In a match filled with chances, goal line saves and a goal being pulled off the board for an Offside, San Diego Wave FC and the North Carolina Courage battled it out to the end on Friday evening at Snapdragon Stadium before a crowd of 18,000 to the tune of a 0-0 draw in what was San Diego’s final match of the regular season. The Wave conclude their inaugural regular season of play with a 10-6-6 record with 36 Points and now will await the results of the remainder of the weekend matches to see where the playoff road will begin. North Carolina is now 9-8-5 with 32 Points and now holds a two-point lead over the Chicago Red Stars for the final playoff spot. Chicago will need to Win on Sunday over Angel City FC to leapfrog North Carolina for the last playoff position.
TIME LAPSE (How it happened): In a match with a lot riding on the line when it boils down to playoff seeding, neither team wanted to make the first mistake of the night, the teams exchanged chances which saw both goalkeepers early in the first half. San Diego, who was missing Alex Morgan due to a Left Knee injury and without the services of Abby Dahlkemper, relied on rookie Naomi Girma, who was wearing the Captain’s armband for the first time in her NWSL career, the stellar play of goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan plus their defensive corps to carry the club over the finish line on Friday. Girma and the Wave’s defense found ways to get into passing lanes, and force the Courage runners wide or away from goal while Sheridan dazzled in goal once again, making several key saves for the clean sheet as North Carolina seemed to have won the possession battle throughout the evening.
WHERE THE TIDE TURNED (The turning point): In the 2nd half, the Wave appeared to have bagged the first goal of the evening after a beautiful run was made into the Courage half of the field. Makenzy Doniak tapped a loose ball home and the celebration was on among her and her teammates plus the 18,000 rambunctious fans, only for the head referee to wave off the goal due to an Offside whistle. While the Assistant Referee on the far sideline did not indicate the play was Offside, the officials talked it over via their com systems and were in agreement that the play was Offside and that the goal would be taken off the board. North Carolina nearly stole the match at the end in the dying moments of the 0-0 slugfest with two Grade A chances on net, but Sheridan came to the rescue on both attempts much to the delight of the 18,000 on hand as both teams walk away with a point and momentum as the NWSL Playoffs approach.
QUOTES (courtesy of the Wave FC Communications Team):
SD Wave Head Coach Casey Stoney:
On tonight’s match:
“It was an absolute grind. We faced adversity this week. I think it was our biggest ever unavailability report, but it just shows the character and strength of this squad that they can go out there and keep a clean sheet against a team that’s been scoring a lot of goals. Sean [Nahas] is a good coach, and they are a really good side, I think they showed that tonight. The clean sheet was massive. The point was big. I am really pleased we were able to grit it out. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a goal, I think we had a couple of decent chances and did not score, but so did they. I think it was quite evenly match in terms of chances, they obviously dominated the ball a little bit more, which we will look at and try to improve. I have to be really pleased with the dogged performance and a point. I think the players worked so hard tonight to earn that point and I am really proud of them.”
On formation adjustments:
“We wanted to press high, so we had to identify when their center backs had time on the ball and their full backs got really high and could get overloaded. We wanted to get pressure on their center backs and release our wing backs, so we changed systems a little bit. Unfortunately, we had to flip the system in the second half because we had to take Emily van Egmond off. We had to flip the system because we didn’t have availability in certain areas. Then again, we gritted it out and in the second half, we changed systems again, so my players’ adaptability tonight was big. We wanted to try and stop them higher up rather than get them into our final third. When you have players like Debinha and Tess Boade who don’t stop running, and a huge amount of time for Densie O’Sullivan, she does a lot of work and has special qualities that people don’t necessarily talk about. They are a good side. I am just really pleased we managed to keep a clean sheet.”
On Naomi Girma’s performance:
“Captains performance. I was a center back, so I know center backs when I see one, and that’s why I was so adamant we took her first pick in the draft, because she is another level. I don’t think she was at her best in Orlando, but even Naomi was not at her best is still very good. I thought tonight she was absolutely outstanding with and without the ball. The composure she shows for a rookie, I don’t see her as a rookie at all. She looks like she’s been playing in this league for years. She just gives us that calm performance week in and week out. She is a very special player and a very special person.”
