Catching the Wave: San Diego claims the top spot in the standings
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, Monday, Aug. 29, 2022
I guess nobody told the San Diego Wave that expansion teams are supposed to suck.
The Wave sits atop the table after this weekend’s 2-0 victory over the Portland Thorns at Providence Park. It was a statement-making win for a team that not only the NWSL’s top scorer in Alex Morgan, but has only allowed 15 total goals this season, fewest in the league.
The loss dropped Portland to third place on the table behind the Houston Dash. It was the first time the Thorns had been shutout since May 21st.
Kristen McNabb and Alex Morgan each had goals, and Kailen Sheridan had her 20th career shutout in NWSL play.
Afterward, Casey Stoney explained how the Wave have been successful.
“Hard work. Great characters in our dressing room. Good players, good work ethic. I think we’ve got a good culture- you’d have to ask the players that. We work very hard to make sure that everybody is important, and they are, whether they play one minute or none. They fight, and what they’ve done is remarkable. It is massive credit to the club for getting the players in, and massive credit to the players where this team is sitting currently.”
The Wave started the month of August with a pair of losses to the Current and the Pride, but rebounded with a 3-1 win over the Dash before the win in Portland.
Now sitting on nine wins this season, they’ve already done better than any true expansion team in the league’s history (excluding those teams that moved and rebranded under new ownership).
Sheridan is tied for the league lead with six clean sheets this season. She has allowed just 11 goals, fewest in the league for goalkeepers with as many games.
Morgan now has 13 goals this season to lead the Golden Boot race. It’s arguably the best season she’s ever had — the most goals she had in a season previously was nine back in 2016 with the Pride. She’s now got 51 for her NWSL career.
“She keeps getting better and better- she’s a bit of a fine wine at the moment isn’t she?” Stoney said.
It’s clear that Morgan is happy to be home in California, but I believe it’s more than that. She wants to prove that she’s not done quite yet. While the trio of Sophia Smith, Mal Pugh and Catarina Macario (when she’s healthy) is the future, Morgan is still the now.
Morgan and Sheridan are surrounded by players who embrace their roles, including No. 1 draft pick Naomi Girma, who is also an emerging national team star, and Swedish national team veteran Sofia Jakobsson.
“Obviously, you’re not going to go through the whole league and get three points every single week and we know that, but it’s how we turn around each week and we fight back. And we kind of hold ourselves to the highest standards that we can, not just ‘you’re an expansion team, it’s OK.’ We want those three points every week,” Sheridan said.
The Wave still have four more games to go as they battle to keep that top spot in the standings, and a first-round bye in the postseason. One of those games will be against rival Angel City on Sept. 17 at the new Snapdragon Stadium, which will break the league’s attendance record.
While we celebrate the wave in shattering that expansion stereotype, there was one other notable development this weekend. Kris Ward’s dismissal from the Spirit. Turns out, according to the players, he was not entirely forthcoming in an interview with The Athletic.
Here was the statement that captain Andi Sullivan read after the game:
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Megan Rapinoe and Bethany Balcer
The pair spoke after the Reign’s 2-1 victory over Orlando this weekend.
Question about the game-winning, stoppage-time goal:
Megan Rapinoe: I mean, the ball kind of developed a little bit slowly, it came across the middle of the field, Jess held it up really well, obviously waited for (defender Sofia Huerta) to come, I was like, ‘There’s only one place this thing is going,’ so just tried to crash. I mean, obviously Sof is one of the best in the league at those balls and just putting it in dangerous spots. So, just tried to crash on that back post and make sure it got through and booted that [ball] right in there.
Question about the energy of the team in the second half:
Megan Rapinoe: Yeah, I mean, I just feel like it’s that point in the season, like this is our season. We obviously haven’t clinched playoffs. We’ve dropped some important points earlier on in the season. This is the crunch time in the season where you either win or don’t pick up enough points. We felt like we had the game in our hands, even in the first half, definitely we’re controlling it, they’re working from us, anyways, so we knew that we could go out and play it. But just the intensity and that sort of desire and that kind of heart in it, we just needed more of that. That’s just what this point in this season requires. This is a really tough place to come to. Obviously, on the back of a long trip to Louisville and we’ve been here for a week, it’s a tough road trip in general. So, this is what this whole two weeks has been about to get these three points and put ourselves in a good position to push forward and hopefully clinch a playoff spot as soon as we can.
Question about how Bethany felt about scoring and getting fouled a lot:
Bethany Balcer: Yeah, I mean, I had Mono, so I was out for three games. So, this is like my first full game back. Obviously, as a forward and as the (No.) nine, it’s my job to the ball in the back of the net, so that’s what I tried to do. I’m used to getting knocked at this point. It’s part of the game. Yeah, I’m just trying to do whatever I can to put the ball in the back of the net and it happened tonight off a great cross. I mean physically, obviously, the heat here is no joke, but it’s no excuse and I’m proud of the way that our team was able to fight through it to the very end.
Question about Rapinoe’s recent performances:
Megan Rapinoe: I feel like I’m playing well. I feel like the team’s playing really well. The team is really clicking, even before we were in the wins and in the goals, I feel like the team has been playing really well. So, I feel like I’m getting the ball in really dangerous positions. We have so much up top and coming from midfield, obviously playing with Beth and playing with Rose and playing with (forward) Jordyn (Huitema) and Sof coming in and me in there, everyone off the bench, Jess in the midfield, it’s just tough to stop. So, I feel like for a player like me, as long as I have the ball at my feet – I have a lot of options. Obviously, I had a tough start to the season and had just a number of kind of nagging injuries sort of back-to-back, that was really frustrating. But, I feel like, I’ve gotten healthy and yeah, just playing like I normally do. I guess maybe more on the stat sheet, but I feel like that’s kind of – my job is to create and to get into the chances, whether it’s actually assisted goals. But, just to kind of be that force up top. I know that I can manipulate defenses and it’s really difficult for them to try to take away one thing and just try to do the opposite. So, I think it’s more just a factor of the team playing really well and me getting in the positions where I got a lot of options.
Question about the comeback wins and how they build confidence:
Bethany Balcer: I think, at this point, we’ve learned that when we go down 1-0, it’s does not phase us, it does not change our mentality and our intensity and a lot of the times, those goals that we give up are our own doing, like Pinoe said. So, I think just cleaning up those areas and then finishing on the other side. I don’t think our heads ever go down, which is a great quality to have and now we know just the resiliency of this team and now it’s time to get out on the front foot because I’m sure it’s more enjoyable playing from ahead.
Question about Balcer’s goal:
Bethany Balcer: It’s funny because a couple plays before, Jess had slipped me a ball and I had stopped my run and she was like, ‘Boats, we’ve got to score,’ and so the next time a ball was coming to me, I knew I had to commit to my run and as Pinoe always says, ‘Do the work early,’ and get myself in a position to get me in the cross. That is an area that I feel like I excel at in my game, so whenever I see P or Sof or anyone out wide, I know my job is to get across defenders and get the ball in the goal and that’s what I saw, Pinoe had great space and yeah, just kind of dove and headed it.
|By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer|
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