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From tactics to culture: How San Diego Wave FC found success in its expansion year

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations for the San Diego Wave were modest at the start of the National Women’s Soccer League regular season. 

This belief was based on their preseason form in Challenge Cup, where they lost 3-1 against OL Reign and 3-2 against the Portland Thorns. It was also based on the preceding performances of previous expansion sides, such as Racing Louisville, which finished ninth in their first season in 2021. 

Thus far, however, San Diego has remained at or near the top half of the table. The Wave sit in first place with a month left in the regular season, making the expansion team as legitimate a Shield contender as any rival. Here’s how the Wave have been able to exceed expectations so far.

Playing style

An aggressive high press allows San Diego to be a team that is both defensively solid while also scoring a lot of goals.

It is a style that is based on smothering opponents as they attempt to win the ball back. Lately, they’ve been trying to pass through the middle more. The team tends to switch between a 4-3-1-2 and a 4-3-3 and is willing to make the tactical adjustments needed to see out a game.

Against the Houston Dash, for example, the team had trouble containing Ryan Gareis down the left flank. During the second half, head coach Casey Stoney substituted Madison Pogarch on to help neutralize the Dash on that flank. 

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