On expectations as expansion team:
“We would have liked to finish higher. We dropped points in areas that we shouldn’t have. We know that as a team. But to be able to do what we have done when everybody told me we couldn’t have this season being an expansion team. I should be really proud of the club, the players, the staff, and I am. I am just a bit of a perfectionist, and I always want more. We are still able to achieve more. We put ourselves in a playoff spot.”
On how she will prep for the playoffs:
“I want to get a few players back first from injury, so that we have availability. Alex, Taylor, Katie Johnson, Abby, the list is a bit endless to be honest. So, you say that, and we’ve gone out, and they’ve been full strength, and we managed to keep a clean sheet and create chances, so now it’s about giving the players a little bit of rest time because it’s been a long season. This league takes it out of you when you’re traveling coast to coast to play a 90-minute game. So, rest, reflect. We’ll have to wait and see who we get because again we don’t know. Then, we’ll do our research. We’ll set a game plan, and we’ll put some plans in place and instill the belief into this team that we can beat anyone. Because we can. We’ve shown that this season.”
On how she’s seen the team grow this season:
“Significantly. I look at the Challenge Cup, and we’re a million miles from where we were then, thankfully. We can keep clean sheets. We can be resilient. We can show character. We can adapt systems which we’ve done twice against these. I’d like us to maintain the ball a little bit more. That’s something we need to continue to work on, but I think we’ve grown in our game understanding and the way we play, and again, people coming off the bench and making a big difference today.”
Wave FC Forward Sofia Jakobsson:
On tonight’s match:
“I think we have a lot of good things we can build on in the playoffs. It was a tough game with chances on both sides. The game could have finished with a win for them or a win for us, so I am happy with a draw.”
“We played a really tough team today and I think everybody out there did fantastic. We defensively showed that we are really strong, and we also created chances. We ended up scoring a goal, but it was not a goal, so we can take some positives from the offensive side too and build on it for the playoffs.
“What I knew before I came here was that the league is really tough, every game is super tough. I feel that every game is a challenge, and I am happy to be here and be in a league where every game is competitive, whereas in Europe, you have a top three or maybe top four, and the rest are maybe not that. I think this is a super good league, obviously I wish that I could give more points to the team with assists and scoring, hopefully I can do that in the playoffs and help the team go far.”
On favorite parts of the season:
Everything is just super new, especially coming late to the team. I feel like we have grown as a team the whole season and I really think we are a team that works really hard together, and everybody has their spots. [Kaleigh: “moving into Snapdragon, and even at Torero, our fans have been incredible all year. To get 32,000 at our first game and break the record is a huge moment for all of women’s soccer. I am really proud of that and excited to see where women’s soccer can continue to grow.”]
Wave FC Defender Kaleigh Riehl:
On tonight’s match:
“It was a tough match. Every time we play them it’s a good game. It’s a high paced, physical game, and I think we matched that energy today. Obviously, we want three points out of every game, but happy to still walk away with a point and we really want to take that momentum going into the postseason.
On a playing on the defensive side:
“I think just being detailed in training. We know how craft they [NC Courage] can be up top, so trying to know where those players are at all times and managing that and I think we did a good job of that – defending the frame.
On a good defensive team effort tonight:
“Luckily, we have a deep bench. Obviously, we missed those players, they’re big leaders on our team, but that is why we have a bench and I think everyone really stepped up and did their job today and we are happy to come out with a point.”
On success as an expansion team:
“We always want to push further so we are happy to be the first expansion team to get to the postseason, but we know that there is so much more that we can give. We want to set our sights high and win it all. Yes, we are happy, but not satisfied- we want to keep pushing.”
On what makes Wave FC successful:
“Our depth. It is huge for our team. Anyone can step on the field and put in a huge performance. We really stress that every person is needed, every training, every game. Playing your role on that given day and doing it to the best of your abilities is our biggest strength.”
On any adjustments moving into playoffs:
“At this point it’s just fine-tuning little things both defensively and offensively. It’s not major changes, but little things that we definitely need to clean up.”
NEXT MATCH: San Diego will await the results from the rest of the weekend to find out where their road will begin for the 2022 NWSL Playoffs.