Breaking down the upcoming inaugural season for San Diego’s new NWSL franchise, here to satiate the city’s rabid soccer appetite
Every resident will tell you that San Diego is an infectious athletic town. The year-round beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches, and lush parks provide the perfect setting for all sorts of outdoor activities – soccer of course being one of them.
Take a stroll through Balboa Park or any number of wide grassy areas in the city, and you’re more than likely to walk past at least a few intense pickup games. Soccer has always been one of the main fabrics of San Diego sports culture; from its top-of-the-line youth teams which have produced countless professional players, to the rabid fans who gather at the local pubs to watch their favorite European teams battle it out at the crack of dawn. On ratings alone, San Diego ranked number one nationally in Liga MX viewership as well as in the most recent Men’s and Women’s World Cup cycles, and top ten in MLS viewership. And to think, San Diego doesn’t even have a top division franchise…until now.
Soon, San Diego’s massive soccer appetite is only going to grow bigger when that franchise, San Diego Wave FC, begins its inaugural season later this month. The Wave are the latest expansion side in the growing National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), and the first top tier team – men’s or women’s – to plant its flag in San Diego since the Spirit folded in the early ’00s. And you can feel the anticipation building to a fever pitch.
Speaking for myself as a massive fan of soccer, I couldn’t be more excited to spend my weekends cheering on this promising team of women, and I hope you’re willing to ride with me as I cover the team in this recurring column I’m calling “Barreled.” On a weekly basis, I hope to take you inside the action (aka “the barrel”) surrounding Wave FC – from game recaps, to player profiles, to news updates on signings, injury layoffs, viewing parties, etc. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
San Diego Wave FC is clearly NOT your average expansion side. While most expansion teams take a few years to find their stride, the Wave’s initial roster of players, in addition to the amazing pedigree of those behind the scenes of the club, suggests that ambitions (and expectations) are sky high.
When the team was officially announced, fans were delighted by the news that Jill Ellis had signed on as team president. Ellis has one of the most impressive resumes in the game, going back to her days as manager of the UCLA Bruins women’s team, which she led to seven consecutive NCAA championships. From there, she ascended to the role of manager of the U.S. Women’s National Team, impressively leading them to back-to-back World Cup titles in 2014 and 2018. Her deep skills in management, player development, and roster building will be an unbelievable asset to the club as they look to capture success on the pitch right away.
Her appointment of Casey Stoney as manager, meanwhile, was an extremely savvy choice, and the first big move she made as president. Stoney played for 19 seasons with teams such as Arsenal, Charlton Athletic, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Lincoln and played in three World Cups for England, captaining them in two. After her legendary playing career came to an end, Stoney joined Phil Neville’s backroom staff with the England national team before being appointed as the first head coach of the newly-formed Manchester United Ladies side. She earned them promotion to the FA WSL in their first season and mounted successful fourth place finishes in back-to-back campaigns before stepping down last year. Her competitive traits, tactical savvy, strong leadership skills, and the fact that she’s already led an expansion side make her a perfect fit for San Diego Wave’s long-term vision. We can’t wait to see how she’ll lead the way.
After the team debuted that spectacular crest and logo, fans have been inquiring nonstop about when the kits will drop. When those become available, we’ll be sure to let you know. At this point, the biggest question I’m facing is which player I’m gonna rep. Because the options are endlessly appealing. Why don’t we briefly break down the current training camp roster.
The biggest name on the team sheet by a good margin is Alex Morgan, the star striker and one of the poster players for the USWNT for the last decade. She arrives to San Diego after recent stints with Orlando Pride and Tottenham, and is set to lead the Wave’s front line along with Swedish star forward Sofia Jakobsson, who arrives after recently playing for Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Other strong attacking options include Mexico’s Katie Johnson and USA’s Makenzy Doniak, both reliable NWSL vets arriving from Chicago Red Stars.
Initially, the roster looked a bit thin in midfield, but things are progressing nicely with the recent signing of Australian National Team legend Emily Van Egmond, who’s had recent stints with West Ham United, Orlando Pride, and the Newcastle Jets of the A-League. Rising star Taylor Kornieck impressed in her first couple seasons with Orland Pride and looks to continue her development as a midfield anchor with San Diego. And then there’s a pair of talented college standouts looking to break through in their rookie seasons in USA’s Kelsey Turnbow and Germany’s Marleen Schimmer. Turnbow starred at Santa Clara University and Schimmer for Grand Canyon University, and both are versatile players capable of playing fluidly across the front line and as central, attacking midfielders.
On paper the Wave seem most stacked in defense, with the club’s first-ever signing Abby Dahlkemper looking to continue the massive success she’s enjoyed with the USWNT and at the club level. There are a number of options to partner her with at centre back. Kristen McNabb seems like the strongest contender, having been a constant presence in OL Reign’s defense for the past few years. But Tegan McGrady (from Washington Spirit), Kaleigh Riehl (from Racing Louisville), and Christen Westphal (from Portland Thorns) have all impressed in recent seasons and are also capable of slotting into the fullback positions when needed. Meanwhile, the Wave’s #1 draft pick Naomi Girma was an absolute star for Stanford in her collegiate career. Hopes are high for her as the future of San Diego’s backline.
The goalkeeping situation is fairly settled at this point. Canada’s number one Kailen Sheridan is one of the best keepers in the world, and is set to hold it down between the sticks for the Wave this season. Although the veteran English keeper Carly Telford is ready and able to deputize at any point.
The Wave’s initial slate of games was announced last month, and their campaign begins with the group stage of the Challenge Cup on March 18 against our northern rivals Angel City FC, also in their inaugural season. The team’s first ever home match will take place one week later as they take on the Portland Thorns at USD’s Torero Stadium. Their other Challenge Cup group rival will be OL Reign, with home and away matches with all three teams culminating on April 23, followed by knock-out games should they advance. Ticket info for those matches was recently announced, though we are still awaiting a regular season schedule. In the meantime, you can peruse ticket options on the team’s website HERE.
Thanks for riding this wave with us, and I hope you’ll keep coming back for more. You can check out the Wave’s training camp roster below and get to know everything about the franchise over on their site. San Diego’s thirst for soccer has never been greater. Hopefully we can quench it a bit for you one week at a time. Cheers!
Training Camp Roster
Goalkeepers: Kailen Sheridan, Carly Telford, Melissa Lowder, Emery Wegener
Defenders: Abby Dahlkemper, Naomi Girma, Kaleigh Riehl, Kristen McNabb, Christen Westphal, Tegan McGrady, Mia Gyau, Kayla Bruster, Megan Reid, Taylor Hansen
Midfielders: Taylor Kornieck, Kelsey Turnbow, Emily Van Egmond, Marleen Schimmer, Sydney Pulver, Belle Briede, Meleana Shim, Sydney Zandi, Taylor Porter, Mia Gyau
Forwards: Alex Morgan, Jodie Taylor, Sofia Jakobsson, Amirah Ali, Katie Johnson, Makenzy Doniak, Ru Machera, Sarah Sodoma, Emerson Layne