A Hollywood screenwriter could not have scripted it better. Just like Angel City FC's memorable home opener, the weekend prior, the National Women's Soccer League's other expansion side had its turn in its new home. One of soccer's most recognizable and talented forwards, Alex Morgan became just the third player in NWSL history to net four goals in a single game along with Sam Kerr and Kristen Hamilton. This is a match for Morgan and the rest of the league that people are going to remember for years to come. In a weekend of a few surprising results, and the chaos that was the Challenge Cup final, Casey Stoney's San Diego Wave demonstrated to the league that it may be their first year, but that does not mean they can't fight with the best of them. San Diego sits atop the NWSL table as the only team to secure six points in its first two matches so far this season.
Two matches in, and the Wave have yet to give up a goal. This is not a normal expansion team that simply sits at the bottom of the table in its first year. The Wave are a different breed of expansion side. A jaw-dropping 31 shots against a side that many thought would be one of the best defenses in the entire league in NJ/NY Gotham FC. The most glaring statistic out of this game is no question the 14 shots Alex Morgan had in total including 13 that were inside the penalty box. The pedigree of talent on each level of the pitch in the lineup and off the bench makes San Diego the team to watch heading into the rest of the regular season.
Following the record-breaking performance, Alex Morgan spoke on the outing as a whole, stating, "The ball just dropped my way tonight after the two penalties...All around, it was such a great team performance. We were everyone around this pitch...To have the turnout at our home opener (5,000 fans at USD’s Torero Stadium) and then to be able to put on a show like we did tonight, getting a clean sheet, which is extremely important, and scoring goals, I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better game for ourselves and for this city."
A match that will go down in San Diego lore at the moment the Wave announced themselves to the city. Despite the woeful play by Scott Parkinson, and his Gotham side that was coming off of a potentially momentum-swinging performance when it netted three goals against Orlando on opening weekend. Gotham is full of talent from Midge Purce in the attack to Caprice Dydasco leading the backline. This squad was supposed to ascend as one of the top clubs in the NWSL and build on its playoff appearance in the previous season. Despite how well San Diego played during its second-ever regular-season match, Gotham FC's midfield was virtually invisible the entire night. There was little to no rhythm in the midfield and in the attack as Parkinson's side simply struggled to connect passes together, and gather any sort of momentum that was demonstrated last week. So far through part of the regular season and the Challenge Cup, Gotham has not lived up to the hype it got following the trade with the Pride in the offseason.
Last season, the club ranked second in the league in the fewest goals allowed in the regular season behind only the Portland Thorns at the top of the table. It was the first time that this Gotham FC side has allowed the opposition to score four or more goals in a single match since 2018 when the Chicago Red Stars smashed five goals past Gotham. Last week, the league saw how dangerous Gotham can be in the attack, but none of that showed against the Wave on the road for the second straight match. There is plenty of time to adjust, but this weekend in the NWSL was all about the quality and talent of a San Diego Wave side that people would have no idea is their first season in the league by watching it play in matches.
While Morgan did have four goals, two of them were from the penalty spot. The Wave used not only Morgan's clinical finishing ability but the support of other players all over the pitch to put together a complete 90-minute performance in the franchise's first-ever regular-season match at Torero Stadium. From the elite footwork of the 23-year-old, Amirah Ali that created the second penalty to Kelsey Turnbow and Taylor Kornieck linking up to create the opportunity for Morgan to score her third of the night, San Diego has a plethora of talent, and right now it is on full display for the world to admire.
All eleven players on the pitch work to defend and get the turnover as quick as possible. With Kailen Sheridan as the anchor in the net alongside Abby Dahlkemper and Naomi Girma, this Wave side has the quality not just up top, but in all parts of the formation. Stoney is known for her defensive structure through the years as a manager so it is only fitting that this squad takes pride in that side of the ball. While the goals did not come right from the start like they have been in the NWSL this season, the Wave knew that patience was the best recipe for success. There was plenty of sloppy defense from Gotham FC, but it was up to the San Diego Wave to capitalize. With a start that most people would not have predicted for the Wave, they head into the rest of the season with their heads held high knowing that it has the potential to break down opponents on a game-to-game basis.
Seeing the slow progression of the Wave from the preseason to the Challenge Cup to finally the beginning of the regular season. Stoney's side is beginning to find themselves after several moments of individual brilliance that showed a step in the right direction in the club's first-ever preseason tournament. This past match was the best San Diego has played, and it is not even close. The combination of veteran leadership on the pitch with Dahlkemper and Emily van Egmond in the midfield along with potential young stars like Girma, and the international experience of players like Sofia Jakobsson, and English striker Jodie Taylor make this a monster of a side that is difficult to find a solution to slow down.
Next up for the Wave is possibly its toughest challenge yet as the club faces the Chicago Red Stars for the first time in its history. The Red Stars are coming off a sloppy win two weeks ago against Racing Louisville as the game was paused for an extended period of time due to inclement weather. There will be a multitude of talent on display, but if Stoney's side plays the way it did against Gotham, there are not many teams in this league that can match that. It is a little earlier to classify San Diego as a contender, but seeing it completely control its first home regular-season match is something to keep an eye on as the rest of the season unfolds.