 2000s, let’s get behind a team who has brought top-flight Women’s Soccer back to town and is currently the top team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in San Diego Wave FC.