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The shifting shapes of San Diego: Old concepts, new applications for Wave’s pressing

Wave FC head coach Casey Stoney has long been known for her defensive schemes, but so far in 2023, the 4-4-2 defensive variations have been anything but traditional.

Some say that attack is the best form of defense. As far as Casey Stoney is concerned, however, the reverse is closer to the truth. For the San Diego Wave head coach, good defense is the starting point for attack. This has been the case throughout her managerial career thus far — her Manchester United was built on firm defensive foundations, and the same can be said now of her San Diego side. 

Four games into this National Women’s Soccer League season, the Wave are scoring off of their defense. In their opening 3-2 win over the Chicago Red Stars, their winning goal after Sofia Jakobsson intercepted an Arin Wright pass and played Alex Morgan through to win a penalty. Morgan duly converted from the spot. San Diego’s second goals against both Angel City and the North Carolina Courage originated from their pressure forcing turnovers.

Of the eight goals San Diego have scored so far this year, three have come in transition after winning the ball in the opponent’s half. Their collective pressing, which was also a strength of Manchester United under Stoney’s guidance, is a certifiable offensive weapon. What’s more, they appear to be finding new ways to press against different opponents.

The classic Stoney setup is a 4-4-2 of sorts, with an attacking midfielder marking the opposition’s deepest midfielder or supporting the lone striker in pressing the center backs. The midfielders match up on their opponents, and the wingers narrow in to show the opponent out wide. This was the approach used for the most part during San Diego’s inaugural NWSL campaign last year. But, four games into the new season, it looks as if the Wave are becoming more flexible in how they press.

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