NWSL 2023: San Diego Wave set to make a bigger splash in year two

In its inaugural season, the San Diego Wave became the first NWSL expansion team to make the playoffs.

The Wave was in first place much of the year before finishing the regular season in third place with a 10-6-6 record (36 points). It beat the visiting Chicago Red Stars 2-1 in the quarterfinal round before losing the semifinal match to the eventual league champion Portland Thorns by the same score, conceding the game-winning goal in second-half stoppage time.

Fans clearly gained interest in 2022 Coach of the Year Casey Stoney’s team as the Wave set league playoff (26,215) and regular-season (32,000) attendance records at Snapdragon Stadium, which opened in 2022 and is also home to San Diego State University football games.

A big reason for the Wave’s instant success was its US women’s national team connections. The club’s president, Jill Ellis, coached the USWNT for six years, leading it to back-to-back World Cup titles in 2015 and 2019. Forward Alex Morgan, a star for the USWNT and various club teams over the past decade, led the way for the Wave in her first season back in Southern California.

The San Dimas native and Cal alum scored 16 goals to capture the NWSL Golden Boot award, while defender Naomi Girma lived up to her 2022 number one pick status by winning NWSL Rookie and Defender of the Year. And Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridanwas named the 2022 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year.

The Wave managed to retain the core of last year’s successful squad. It exercised the 2023 contract options for forward Amirah Ali, midfielder Belle Briede, and defender Mia Gyau. Defender Kaleigh Riehl, who emerged as Girma’s center-back partner last season, agreed on a new two-year contract to stay in San Diego. Fellow defender Madison Pogarch signed a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2024. She appeared in eight games, starting three, after being acquired in a trade from the Portland Thorns in July 2022.

Free-agent forward Makenzy Doniak’s contract option for 2023 was mutually exercised. The forward, who the Wave acquired from the Chicago Red Stars through a trade before the 2022 NWSL Draft, tallied three goals and two assists in 18 matches, five starts.

In addition to securing Doniak for another season, San Diego signed three free-agents from other teams. Forward Rachel Hill signed for two-years following a three-year stint with the Chicago Red Stars during which she scored six goals in 70 games. The Wave also improved its midfield by luring experienced free-agent midfielders Danielle Colaprico and Megan Dougherty Howard to the west coast. Both Dougherty Howard, formerly with the Orlando Pride, and Colaprico, the longtime Red Stars midfielder and 2015 NWSL Rookie of the Year, agreed to two-year contracts.

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Ben Wiley's NWSL 2023 Previews:
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The Wave made three selections in the 2023 NWSL Draft. After receiving the 13th pick from Gotham FC in exchange for $100,000 of allocation money, the club kicked off the second round with the selection of midfielder Sierra Enge out of Stanford. With its third round pick, it chose goalkeeper Lauren Brzykcy, who started for the 2022 national champion UCLA. Midfielder Giovanna DeMarco (Wake Forest) was San Diego’s final pick in the fourth round.

Some players who were out of contract or eligible to test free-agency are no longer on the roster. Forwards Jodie Taylor and Jackie Altschuld, defender Taylor Hansen, goalkeeper Melissa Lowder and midfielder Sydney Pulver remain unaffiliated, while forward Katie Johnson signed with the Wave’s regional rival Angel City FC. Additionally, other 2022 draft picks defender Kayla Bruster and midfielder Marleen Schimmer have yet to find professional opportunities after the Wave declined to pick up their contract options.

San Diego began its preseason training Feb 6 at the San Diego Polo Fields in Del Mar. It will play closed-door contests against the Houston Dash March 5 and the Kansas City Current March 11. Its final preseason game with Angel City on March 18 will be played in front of season-ticket holders at Snapdragon.

Other than defender Abby Dahlkemper, out since last October after transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion surgery on a season-ending back injury, the team has no other reported injuries.

Stoney said the following when asked about her team’s goals for preseason:
“The goal is to keep improving. We’re not naive. We know we’re only in our second year, but we set our standards last year, and it’s about improving those standards and improving our consistency, working tactically on different things and building new partnerships in the team. We’ve made some new signings, and we’re getting them embedded into the way we play and our principles and philosophies. We’ve got some exciting things planned ahead.”

San Diego Wave Roster:
Goalkeepers (2): Kailen Sheridan, Carly Telford.
Defenders (7): Abby Dahlkemper, Mia Gyau, Naomi Girma, Kristen McNabb, Madison Pogarch, Kaleigh Riehl, Christen Westphal.
Midfielders (6): Belle Briede, Taylor Kornieck, Kelsey Turnbow, Emily Van Egmond, Meggie Dougherty Howard (Orlando Pride), Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars),
Forwards (6): Amirah Ali, Makenzy Doniak, Sofia Jakobsson, Alex Morgan, Jaedyn Shaw, Rachel Hill (Chicago Red Stars).

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